In today’s modern culture, we see a huge emphasis on exercise as a means of weight loss. For example, programs like P90x, Insanity, Zumba, and the many others focus on fast-paced, challenging activities designed to burn fat. Just about everyone has heard of The Biggest Loser, another show that shows contestants pushing through grueling workouts all in the name of weight loss. However, what these trends fail to show is that simply eating less is far, far superior to endless workouts.
Forget what those fancy treadmills tell you; you probably aren’t burning thousands of calories from a 45 minute walk. A vigorous, thirty minute run, swim, or cycling session might burn 300-350 calories for the average person. When you consider that many experts say a pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, that’s a whole lot of exercise just to lose one pound. A lot more than most of us have time for.
A simpler way? Just eat less calories. Eliminate fast food, soda, fancy frozen coffee beverages, or a host of any other calorie-dense things, and you’ve found yourself a much, much simpler way to reduce your calories. While it’s true that weight loss comes from expending more energy that you intake, and workouts are important, what shows like The Biggest Loser fail to emphasize is the importance of a proper diet. Those contestants aren’t enjoying McDonald’s meals and ice cream, I promise.
Everyone is telling you to move more. Your doctor has probably told you to exercise. The NFL has it’s Play 60 campaign, and Michelle Obama promotes her Let’s Move program. All of these are geared towards increasing physical activity, which has a whole host of benefits. They are doing great things to improve activity levels. Yet there is a lack of focus on proper nutrition in the media. Americans are becoming more active, but it’s not enough. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of Americans who were meeting activity recommendations increased, but so did obesity rates.
In 2011, a meta-analysis was published that looked at the relationship between fat mass and physical activity in children. This meta-analysis, or a summary of other studies, found that activity levels alone are probably not a good indicator of whether or not a child will be a healthy weight. Studies do show that active adults have a lower probability of gaining weight than sedentary adults, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it helps lose the weight to begin with.
Another point to think about is that fact that exercise makes you hungry. We’ve all been through a tough workout and felt absolutely starving after – not a feeling you want when trying to reduce your calories. It greatly increases the temptation to have a quick, unhealthy meal. We see this in research done in 2012, which showed that greater activity levels were associated with higher caloric intake. When you’re starving, and pass fast food chains on your way home, that’s a bad situation to be in.
Exercise is important. We know this. Combined with a proper diet, regular physical activity is a great way to maintain a healthy bodyweight. It just isn’t the only factor to consider. Plenty of research shows that exercise combined with diet is effective, but not much more than diet alone. So it helps, and there a plenty of health benefits, but you need the diet in place as well.
For a lot of people, getting to the gym can also can be time consuming. Many people feel that after all the hassle of changing after work, going to the gym, and showering after is too time consuming – the only option left is fast food. It would be much more effective to spend less time in the gym, and more time preparing healthy meals. Get your workouts in, but after you figure out how to plan for and prepare healthy meals.
We can’t emphasize enough the general health benefits of exercise. They are countless. Forget about weight loss; if you want a healthy heart, strong muscles, strong cardiovascular system, and a host of other benefits, you should be making regular exercise an important part of your lifestyle. However, if your goal is purely fat loss, it’s more important to address your diet. Any good fitness professional will tell you that you can’t out train a bad diet. However it should be noted that there is a strong coupling effect seen between exercise and diet. This means that when people workout they are able to follow a specific diet better. I have noticed this with myself and clients as well. A person has a way better chance of sticking to a diet if they are working out than if they are not. Exercise also helps keep the weight off after you have lost it. Building muscle mass is also the best way to combat metabolic slowdown which inevitably happens once you start losing weight.
The worst thing you can do is jump on some trendy fad diet, burn out, and rebound. It’s very common, and very easy to do with the thousands of diet books and articles floating around. The best approach is to settle in for the long haul. Realize that this is a process that will take some time. Work on developing healthy habits, incorporating whole foods into your diet, and trying to create a sustainable, balanced, lifestyle. While shows like The Biggest Loser may get you pumped up to hit the gym hard, remember what the show doesn’t show – the strict, controlled diet, day in and day out.