July 10, 2013

This sounds like a stupid question where the answer most of us would all give is “Of Course”. But what if the science and reality did not support exercise for weight loss?

If your current belief is that weight loss is all about calories – burning up more calories than you consume OR consuming less calories than you burn up – then you’ll conclude that exercise is helpful for weight (fat) loss.

But we’ve all seen people who exercise a lot and don’t lose weight – plus the opposite – people who do not exercise yet stay slim. And so it seems that some people’s bodies just process calories differently. Regardless of how much some people consume, their bodies burn it up – to maintain the status quo. But for most of us, any extra gets stored as fat.

Our bodies have powerful mechanisms to maintain the status quo: even blood pressure, even body temperature, even blood sugar, even cholesterol and even weight. The good news is that it is possible to reset your body’s weight regulation to a lower weight. There are limits to this, but think about the best sustainable weight you’ve been in your adult life.

It seems that the extra calories we burn up exercising doesn’t make a difference to whether our bodies lose or store fat. It may for weekly marathoners but not for the rest of us. For some, exercise actually stimulates hunger (intake) and causes them to move less between exercise sessions. This is especially true for activities dubbed “chronic cardio” – spending endless time on a treadmill or walking the streets hoping it will lead to slimness.

Then why bother exercising?

Exercise (with or without weight loss) has incredible health, mood-enhancing, mind-clearing, body-shaping and musculo-skeletal benefits – just not weight (fat) loss. Actually, if you learn the dietary change which causes your body to reset  your weight, and stick to it, you’ll have more energy for exercise! If you like walking – enjoy it! Exercise is like flossing your teeth – it’s protective.

If your goal is weight (fat) loss then the best/easiest/only path to change if and how your body burns calories (versus storing calories) is to affect change in the hormones involved. To do this requires dietary change, and for each person the dietary change is different. Don’t expect exercise to cause you to lose weight!

Knowing this may actually help you stick to your favourite exercise program or class. Too many people drop out of their exercise program because they didn’t get the weight loss benefit that they expected. False expectations! But knowing that it’s dietary change, not exercise, that leads to weight (fat) loss, you won’t expect it from your class. You can enjoy that yoga class knowing that your weight loss will come from somewhere else – your dietary change.

Finally, if you wanted to do exercise to help your dietary change, consider adding some interval training (short intense bursts followed by a short break or a burst on a different body part) and resistance training. These types of exercise create an adaptive response and give far better return for time and effort than “chronic cardio”.

And so… change your diet for weight loss and then exercise for health! Not only will you feel good, you’ll look good too.

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Note: Apologies to those who would rather we use “kilojoules” not “calories”. We’re just communicating a concept.