Want to lose weight? Trying to burn fat? Then you need to diet and you need to exercise, right? But…is there are part of this formula that you DON’T know about? What if you’re eating right and exercising, but still not losing the weight?
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First, don’t give up! Second, you may just need a reality check about what to expect from exercise. Here are some basic truths about exercise and your weight.
1. Exercise is only part of the weight loss story.
On the couch or in the gym, there’s no getting around your tab of calories in and calories out.
Robert Kushner, MD, is a professor of medicine at Northwestern University and clinical director of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity. He says the obese patients he treats often tell him they’re not seeing the results they want from exercise.
“They typically will say, ‘I have been working out three days a week for 30 minutes for the past three months and I have lost 2 pounds; there’s something wrong with my metabolism,’” Kushner says.
Kushner says he tells patients that exercise is very good for them, but for weight loss, he emphasizes a healthy diet in the beginning.
“First, we’ve got to get a handle on your diet,” Kushner says. “Then, as you’re losing weight and feel better and you’re lighter on your feet, then we shift more and more toward being more physically active; and then living a physically active lifestyle for the rest of your life is going to be important to keeping your weight off.”
Kushner’s strategy is “certainly one reasonable approach,” but others have had success including physical activity early on, says James O. Hill, PhD, professor of pediatrics and medicine and the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver.
It’s easier to cut 1,000 calories from a bloated diet than to burn off 1,000 calories through exercise, Hill notes. “But there are many, many studies that show that exercise is associated with weight loss when done in enough volume and consistently,” Hill says. “It depends how much you do.”
Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, says she emphasizes physical activity right away with obese patients, partly for its mind-body benefits.
“Fitness is my middle name,” says Peeke, who is the spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine’s “Exercise is Medicine” campaign. “I immediately add physical activity, but I do it gently.”
Peeke says she asks her patients to start walking as a way to “celebrate” their body with activity. “For years, they’ve blown off their body,” Peeke says. “By having them actually use their body … they can begin to integrate their body back into their life and not use it as a source of torture or torment or shame.”
2. Exercise is a must for weight maintenance.
All of the experts interviewed for this story stress this fact: No matter how you lose extra pounds, you’re going to need to be active to keep them off.
“I come back to this over and over and over — you can’t find very many people maintaining a healthy weight who aren’t regular exercisers,” Hill says.
“What we find is that people that focus on diet aren’t very successful in the long run without also focusing on physical activity,” Hill says. He warns that people can be “wildly successful temporarily” at losing weight through diet alone, but there’s plenty of data that show that those people regain the weight if they aren’t physically active.
“When it comes to weight, you can’t talk about diet alone and you can’t talk about exercise alone … you absolutely have to address both issues at the same time,” says Timothy Church, MD, MPH, PhD, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.
3. Food splurges may undo your efforts.