Myth #4: Fitness is More Important than Food for Weight Loss

By April 14, 2020 Weight Loss

“Fitness is more important than food for weight loss.”

These sections will be quoted directly from the best-selling book by Yoni Freedhoff, MD, The Diet Fix. I couldn’t recommend this book enough for those who want to take control of their weight.

Who hasn’t tried the “exercise more” weight loss program? While there’s likely no behavior more important to overall health than exercise, in the real-world, exercise doesn’t drive weight loss.

Looking at real life folks, it would seem that to lose a pound through exercise requires an average of 70-90 hours of exercise. Of course, mathematically that makes no sense at all. Ninety hours of exercise ought to burn well over a dozen pounds worth of calories. Whether you don’t eat a calorie or burn a calorie, at the end of the day, that calorie’s impact on weight should be the same. Yet with the exception of controlled experimental environments, it isn’t.

Where did I come up with the 70-90-hour number? From a couple of studies. The first looked at the impact exercise had on Amish carriers of a known Obesity gene, the FTO gene. The study found that Amish FTO carriers who reported being active for 3 to 4 hours more per day than their more sedentary counterparts were 15 pounds lighter. There’s a 72-97-hour annual difference for each and every pound – meaning that if you faithfully headed to the gym for an hour each day, each and every day of the year, even if you didn’t take one single day off, by year’s end you’ll have only lost 6 pounds as a result of your exercise.

The second was a study of 196 individuals who were asked to exercise for an hour every day, six days a week, and not to make any changes to their diets. The study participants were recruited out of their doctors’ offices, and the researchers were looking for sedentary and unfit folks between the ages of 40 and 75. The studies’ exercise intervention was both home and gym based moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise. Study adherence was stellar, and over the course of a year, men averaged 6.16 hours weekly exercise and women 4.90 –that’s 320 hours of exercise for the men and 254 for the women! Did they lose weight? Did literally hundreds of hours of gym time translate into movement on the scales? By the end of the year, compared with their no exercising control group, exercising men were only 3.5 pounds lighter and women only 2.6 pounds. In hours per year per pound that works out to 91.5 hours per year to effect a 1-pound change on the scale for both men and women.

So, what’s going on?

Shouldn’t calories burned exercising have the same bottom line impact on weight as calories not eaten? Why doesn’t the math work in real life? Because we’re human. Have you ever eaten anything “because you exercised?” An extra portion? A higher calorie choice? A reward for your hard work? I sure have. Or have you ever been hungrier because you exercised? Me too. And once you start eating in response to your exercise, exercise weight benefits disappear. You may also get lulled into a false sense of security by your exercise equipment, which may
have a little digital display telling you how many calories you burned while exercising. I spoke with physicist and athlete Alex Hutchinson, author of Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise, who pointed out that the machines often grossly overestimate the calories you’re actually burning. For instance, they’ll assume you’re running on that treadmill at 4 miles an hour rather than walking, and running burns significantly more calories because the definition of running dictates that you’ve actually got both legs off the ground in between strides, which in turn requires expending a great deal more energy. According to Hutchinson, they’ll also likely include the calories you’d be burning even if you weren’t exercising: “You might burn 88 calories while walking a mile, but you would have burned 36 of those calories just to stay alive for those minutes, so your net burn is just 52 — a phenomenon that’s more misleading the lower your exercise intensity. Yet it’s difficult to resist the urge to believe the calories your exercise equipment reports you’ve burned are calories you’ve earned the right to eat.”

Exercise has a tremendous impact on us psychologically and physiologically, and in regard to weight management, those impacts are both for better and for worse. While exercise may lead us to unknowingly consume more calories as a reward for exercise than the calories we burned exercising in the first place, there is no doubt that exercise does us many tremendously good services, and it’s no myth that exercise has a powerful impact on our mood and sleep, and in my experience, markedly bolsters healthy living attitudes as a whole. It’s likely these less than tangible or indirect benefits lead us to weight management’s most unfair paradox. While exercising alone is unlikely in the real world to lead to any dramatic weight loss, we know that without exercise, you’re far more likely to regain whatever weight you lost. Exercise is another of those commonalities found among the National Weight Control Registry’s weight loss masters. When all is said and done, most folks suggest that dietary choices are responsible for 70-80% of a person’s weight, while fitness covers the remaining 20-30%.

I don’t know about you, but if I had a final exam where the question was to be weighed 70 to 80% in favor of one semester’s material, I’m pretty sure that’s the semester I’d be giving the vast majority of my study time and attention. To put this another way: it’s far easier to lose weight in your kitchen than it is to lose weight in the gym.

We believe in making healthy, lifelong changes to your daily eating and exercise patterns. Physician’s Weight Control & Wellness’s programs are different from other weight loss programs in that they are specifically constructed by bariatric specialists to meet each patient’s individual needs based on their body chemistry, lifestyle, and weight loss goals. Our individualized programs focus on providing positive alternatives to unhealthy habits and targeting foods which provide your body with the specific nutrients it needs for optimal energy and fat metabolism. Practical exercise and hydration are also implemented into our overall program.

We encourage you to become a part of our successful weight loss program. We offer 50 years of safety, experience, knowledge and expertise found nowhere else!

Contact us with any questions about Physician’s Weight Control & Wellness Center and how we can help you in your journey to better health.

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash