I just read a fabulous article in TIME magazine how exercise alone might not help people lose weight.
The article reviews several studies that show exercise alone does not lead to weight loss and may actually lead to weight gain, and here’s why:
TIME, August 2009:
“The basic problem is that while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.”
This is known as The Compensation Problem. You workout 5-7 days a week and feel that you are either 1) entitled to having that quart of ice cream a night or a few donuts each day or 2) So hungry from your hardcore workout that you eat everything in site. In reality, the calories that you are consuming greatly exceed those that you are burning. This is why cardio fanatics might have a hard time losing weight.
I won’t get into all of the details of the article, but I will tell you that from experience, this article does have some very interesting points. I for one have seen how too much exercising, followed by too much eating, can backfire on you, either making me gain weight or taking a toll on my overall health.
A few years ago, when I was training for a marathon, I followed a marathon training program to the letter for probably 3 months. Even though I had already been running for several years, I had never done a marathon. After doing a little research, I kept coming across two main tips for marathon training: 1) follow a marathon training program, and 2) increase your carbohydrate in take. I followed both of these tips.
Right around the third month of training, I had a few family photos taken at a wedding. When I finally got the pictures developed (back when digital cameras weren’t very popular) I was absolutely shocked at how puffy, bloated, and heavy I looked. How could this be? I was running a ton – so wasn’t I burning a ton of calories too? I realize now that in addition to the massive amounts of carbs I was consuming, I was also so ravenous during my training that I was eating gigantic portions of food. Point Blank – I was taking in way more calories than I was expending, and most of those calories were from carbs.
After running a 1/2 marathon (as part of the full marathon training program) I decided not to run the full marathon. For me, that was the best decision I could make at the time. I still continued to run, but decreased my milage dramatically and went back to eating a normal diet and a normal amount of carbs. Low and behold, my appetite went back to normal, I was less tired and cranky, AND I lost weight. I had another picture taken (actually my engagement picture) taken a couple months later and was so happy that I looked normal again, no bloat, no puffiness, just a thinner and healthier me.
Although I do still hope to run a marathon some day, for now I’m content with running my 20 miles a week with the occasional 5 or 10K thrown in.
I personally don’t advocate forgoing exercise and relying on calorie intake alone for weight loss or maintenance. Your body needs exercise, especially for cardiovascular health. And, it’s really all about balance. Just like the saying goes, too much of a good thing – whether it’s exercise or food – can hurt you…or at least not help you.
If you can find a balance between regular exercise and healthy and proportional eating (based on height, weight, calorie expenditure) you should be able to reach your healthy weight and fitness goals without having to resort to excessive measures.