There is a false belief, perpetuated by beverage companies and certain TV shows, that the key to weight loss is exercise. While exercise is important for health and will certainly aid in weight loss (and weight management), the food you eat is far more impactful when it comes to losing weight. To put things into perspective, you will need to run a full marathon (26 miles) without putting a thing in your mouth just to lose a single pound of body weight.
Food is far more important for weight loss than exercise is. On average, people today are working out at the same level that they did 30 years ago. However, obesity has skyrocketed. So, what has changed? People are consuming more calories than ever before. Extra calories from food are to blame for weight gain, not lack of exercise. People often miscalculate how calories from food excesses add up to a much bigger number than the calories burned working out. Most people will exercise just once a day. But the opportunity to make a poor nutritional choice presents itself 10-20 times a day, at least. That is because unhealthy food is available everywhere: your kitchen, the office, the gas station, the bookstore, even your gym! To burn off a burger (500 calories), you will need to do 45 minutes of cardio. A single slice of pizza has about 300 calories, the equivalent of 20 minutes of running at a 9 minute-a-mile pace. A tall caramel macchiato from Starbucks has 180 calories; you will have to walk 2 miles to burn it off. To work off a pint of beer (250 calories), you will need to do 30 minutes of weightlifting. Another overlooked aspect of exercise is compensatory calories. On days we work out, we tend to eat more because we “earned it”. This way of thinking happens to almost everyone. Who has not completed a workout, only to drink a congratulatory smoothie with more calories than burned?
Lastly, another important point to consider. Besides weight gain, a poor diet is much more harmful to your health than the effects of physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined. So even if you are not overweight, a nutrient poor diet can lead to adverse health effects such as hypertension and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This can happen even if you are exercising regularly. The more you exercise, the less you burn. Your total daily energy expenditure is comprised of resting energy burn plus whatever you burn as a result of physical activity. The more you work out, the more you burn, a 30-minute run will burn 250 calories; do it for an hour, and you will burn double. However, your resting energy burn is also affected by exercise. Scientists measured the resting energy burn of over 300 volunteers from all over the world. They were surprised to discover that once physical activity increases above a moderate level, the body adapts and reduced its metabolism in order to conserve energy, so the more you exercise, the less you burn.
Exercise is important for overall health and there are so many reasons to exercise: Regular workouts can help reduce the risk of disease, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and some cancers. Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that make you feel good, naturally. Working out helps reduce stress, which is a factor that leads some people to eat unhealthy comfort food. On days we exercise, our sleep improves, and better sleep means less hangry episodes the next day. Exercise may also boost the immune system. Athletic ability that comes with regular exercise can also boost your self-confidence. When you exercise, your body slowly replaces fat with muscle. You may not see numbers dropping on the scale, but your dimensions may decrease, as muscle is denser than fat. Dropping a jean size, while flat lining on the scale is definitely a thing. So, yes, by all means, exercise. As much as you possibly can, while still enjoying it and staying injury free. So, the bottom line is eating nutritious whole food and portion size are 80% and exercise is 20%. Even if you do not exercise at all, by counting calories and eating mostly healthy, whole foods, you will shed pounds, but on the other hand, working out regularly, but with no regard to what you eat, will not lead to weight loss.
What has your experience been with weight loss and exercise? Let me know in the comments below and until next time, be happy, healthy, and beautiful!