Why Exercise is a Bad Strategy for Weight Loss?

Personal Trainer



I’m a personal trainer in Mississauga, Ontario, and my primary interest is in helping people lose weight. I was once 95 lbs overweight myself, so I like to help those who have a lot to lose, and who have had trouble doing it. I know how hard it can be.

This weekend I spent some time with some of the industry’s best learning about the latest trends in fitness and weight loss. It was my annual conference: I attend it every year to maintain my CEC’s (“continuing education credits”), but I really do it more to learn. And learn I did.

Many of you who follow me know that I’m not at all keen on exercise as a method of weight loss. That’s because it doesn’t work. I’ve done this work for 10 years, and it never works. Never. If it did, I’d be all over it, honestly. But because it doesn’t, I can’t endorse it.

Don’t believe me? Check this article out, titled “Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies” Believe me. IT DOESN’T WORK. Why is that? I think it’s both a physical and a mental phenomenon.

The Physical Issue:

Anthropologist Herman Pontzer went to Tanzania to study one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in existence, the Hadza. He expected to find that they burned significantly more calories than did their Western-world counterparts whom – he reasoned – were much more sedentary. Like the rest of the world, he was operating on the theory that current levels of obesity and overweight are due largely to inactivity.

What he discovered was astonishing.

The energy expenditure of a sample of the Hadza was NO MORE than that of a sample of people from the West. You know, office-worker, sedentary types. Really. Truthfully. They all burned about the same amount of calories.David Sandler – a very respected strength coach – explained part of it this weekend.

Our bodies are very efficient, and are designed to keep us alive. When our activity level rises, it fights back by working to hold on to all the resources it can (usually fat or glycogen, the materials needed to fuel our bodies). If you try to deprive it of fat, it holds on to fat. If you try to deprive it of sugar, it holds on to glycogen (the substance used to store sugar in the body).

Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that you can’t lose weight. It just means that your body is going to fight you at every step of the way, and when you try to exercise your weight off, well, it’s no exception.With the Hadza, it was clear that increased exercise (i.e. chasing wild animals to kill and eat them) resulted in their bodies fighting back by REDUCING caloric expenditure. Not fair, huh?

But the problem isn’t only physical. It also has to do with a problem (generally speaking) in how we THINK about weight loss.

The Mental Issue

I see another problem in using exercise as a tool for weight loss. Penn State University did a study on overweight people. All participants received a calorie-reduced food plan, and were then divided up into 3 groups:

1. The “no exercise” group: they were to only eat according to the new food plan
2. The “cardio-only” group: they did cardio 3x/week
3. The “resistance-and-cardio” group: they did both cardio and resistance training 3x/week

Guess what? Each group lost the same amount of weight: 21 lbs. The ones who did resistance training lost 21 lbs of fat, whereas the other two lost 6 lbs of muscle and 15 lbs of fat.

They didn’t control for “cheats” in this study, however, and I wish they did. I believe they would have discovered that the people who did more exercise indulged in off-plan cheats more often. I think that’s probably what helped contribute to the consistent weight loss across all 3 groups.

I believe this because I see it happen all the time. We think that we can exercise off our cheats, but we chronically underestimate how much we eat when we cheat! Cheat-type food is very calorie dense. Alcohol is the same thing. One glass of wine can erase a half-hour session on a treadmill! A muffin or a donut might require 45 minutes to an hour on a treadmill to compensate for!

We have to re-orient ourselves mentally regarding exercise and weight loss. I personally believe that the correct formula is “eat to maintain a healthy weight, exercise to maintain a healthy body.” David Sandler said essentially that this weekend.

When we can get our head around that, then our eating will be clean enough to lose – and to maintain the loss of – our weight. This is purely a mental issue, changing what we believe. Read the internet article at the link I provided above for more information.

So How Do You Lose Weight?

Simple. Change how you eat, exercise only for health (i.e. if you cheat too much one day DON’T spend extra time in the gym to compensate for it), and be accountable to someone.

Weight loss coaches like me can help you with this. I’m a weight loss coach in Mississauga, but I can also work at distance (phone, Skype, etc.). I’ve helped people right across the country – even in the United States – with their weight loss.

But whatever you do, DO NOT EVER exercise to lose weight. The data is in: it won’t work. Instead it will frustrate you and drive you nuts!

Kind of funny, perhaps, coming from a fitness trainer here in Mississauga who promotes exercise. But it’s the truth, and I wouldn’t want to mislead you.

If you need help, I have a free “Blueprint for Summer Weight Loss Success” I can e-mail you. It’s full of good stuff: a food plan, recipe book, and a food preparation guide for both omnivores and vegetarians. 647-677-6025 by phone or text, or fitin20@yahoo.com.. Good luck, and let me know if I can help.