You Can’t Out Run a Bad Diet!

When we watch weight loss competition shows like The Biggest Loser, we’re led to believe that weight loss is due mostly to countless hours of grueling exercise in a gym with a trainer screaming in your face. Nutrition is mentioned briefly in a short segment that usually promotes the show’s advertiser, leading America to believe that a Subway sandwich will help them lose weight and you can out run a bad diet.

In real life, most of us don’t have the hours to dedicate to the gym for extreme weight loss in a short period of time. Therefore, it would be great to know where to focus our limited time and energy to get the most bang for our buck in terms of weight loss.

Did you know that to burn off a single M&M you would have to walk about the length of a football field, or that to burn off the calories in one buffalo wing you would have to lift weights vigorously for 25 minutes? A chicken burrito with cheese and sour cream will cost you 210 minutes of yoga, and if you opt for some guacamole  you can tack on 45 minutes more to burn that off, too. When it comes to calories, clearly it is a lot easier and faster to consume them than it is to burn them off. That is why you won’t be able to outrun a bad diet.

While it is possible to “exercise off” our bad food choices, it is not very practical. Why isn’t it realistic to exercise away every extra calorie? Most of us don’t have the time. It may take four minutes to eat a 350-calorie piece of cake in the break room, but someone who weighs 150 pounds would need to walk for more than an hour and a half to burn it all off and get back on track.

A pound of fat is 3,500 calories, running a marathon burns 2,600 calories. That’s how ineffective exercise is for losing weight.

That’s not to say that exercise isn’t important – Of course, exercise is also important to maintain weight loss long-term and to build muscle mass. It also has other benefits to lower your blood pressure, your cholesterol, help you process blood sugar, help you sleep better, help your mood.

Losing weight also gets harder as we age. Metabolism decreases by about 2 % per decade, the struggle also becomes more difficult because of our biology. So, after three to six months of losing weight your hormones start to change and it makes it tougher for you to lose weight. So increased hormones actually increase appetite and increase food storage, but if you absolutely have to choose between the two, the evidence is clear that diet plays a much bigger role in weight loss. It’s so easy to consume large doses of calories when something like a burger and fries can have more than 1,200 calories. The only way you’re going to lose weight is to be more mindful of your calories, because we are notoriously poor at estimating how many calories we consume.

And while going to the gym will help you burn more calories, most people tend to put the calories right back on, almost negating their workout. When you go to the gym and burn off 400 calories and then go eat a 1,000-calorie dinner, you wasted your time.

Once you have your diet down, adding exercise can help you see results faster, people who do 150 minutes of physical activity per week lose more than those who don’t. The most interesting part is that the time is additive. So, someone who works out in five 10-minute intervals would see the same benefit as someone who works out for 50 minutes straight.

Far too many people, though, can manage to find an hour or more in their day to drive to the gym, exercise and then clean up afterward — but complain that there’s just no time to cook or prepare a healthful, home-cooked meal. If they would spend just half the time they do exercising trying to make a difference in the kitchen, they’d most likely see much better results.

Many people think of dieting as a drastic and rigid change, with a high risk of putting the pounds back on. What is more likely to succeed is gradual change, made in a much more sustainable way. I also don’t mean to make it seem that weight loss with diet is easy and exercise is hard. They’re both hard. The challenge of a slowing metabolism, and the desire to eat more, occurs in both cases, although dietary change still works better than exercise.

In the end, losing weight is about small victories – everything you do adds up to create meaningful change. It’s very difficult, but you can do it. It requires time and effort, but the payoff is huge.

“You Can’t Out Run a Bad Diet!”, Written for Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio by Ashvini Mashru, RD

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