In Episode 12: Why You Can’t Lose Weight with (Just) Exercise, Geof and Todd discuss how exercise, in and of itself, is ineffective for losing weight. The reason being is that it is far too easy to consume calories and very, very difficult to burn them. Despite this calories in/calories out relationship, the fitness industry is all too eager to sell weight loss solutions even though weight loss is one of the things the fitness industry is the worst at doing. So why does the fitness industry sell you weight loss solutions if they are so bad at it? Because people want to lose weight and people care about losing weight so the fitness industry sells people what they want. What the fitness industry does not do a good job of selling to people are the hundreds and probably thousands of other benefits that result from an exercise routine. Geof and I spend a better part of this podcast defining how we think that our relationship with exercise shouldn’t revolve around weight loss but should be about getting stronger to make your day-to-day activities easier, moving without pain, supplementing your active hobbies, relieving stress, and sleeping better.
If Geof and I were forced to place percentages on how important diet and exercise are to weight loss, we would have to say that diet is responsible for 80-90% of your weight loss results and exercise making up the remaining 10-20%. Again, it is very easy to consume calories but very difficult to burn them. The example that I commonly use in class is that the hot do eating champion, Joey Chestnut, can consume 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes and approximately 20,000 calories. Conversely, an ironman athlete who swims 2.4 miles, bikes 112 miles, and runs a marathon (26.2 miles) during 10 continuous hours of highly strenuous activity can only hope to burn 10-12 thousand calories depending on body size and finishing time. To put that into perspective, people are capable of eating 20,000 calories in 10 minutes, twice the number of calories that an ironman triathlete burns in 10 hours. Although this is an extreme example, it illustrates just how easy it is to consume calories and just how difficult it is to burn them.
To lose weight an energy deficit must be created (calories in < calories out) and the math just is not on the side of exercise. Although beyond the scope of these podcast notes, calorie for calorie, it is far easier to not eat a calorie than it is to burn one off. The old saying of “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” is completely accurate. As Geof states in our podcast, you will lose more weight sitting on the couch and not eating anything for two weeks than the weight you will lose while vigorously exercise training for 60 minutes/day for two weeks.
Exercise has hundreds and thousands of benefits. There is no doubting that. But it probably should be viewed as a compliment to diet for weight loss and the maintenance of the weight you lose rather than a primary solution for losing weight. In and of itself, exercise is terrible at causing weight loss.