Here’s what an exercise-based weight loss program looks like:
Monday is cardio day: 20 minutes of climbing stairs to nowhere, followed by 30 minutes of walking back slightly uphill that leads nowhere.
Wednesday is personal trainer day: a full hour of working like a farm animal for someone I’m paying for the privilege of telling me.
Then on Fridays, I go to body shaping class to squat, flex, and jump with a room full of others, hoping that I will come out looking different than I did when I walked in.
Isn’t that how most of us do it?
We grunt and sweat during our workouts, smugly satisfied that our efforts are burning more calories than the piece of chocolate cake we had for dessert last night.
However, despite our best efforts, our weight and shape seem to be stuck in the very place we are trying to escape.
Over time, we lose hope of losing those last 20-30-40 pounds and the exercise routine becomes just another part of our social circle, or we abandon the program altogether.
Well, as a doctor, I’m here to tell you that the common belief that exercise is THE WAY to lose your excess weight is false.
Your inner TV addict may rejoice, because while exercise is a good thing for many other healthy reasons, it is not your number one weight loss tool.
The basic problem is that while exercise burns calories, it also stimulates hunger. That causes us to eat more and unless we are very controlled on how much or what we eat, this will eliminate any weight loss advantage of exercise.
In other words, in most cases, exercise makes the weight loss challenge even more difficult than it already is.
See the results of this study …
In 2009, Louisiana State University researchers followed the weight loss progress of 464 overweight women for six months. They found no significant differences between women who exercised and those who did not.
Dr. Timothy Church, president of health wisdom at LSU, highlights the lack of an exercise bonus in “compensation.” By that, she specifically means that the women who exercised rewarded themselves in one of two ways later that day: eating more or doing less.
Even a short stop at Starbucks for coffee and a muffin for a little “treat” removes 300-400 calories from workout time.
His colleague Eric Ravussin, president of diabetes and metabolism and a leading exercise researcher at LSU, agrees: “In general, to lose weight, exercise is pretty useless.”
For those of you who are more inclined to math, chew this on next time you get back from the gym … Our bodies need 6 calories a day to maintain a pound of muscle, but only 2 calories per pound of fat.
This means that when you finally manage to turn 10 pounds of fat into muscle, which is a major achievement, you can eat an additional 40 calories per day with no weight gain effect.
Exercise is good for many reasons, but the best exercise for weight loss is simply old-fashioned self-control. We wrote an article about it a while ago, the number one reason for weight loss failure, but if you missed it, email us and I’ll be happy to send you a copy.