Why Out-Exercising Your Diet Isn’t the Answer
- June 1, 2016
- Last Updated: May 4, 2020
- 43 Comments
As I was sitting in a coffee shop last week working on some client plans, I overheard two women talking. One was telling the other all about her new detox diet and the juice cleanse she was doing.
The woman who was listening asked “So do you feel better? Aren’t you exercising a ton now, too?”
The woman who was talking about the juice cleanse said she was exercising more than ever to get rid of the “toxins” in her body and to lose weight from the past few months of “not sticking to her diet.”
She was proud to say she’s avoiding carbs.
Meanwhile, I’m over here munching on my satisfying, drool-worthy oatmeal breakfast with banana.
Helllllo – we need carbs to survive.
We can’t live without carbohydrates. They are our main source of energy and while avoiding carbs may result in rapid weight loss, you’re not doing your body any favors.
As dietitians, we overhear things like this all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to stories of people jumping on the fad diet bandwagons, trying things because they worked for their friends or because they were endorsed by a celebrity, yet have no scientific evidence behind them.
While it sometimes takes every ounce of me not to share why their idea of losing weight is bonkers and will kill their metabolism, I’ve found other outlets to express my feelings (i.e. this blog).
So, today we’re going to talk a little bit about exercise vs. diet for managing weight.
To lose weight and maintain that weight loss, you certainly want exercise to be involved. I 150% believe in a combined approach.
Plus, weight loss aside, exercise has a plethora of other health benefits. Exercise can help us maintain bone density, build muscle, improve our cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, set and achieve goals, manage stress, depression and anxiety, and socialize with others, among many other things.
I’m the biggest advocate in the world for exercise. Those long runs are also my me time.
However, if you’re going to compare eating a nutrient-poor diet with insane amounts of exercise vs. eating a nutrient-rich diet with far less exercise, the latter choice is the winner for well-being and maintenance on all levels.
The real winner, though, is probably somewhere in the middle.
Are you surprised?
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”
It’s true – nearly 80% of weight loss results from what we put in our mouths, versus how much we exercise.
Yet despite that truth, people make time to drive to/from the gym, yet complain that they don’t have time to eat healthy.
If there was a shift in mindset that diet and nutrients (rather than exercise) are paramount, and exercise was a necessary complement, maybe our diet world wouldn’t be so jaded.
We’re doing it all wrong
We live in a culture where we want things now, except that we forget that weight loss is WAY more than calories in and out. People think that if we exercise more and eat less, we are creating the ultimate environment for weight loss.
We may lose weight quickly, but it’s not healthy and it’s not sustainable. On the contrary, what we’re doing is creating a recipe for disaster.
Scientifically speaking, when we cut calories below the resting metabolic rate level we naturally need to survive (like to breathe, pump our heart, supply glucose to our brains), our body goes into starvation mode.
Starvation is a huge stressor on the body, right? We think we won’t get more food so we have to conserve what we have (body fat), and decrease functions that require more energy.
That’s why many women who are deficient in calories lose their period – the body can’t justify spending energy on that process when it doesn’t have enough calories coming in.
We’re going to decrease our metabolic rate, or in other words, burn fewer calories during the day by doing the same things we used to do.
We therefore can’t eat as much as we used to without gaining weight. That’s no fun, right?
diets eating plans has room for desserts and sweets, I’ll never argue against that or bat an eye.
Rather than feeling the need to burn off all of these calories, put the emphasis on the front part of the equation.
If you have a craving, satisfy it – but that’s a story for a whole other post. Let’s keep it simple:
- Exercise because you enjoy it, not to burn off the calories you ate
- Focus on fiber-heavy foods, healthy fats, and lean proteins that will stabilize your appetite/cravings, provide you nutrients and keep you full.
- Make your portion sizes smaller
- Eat dessert when you want to eat dessert
And, please don’t do a juice “cleanse.” You’ll be missing out on so many key nutrients, PROTEIN, plus you’ve got your kidneys, colon and liver to do that work.
Also, please note that in no way am I saying that exercise is futile for weight loss and maintenance. Far from it.
However, eating far less than we need to survive and out-exercising that is not the answer.
Have you ever overheard people talking about fad diets? What were your thoughts?
I used to think this way in college. Like I could eat whatever I want – but if I went to the gym 2x a day, it would be fine. And even though I was never unhealthily overweight, I wasn’t happy with the way I felt. I’d yo-yo diet. I’d restrict myself from Monday-Friday and go all out Saturday & Sunday. It was terrible! It wasn’t until a few years after school when I just started eating on consistent diet of mostly cooked food while keeping a consistent workout regimen (3-4x a week, nothing crazy) that I felt good in my own skin. Now, I’d never think of restricting myself. But I focus more on what’s actually IN my food because that’s what makes a huge difference.
Such a great story, Talia. Thank you for sharing. I’m so happy that you are at a great place now.
Thank you for this! I have lost a lot of weight over the past 2 years but my period has been extremely irregular. I know for sure that I can do a better job of balancing my eating instead of trying to “avoid carbs” etc. but I didn’t know it was possibly the reason behind missing my periods!