Wait, So Exercise Won’t Make Me Lose Weight?

Could it be true that my hour at the gym is a waste of time when it comes to losing weight?

Could it be true that my hour at the gym is a waste of time when it comes to losing weight?

Exercise doesn’t help you lose weight as much as you think when it comes to achieving your weight-loss goals. That’s the basis of John Cloud’s “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” Time magazine article.

When I finished reading that article this afternoon, my first reaction was rage: All those precious wasted hours at the gym or out on the trails! Leading up to the wedding, I exercised furiously only to shed about five pounds from January to May. This article was proof of why, despite all my best efforts, I wasn’t losing more weight.

My next reaction was enlightenment. I’m well past my sleep diet experiment, and yes, after maintaining getting eight or more hours of sleep most nights of the week and not changing my eating or workout schedule, I have gained only one pound. I am only one pound heavier than I was on my wedding day, May 23, 2009.

As I mention in the sleep diet post, before the wedding, I watched my diet closely and exercised five to six times a week for anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour. After the wedding, I’ve been exercising about three times a week and not restricting my diet. Fortunately, I’ve always eaten pretty healthy and I’m not big on snacks or snacking. However, where some people fall victim to chips or chocolate, my weakness is alcohol.
(I love trying new exotic wines and beers from all around the world.)

With all the extra calories I’ve been consuming and not burning off through exercise, I predicted I would gain around five pounds over the next few months after the wedding.

But I haven’t.

And while I’m sure the extra sleep I’m getting now isn’t hurting. I am no longer certain that my lack of weight gain or weight loss can be solely attributed to my sleep habits.  

Cloud talks about his own experience with rigorous exercise only to find he’s maintained roughly the same weight for years. Why, he asks, isn’t all the exercise eliminating his belly fat?

It turns out our problem lies in the fact that once we’ve had a hard workout, we feel we’ve “earned” that large muffin, piece of pie or (in my case) extra glass of wine. We consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) eat more calories that overcompensate for all the calories we burned from our workouts. 

Yes, exercise is still crucial for overall health and to ward off diabetes, heart disease, dementia and a variety of other illnesses, but it doesn’t have to be in short, strenuous bursts. According to some experts in the article, just getting more movement throughout the entire day is good enough for exercise. Use the stairs, park far away from your destination, and bike around town more. That’s just as good as getting in one hour of sweat-dripping torture and then sitting on your butt the remainder of the day.

The key to weight loss is more about what we (don’t) eat than how much we exercise. I read further evidence for this in Serena Gordon’s article, “Want to Lose Weight? Just Eat Less.” Granted, this article isn’t looking at exercise habits but rather different diet plans.

So after reading all this, I could argue, “Well, why bother to exercise then?” However, I won’t.

My half-hour to one-hour exercise routines may not be helping me lose weight, but they give me other health benefits that are enough to keep me torturing myself. Exercise:

  • Increases my energy
  • Improves my mood
  • Reduces my stress
  • Clears my mind
  • Wards off cancers and all the other aforementioned illnesses

I also notice that these rewards are heightened when I further torment myself with early morning workouts, which I did today, thank you very much. I went to my spinning class, and it was wonderful!

Rarely do I enjoy exercise, but I do it because its pros far outweigh its cons. At least now though, I won’t beat myself up as much when I miss a workout.

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4 Responses to Wait, So Exercise Won’t Make Me Lose Weight?

  1. Hey Laura,

    I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been getting up “early” (around 8-8:30) pretty much every day for the last 4 weeks and…to my surprise…I actually like it better! Of course, I still go to bed late, so I don’t get nearly as much sleep as I’d like, but I aim for 7 hours a night (I prolly get 6-6 1/2). Anyhow..yea, just thought I’d share.

    Also, I just noticed you have me in your blogroll, thanks! But you have my old website address, my new on is: http://www.procrastinatingwritersblog.com. 🙂

  2. Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Great job! As long as you feel OK with only six hours of sleep, I say great. Some people need less than others. I’m with you though — I think I’ll always be a night owl at heart, and it’s very difficult for me to make myself go to bed early.

    Sorry about the link — it has been updated. And I’ll be informing everyone of your awesome new writing tool soon!

  3. Kristen Stotts says:

    I totally agree with this post (although I slightly disagree that exercise doesn’t equal weight loss). Last year when I was training for my half marathon, I thought that I could eat or drink ANYTHING because of all the mileage I was clocking. 6 weeks and SEVEN extra pounds into my training, I realized that I wasn’t gaining THAT much extra muscle.

    I always think of weight loss as calories in, calories out. As long as you are watching your diet, I think that you can really trim down with exercise. I think that a lot of people try to lose weigh by dieting alone, and it rarely works. I am one of those freaks who actually enjoys, and looks forward to working out — it always makes me feel so much better. Working out is my therapy.

  4. Laura Lee Bloor says:

    I don’t necessarily think that exercise won’t help you lose weight, it’s just that I agree that we may have been lead to believe we can relax our eating habits more as long as we’re exercising. In reality, as you learned and pointed out, we can’t exercise a bunch, eat whatever we want, and not expect to maintain or gain weight.
    And yes, it’s amazing how much more level-headed I am when I workout on a regular basis!

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