Why You Shouldn’t Exercise To Lose Weight
When I was struggling with my weight, I was told by many misinformed people that if I wanted to lose weight, I would need to exercise every day for an hour.
They failed to mention all the other reasons I should do it or maybe I didn’t hear them. Back then, if someone would have told me that shaving my head and getting a face tattoo would have helped me lose weight, I would have done it.
That’s how much I wanted to lose weight.
Needless to say, I followed the advice and began exercising for at least an hour every day for the sole purpose of losing weight.
I would tell myself that I had to run because I was fat.
I would go for very long runs (which I hated) and get blisters on my feet.
I would kill myself at the gym with crazy hard circuits and spin classes that felt like punishment.
I’d wake up early before anyone else was awake to exercise. I’m not a morning person.
I would get a personal trainer to train me as hard as possible.
I would remind myself I was fat during a workout for ‘motivation’.
I would hide in my bedroom and do exercises.
I signed up to boot camps that made me want to vomit.
I believed that if I wasn’t drowning in sweat, it wasn’t considered exercise which meant that yoga, pilates, stretching etc were out.
I would look at pictures of fit, skinny people before working out for more ‘motivation’.
I would exercise in the morning and then again at night just to see the scale move….
But you know what? The number on the scale never moved in the direction I wanted.
After all my dedication to exercise, after all the calories I burnt, I hadn’t even lost weight. It was so frustrating. It didn’t matter how much I berated myself and reminded myself I was fat. It didn’t matter how hard I pushed myself during exercise – the weight would stay the same.
I would lie in bed at night and ask myself: “Why the hell am I not losing weight?! I am eating really well (ahem: restrictedly calorie counting) so what is wrong with my body?”
It didn’t take long for me to resent exercise… It was less ‘love/hate’ and more ‘hate/hate’. I dreaded those long runs but knew, there was no other option for me as a chubby girl. If I wanted to be thin/liked/pretty/acceptable/popular/good enough, I needed to keep killing myself at the gym and with gruelling runs.
I was so wrong.
Why Exercise Doesn’t Result in Weight Loss
As confusing as this might sound, exercise isn’t as useful for weight-loss as we have been taught to believe. ‘Health gurus’ and fitness celebrities love to tell you the opposite but they probably also sell an exercise program that promises weight loss. It’s in their interest to lie a little (why not when everyone else is doing it?)
But I promise you, that my experience of exercising like a crazy woman and not losing weight is spot on. In fact, it can be backed up with science.
So here are a few reasons why exercising alone for weight loss is not going to work:
1. Hunger increases
Ever noticed how when you exercise in the morning, you’re incredibly hungry for the rest of the day? Women, in particular, end up eating more calories after they exercise because we become hungrier. Sometimes, you may even end up eating more calories that day than what you burned off because your hunger is that much greater. You tend to crave high energy food to replace the lost energy from intense workouts. I know that a gruelling workout* in the morning actually used to cause me to binge later.
(* I now exercise in the morning and don’t binge though so it was probably more due to my relationship with exercise, food and dieting.)
2. Exercise doesn’t burn that many calories
To be honest, exercise probably doesn’t burn as many calories as you would like it to. Unless you’re training to be an ironwoman or man, it’s likely that exercise will only burn 10% of your energy per day and 30% if you’re going nuts. When you consider your hunger increases and makes you crave high energy foods, it’s even tougher to maintain a significant calorie deficit.
3. We overestimate how hard we train
Because exercise can feel quite strenuous, we often think we burn more calories than we actually do. Whilst there are devices that can help us get the number right (there is still a 10% margin for error) we generally overestimate how much we burn whilst underestimating how much we eat.
4. Our bodies adopt
Your body is super smart. When you train often, your body becomes more efficient and you actually end up burning fewer calories. Researchers call this metabolic compensation.
5. You begin to hate exercise
As I experienced first-hand, and no doubt you can relate to as well, when you believe you must exercise to lose weight, it can sabotage your relationship with physical movement. It is easy for exercise to feel like a chore and punishment.
When you don’t lose weight from exercising, you think to yourself “What’s the point!?” So, you throw the baby out with the bathwater and stop exercising (even though there are SO many good reasons to keep doing it).
“If exercise won’t help me lose weight, why do it?” It’s the question I used to ask myself all the time.
And here is the very important answer. Exercise is good for so many things.
Exercise is so useful in boosting your mood. I know I use exercise to help manage my anxiety. I don’t know where I would be without the happy neurotransmitters released from even gentle exercise.
Good for concentration
Even a short, brisk 10-minute walk around the block will boost your concentration and cognitive performance.
Fires Up Libido
Exercise is an excellent way to boost your libido and have great sex. On the other hand, sex is a great way to get exercise. It’s a win win situation.
That’s right – people who exercise, live longer! It doesn’t have to be 4am bootcamp. Even simple acts like taking the stairs, walking more and sitting less can do the trick.
And there are many more reasons…
The Healthiest Way to Exercise
Exercise has so many amazing benefits, but exercise for weight loss alone and you’ll be disappointed. So, forget that exercise and weight are related. I promise it will create a far healthier relationship between you and exercise.
Forget ‘the exercise that burns the most calories’ and instead – do the type of exercise that brings the most joy. That will help you be more consistent and help you be healthy.
Today, my relationship with exercise is really balanced and healthy. What I learnt the hard way is that you must always exercise in a way you enjoy. Don’t endure painful workouts that you hate and dread. Don’t overexercise. Always take at least 2 rest days.
I’ve found what works for my body. I love to go for walk/runs in the morning and sometimes do a circuit down at the beach. I love to do yoga and pilates. In summer, I like to swim, run along the beach. I love to salsa dance or just jump around my living room like a crazy person.
Exercise is not about burning calories and losing weight. It’s about feeling good.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to find the type of exercise that your body loves, and do that. Maybe you prefer sprints, HITT, marathons, rowing, playing sports, golf… whatever it is, find what exercise you ENJOY, and then do that. Not only will you start to like exercise, but you’ll find its easier to do more often. And that is truly healthy!
How about from now on, you try this:
Don’t exercise to punish yourself for eating.
Don’t exercise to lose weight.
Don’t exercise to try and fix yourself.
Don’t exercise because you think you should.
Don’t exercise because you hate your body.
Exercise because you love your body.
Exercise because it makes you feel damn good.
Exercise to be strong and healthy.
Exercise for fun and pleasure.
Exercise because you love yourself.
And remember, you don’t need to be a super flexible yogi or wear a crop top and have abs to get exercising. Don’t wait to lose weight before signing up to that yoga or spin or dance class.
In fact, you don’t even need to give a shit about what you look like when you exercise! Unlike what Instagram will make you think, you don’t need to look amazing whilst exercising. In fact, 99.9% of people (non-models) look like sweaty beetroots – and thats totally cool!
I was inspired to write this post after reading this article – “Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies“. For all my fellow science nerds out there, read this one for more detail!
If want some help to find exercise you enjoy – and find the whole food planing thing overwhelming, check out Back to Basics.