Does this sound familiar? You rely on exercise to work off the calories in that second margarita, the large handfuls of tortilla chips you nibble nightly in front of the TV, or the pint of ice cream you pick at while standing at the kitchen counter, but you’re not losing any weight and you may even be gaining some. Truth be told, most of us can’t count on exercise to completely counteract calorie overload. Don’t throw in the towel just yet, however. Here’s how to adjust your attitude about physical activity to get better results on the scale.
Problem: You give exercise too much credit. Weight control is a balancing act, and exercise probably doesn’t burn as many calories as you think. When you feel entitled to splurge because you’ve worked out, think about this: it can take less than a minute to eat back the calories burned on a 30-minute run or in a 45-minute tabata class.
Solution: Learn what you burn. I’m not a big fan of calculating calories in (as food) and out (as physical activity) because weight control is more complicated than that. I don’t agree with tactics like listing on food labels how much physical activity you need to burn the calories in a portion of that food because it makes exercise seem like punishment for eating. In January 2016, Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health introduced that idea. (See examples in the photo below).
But I digress.
It probably pays to educate yourself about how many calories you’re probably using up through movement. According to the American Cancer Society’s Exercise Counts Calculator, a 150-pound person burns about 150 calories walking briskly for 30 minutes. That’s about the same number of calories found in 6 ounces of white wine, or 5 chocolate creme sandwich cookies, or about 1/2 cup of soft serve vanilla frozen yogurt.
Problem: You work out too hard. When I was much younger, I ran a lot more than I do now, used exercise as justification to eat more than I should have, and was always perplexed that I didn’t weigh less (duh!). Research suggests what I already know through experience: intense exercise can counteract weight control efforts. It may overstimulate your appetite, and lead you to believe that you can reward yourself with extra food. Ironically, you may also move around less during the day when you push yourself too hard at the gym, which decreases overall calorie burn.
Solution: Take it down a notch. Find activities that raise your heart rate but not your appetite, such as brisk walking, kickboxing, and shorter runs. Include at least two weekly sessions of resistance training, such as weight lifting, to preserve and build muscle, which burns more calories than fat tissue. Generally speaking, resistance training probably won’t make you ravenous.
Research suggests that eating less probably has a greater effect than exercise alone on your weight. However, eating less plus exercise probably works better for weight control than just cutting calories. The real beauty of exercise is that everyone can benefit from it, no matter how much they weigh. Of all the lifestyle habits to develop and maintain, regular exercise is one of the best, if only because it reduces the risk for 13 types of cancer. It’s never too late to benefit from adding exercise to your routine, and it may help you live longer, and better.