Are You Exercising And Not Losing Weight? Or Inches?
It’s January and if you are exercising or counting calories, you know that you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. So you eat a little less (say 200 calories a day) and work out for forty minutes after work (and burn 300 calories) and, after a week, have lost a pound. In a month you weigh four pounds less, and in a year you’ve dropped fifty pounds! Wow! Except that you don’t. The math never quite works out.
Tucked into the footnotes of Yoni Freedhoff’s sane book The Diet Fix is a reference to an interesting study. Researchers monitored about two hundred unfit people, aged forty to seventy, for a year. Half were men and half were women. The subjects performed home or gym-based moderate to vigorous aerobic work-outs for sixty minutes a day, six days a week under the care of fitness trainers. Only six dropped out and all kept detailed records.
How much weight could you lose on such an aggressive regimen? Twenty pounds? Forty? Enough to model for the local surf shop?
The average weight loss for women was 3.1 pounds. 3.1! For men? 4.0! Hardly stellar. To be clear, though the weight loss was low, it was shown that those who worked more lost more and the study appears to have been conducted superbly.
So what’s up?
Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight
- A focus on exercise alone ignores the primacy of food and eating in a weight loss effort. Eat right in reasonable portions and you will lose as much or more weight than you will when working out. But keep exercising as there are a host of healthy benefits – stress relief, heart health, and community – but remember that you can lose weight without working out.
- Technology is lying to you. Your machine or workout monitor dramatically overestimates the calories you burn. I have about three different work out monitors that all give different figures for calories burned. It’s a guess which one works best for my body and my workouts. The best advice I can give is to error on the low side and assume you’re not burning as much as you think.
- You eat the calories back that you think you’ve earned. “Wow! I just burned a thousand calories! Surely, I can have two brownies, right?” Well, the truth is that you only burned four hundred calories and just scarfed six hundred. Not the kind of math that adds up to weight loss.
- We don’t eat as healthily as we think. Especially if you eat packaged foods even if they purport to be healthy. Convenience and reward are so wrapped into our culture that we all fall for this. The most healthy foods usually take more time to prepare and that easy-bake Hamburger Helper can wipe out those last few extra miles in about four bites.
- Unless you are working out every day you are likely over-eating for the week or month. Calories are cumulative and one day of working out and low-cal meals won’t make up for three days of sugary snacks.
- Exercise can certainly make you tired but it might not contribute to a good night’s sleep. Especially when first starting a program. If you’re amped up from exercise, you might have a hard time relaxing. And I know for me, if I’m up late, I’m probably noshing on something. And it won’t be a carrot.
- You’re chasing a fad. They’re fun and sometimes crazy but never really work in the long run. Stick to eating real food that you cook yourself. The best advice that I know of is to eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.
- So, what to do? Keep exercising! But exercise with more of an eye on cardiovascular health and muscle and bone maintenance. If you want to lose weight then learn to watch your eating habits, real caloric intake, and focus on real food.
Here are a few other posts on eating and exercise:
Here are a couple about how to do it wrong: