When we watched weight loss competition shows like The Biggest Loser, we’re led to
believe that weight loss is due mostly to countless hours of grueling exercise in a
gym with a trainer screaming in your face. Nutrition is mentioned briefly in a short
segment that usually promotes the show’s advertiser, leading America to believe
that a Subway sandwich will help them lose weight.
In real life, most of us don’t have the hours to dedicate to the gym for extreme
weight loss in a short period of time. Therefore, it would be great to know where to
focus our limited time and energy to get the most bang for our buck in terms of
Did you know that to burn off a single M&M you would have to walk about the
length of a football field, or that to burn off the calories in one buffalo wing you
would have to lift weights vigorously for 25 minutes? A chicken burrito with cheese
and sour cream will cost you 210 minutes of yoga, and if you opt for some
guacamole you can tack on 45 minutes more to burn that off, too. When it comes
to calories, clearly it is a lot easier and faster to consume them than it is to burn
them off. That is why you won’t be able to outrun a bad diet.
While it is possible to “exercise off” our bad food choices, it is not very practical.
Why isn’t it realistic to exercise away every extra calorie? Most of us don’t have the
time. It may take four minutes to eat a 350-calorie piece of cake in the break room,
but someone who weighs 150 pounds would need to walk for more than an hour
and a half to burn it all off and get back on track.
A pound of fat is 3,500 calories, running a marathon burns 2,600 calories. That’s
how ineffective exercise is for losing weight.
That’s not to say that exercise isn’t important – Of course, exercise is also
important to maintain weight loss long-term and to build muscle mass. It also has
other benefits to lower your blood pressure, your cholesterol, help you process
blood sugar, help you sleep better, help your mood. Etc read our blog on that.
Losing weight also gets harder as we age. Metabolism decreases by about 2 % per
decade, the struggle also becomes more difficult because of our biology. So, after
three to six months of losing weight your hormones start to change and it makes it
tougher for you to lose weight. So increased hormones actually increase appetite
and increase food storage, but if you absolutely have to choose between the two,
the evidence is clear that diet plays a much bigger role in weight loss. It’s so easy
to consume large doses of calories when something like a burger and fries can have
more than 1,200 calories. The only way you’re going to lose weight is to be more
mindful of your calories, because we are notoriously poor at estimating how many
calories we consume.
And while going to the gym will help you burn more calories, most people tend to
put the calories right back on, almost negating their workout. When you go to the
gym and burn off 400 calories and then go eat a 1,000-calorie dinner, you wasted
Once you have your diet down, adding exercise can help you see results faster,
people who do 150 minutes of physical activity per week lose more than those who
don’t. The most interesting part is that the time is additive. So, someone who
works out in five 10-minute intervals would see the same benefit as someone who
works out for 50 minutes straight.
Far too many people, though, can manage to find an hour or more in their day to
drive to the gym, exercise and then clean up afterward — but complain that there’s
just no time to cook or prepare a healthful, home-cooked meal. If they would spend
just half the time they do exercising trying to make a difference in the kitchen,
they’d most likely see much better results.
Many people think of dieting as a drastic and rigid change, with a high risk of
putting the pounds back on. What is more likely to succeed is gradual change,
made in a much more sustainable way. I also don’t mean to make it seem that
weight loss with diet is easy and exercise is hard. They’re both hard. The challenge
of a slowing metabolism, and the desire to eat more, occurs in both cases, although
dietary change still works better than exercise.
In the end, losing weight is about small victories – everything you do adds up to
create meaningful change. It’s very difficult, but you can do it. It requires time and
effort, but the payoff is huge.
Losing Fat – Why is it so difficult?
“Fat is an amazing tissue. It has ensured survival of our species through two ice
ages and never ending drought and famine. A mere pound of fat stores an
astounding 3500 calories for delayed use at any time in the future.” Doug McGuff,
M.D. It seems now that an adaptation that has allowed us to survive through
history is now killing us in modern times.
Most people believe that the reason modern man is becoming more obese is the
labor saving technologies have made humans more sedentary, and we are much
less physically active than our predecessors. This argument seems logical, but the
argument is incorrect for two basic reasons.
First, physical activity burns much less calories than we were led to believe. An
hour of jogging will burn about 150 calories above our BMR (Basil Metabolic Rate),
which is the lowest rate of body metabolism that can sustain life. However, it only
takes about 30 seconds to consume 150 calories worth of cookies. Doing enough
exercise too utilize a significant number of calories puts the body at greater risk to
overuse injuries. Just like anything else in life, exercise is beneficial up to a point.
After that point, it becomes counterproductive.
Secondly, our ancestors were not as physically active as we think they were. The
work of anthropologists who observe primitive peoples in various regions of the
globe show that a primitive hunter/gatherer life style is much less physically active
than that of modern man. The real problem with obesity is food abundance. Not
since after the Great Depression and WWII has starvation not been a real problem.
We have 150,000 generations where efficient fat storage was essential for survival,
and 3-4 generations where efficient fat storage can lead to obesity. Over thousands
of years of evolution our bodies have become extremely efficient at storing calories
for energy, but that makes it extremely difficult for us to loose body fat through
The moral of the story is that if you want to lose body fat, physiologically speaking,
it’s a lot safer and easier to lose it by consuming less calories than from exercise.
Be safe, be well!
Our Bodies are Built to Move!
Food is Medicine!