Updated: Jun 7, 2022
You can't out-train a bad diet. What does this mean? We have all seen gym advertisements, exercise machine commercials, and signs out in front of fitness studios claiming that if you join / do their workout, you will "burn hundreds of calories" and "lose all the weight you want". Well that's only partly true. While you may burn some calories, that doesn't mean you will lose weight. Here's why: Let's say you regularly eat a whopper with large fries, and drink a 16 ounce coke. That one meal equals 1,360 calories. If your body only requires 1600 calories per day, you have just ingested 85% of your daily caloric intake in one meal. Eat two more meals and a snack or other beverages, and you can easily ingest twice your daily caloric intake (or more)! Now let's try and work that off: If you weigh 160 lbs., In order to work off that burger, fries and coke, you would need to run for approximately two and a half hours straight, non-stop, at 5 miles per hour. Just from eating that one meal, that's insane!
Here's another problem. Our bodies don't like to lose weight. When you burn off a bunch of calories too quickly, your body goes into a type of starvation mode. This makes your body crave more calories to replace the ones you burned off. Before you know it, you're eating more food during meals, and won't even notice it. Your body will make sure that you get those calories back, and then it will eventually adapt to your training regimen, slowing your metabolism, so those calories won't get burned off so easily in the future. This is called reaching a plateau in your weight loss. The end result is, your body doesn't burn off as many calories as it used to, and it will make you eat all the calories you burned off. Talk about insidious!
An even bigger problem Another problem with doing workout sessions for weight loss, is that they have to be very intense in order to burn all those calories (as in the example above). This causes an increase in your chances of getting injured. For example, let's say you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle for years, and then you do a high intensity workout to "burn hundreds of calories". You will more than likely get injured due to the intensity required to burn those calories. You may not get injured after the first workout, but it will eventually happen. As you continue to perform that workout, the repeated stress on your your muscles, ligaments, and tendons will cause them to become sprained, strained, or torn.
The more out of shape you are, the greater chance for injury. Conversely, these injuries can occur to active folks as well, and once you're injured you won't be able to do any exercise.
So what to do? First of all, there are tremendous benefits to exercising, including increasing your metabolism, and the truth is, we ALL need to be more active. But if your goal is strictly for weight loss, here are a few things to do:
Start with a lifestyle change diet like the the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, or the Whole Food Plant Based diet. These complete methods of eating will allow you to lose weight while getting healthy. Stay away from extreme diets like Keto, they are very restrictive in nutrients, and only work short term. They have also been linked to various diseases (i.e., gall stones, kidney stones, fatty liver disease, etc.).
Slowly introduce low impact exercises (i.e., walking, light resistance training exercises, etc.) a few times per week. This will help increase your metabolism gradually without causing you to go into starvation mode (causing you to eat more calories). It will also save you from injuries.
Work with a trainer who has experience in helping folks lose weight, and can personally design a program based on your body type and needs (Tip: if they tell you that you have to train hard to lose weight, don't hire them, they are inexperienced in this area).
Keep in mind that permanent weight loss is an ongoing process. Think back to how long it took you to gain all the unwanted weight. It's going to take a little while to lose it.
Be patient with yourself, and if you slip up, don't stress, just start back on your lifestyle change diet during your next meal.
In summary You can't burn off a high caloric diet from just working out. Training hard will not help you lose weight, and may actually cause you to gain weight as you find yourself ingesting more calories. Additionally, high intensity workouts can cause injury for both sedentary and active folks.
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Stay Healthy and Safe, Lawrence Castanon Author, The Short Fight #theshortfight