Why Exercise is NOT the Best Way to Lose Weight (Do This Instead)

a few months ago
Strength training and cardio can both help you lose weight...but which is the best option?

Are you doing weight loss all wrong? Discover why sweating it on a treadmill is not the best way to lose weight, and what you must do instead. Don’t be deceived by what everyone tells you; the truth is that you may be trapping yourself in the yo-yo cycle by relying on working out.


Exercise is Pretty Useless…Say What?

Whenever the so-called experts on TV, in books or online talk about weight loss, they immediately start focusing on exercise. They emphasize that you need to join a gym, start running, join a Pilates class…or better still, do all three!

If we listened to these ‘experts’ we would spend half our lives in the gym, or on the track, or bumping and grinding away at home. Unfortunately, though, this thinking has sent most of us down a wrong path, giving us totally misleading expectations when it comes to weight loss.

Now let’s make one thing clear. Exercise definitely is good for you – there is no doubt about that. We will talk about the many benefits of exercise later. But it’s only part of the story. And if you don’t understand the whole picture, you can find yourself trapped in weight-loss dead end. Because as Senior Health Correspondent, Julia Belluz, says:

“It turns out, exercise is actually pretty useless when it comes to weight loss.”

Say what? That’s like the opposite of everything we have been taught all these years. How on earth can exercise be useless at helping you lose weight, when we have been brainwashed into thinking this is the holy grail of fat loss? Here’s why:

The Hard Way to Lose Weight

So does exercise help you lose weight? Of course! But it’s hardest way to get the result you want. Because people tend to overestimate what working out can do for them in turns of burning fat. You have to do an awful lot of exercise to burn a meaningful number of calories, and the benefit is easily wiped out.

For example, my friend Yvonne was frustrated because she was struggling to lose weight, despite working out at the gym. She started by going to the gym three times a week, and running on the treadmill for 30 minutes each time. But she didn’t lose any weight. So then she stepped up to six visits a week, running at a faster pace.

Still nothing.

Then one day I accompanied Yvonne to the gym and realized where she was going wrong. Running hard on a treadmill for 30 minutes was burning calories for sure. She was probably powering through 150 calories in that time. But when her gym session was over, Yvonne was so thirsty that she pulled out a regular can of coke from her gym bag, and guzzled the lot.

Well, guess what? A can of regular coke contains the equivalent of about nine teaspoons of sugar. There’s 150 calories in every can. So drinking just one can of coke, Yvonne immediately wiped out the entire fat-loss benefit of 30 minutes of hard running.

And this is the problem. Our view of calories in vs calories out has been skewed by the assumption that exercise will solve our problems. It will not. Exercise can only help us lose weight if we also carefully managing the number of calories we consume.

The math of weight loss is simple. We need to burn more calories every day than we eat and drink. That is known as running a calorie deficit. But you may be surprised to learn that exercise accounts for a relatively small percentage of the calories we burn each day.

We burn calories in several ways:

  • In our basal metabolism: the energy required to keep our body working (heart beating, breathing, etc.)
  • Thermoregulation: an amazing 60% of our energy is used to maintain our body temperature
  • Thermic effect of food: just breaking down the food we eat consumes a lot of energy
  • Activity and exercise: the energy required to power our movement.

The big surprise is that activity and exercise come right at the bottom of the list. They only account for 10-30% of the calories we burn, depending on how much exercise you do. This means that even if you exercise for hours a day, the effect on your calorie deficit is modest at best.

Most people are amazed to learn how little impact exercise has on your fat-loss efforts. After all, it seems to contradict everything we have been told. Which just goes to show that you shouldn’t believe everything you read, right?

The Many Benefits of Exercise

Let’s make one thing clear though – this is not to say that you should abandon exercise. Far from it. You just need to understand it’s limitations in burning calories per exercise session. But in terms of overall health, regular exercise is the best thing you can do to improve your chance of living a long, happy and health life.

Exercise does help to boost your metabolism so that you burn more calories naturally in the background. And every calorie that you burn during exercise will make a difference. It can also boost your self-confidence and your desire to reach your goals, which helps you stick to your plan.

The Downsides of Exercise

Yes, you should exercise. I work out for an hour a day, six days a week, and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. But you need to be aware of how exercise can actually torpedo your weight-loss ambitions if you are not careful. There are several potential problems:

  • Exercise makes you hungry and thirsty, tempting you to consume fatty foods and sugary drinks that wipe out all the calorie-burning benefits of exercise…and add a few thousand calories more on top.
  • Working out causes you to become tired, which may result in you doing less during the day. You may be tempted to take the elevator instead of using the stairs, for example.
  • You may be tempted to reward yourself for working out with a tasty treat. If that treat is a sugary donut (452 calories) or a Starbucks Cinnamon Roll Frappuccino Blended Coffee (510 calories per Grande), you will be much worse off than when you started. 

So it’s easy to see the problem there. You can work out like crazy through your lunch hour, and burn a total of 300 calories. Go back to your desk with a Starbucks takeout and a donut, and you are tucking into nearly 1000 calories – piling on three times as many calories as you have burned.

The Best Way to Lose Weight

So what’s the conclusion of all of this? What we have learned is that when it comes to weight loss, the calories we consume have a far bigger impact than the calories we burn.

Because exercise only accounts for 10-30% of our daily calorie burn, there is a limit to how much fat-loss benefit a workout can deliver. We have limited control over this side of the calorie deficit equation.

However, we have total control over the other side – the number of calories we consume. By far the best thing we can do to get our weight under control is to improve the quality of our diet. That way, we can tip the calorie deficit in our favor, and start losing weight on a slow but steady basis.

We live in a world in which we are surrounded by bad food choices. From fast food joints to fancy coffee shops, and from donut stands to chocolate at the checkout, we are bombarded with options to consume large quantities of sugary, fatty and fattening foods.

Our taste buds have become adapted to this sweet and fatty world, and we now expect our food to come with an overdose of calorie-laden junk. And the problem is getting worse. The global fast food industry is already worth an astonishing $600 billion, and the market is getting bigger every year.

So don’t expect society to help you with this one; you are on your own. You need to make the decision to radically revise your approach to food. It’s tough to do, but I know you can do it – because I did it myself.

When I found that my BMI put me in the obese category, I decided to get radical about improving my diet. I stopped eating fast food and snacks, and threw out all the processed food in my kitchen. Now my diet mainly consists fruit and vegetables, plus some healthy protein. I cook most meals myself, so I know there is no added fats, oils or sugars.

As a result, I lost over 30 pounds in six months, and I expect to lose another 30 pounds in the six months ahead. The combination of a healthy diet plus a sensible exercise program is working great for me – and it can work great for you, too.

So exercise is important, but it’s not the best way to lose weight. The optimal way to burn fat is to combine fun, regular exercise with tasty but healthy meals. Then you will unstoppable.

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About the author

Joe Bensam

I am an experienced bodybuilder and qualified personal trainer who specializes in strength training, conditioning and building muscle. I can help you become much bigger, stronger and leaner - faster! To discover my simple secret weapon, click here.