You’ve probably been told for years now that in order to achieve your dream body you need to exercise more. This is wrong. More than likely, you’ve actually been exercising yourself fat by spending hours in the gym. It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s true.
I’ve dealt with people who want to lose weight for years and all of them make the same mistake. A mistake that is propagated across media channels. The mistaken belief that you can lose weight just by increasing your activity levels. People who believe that they can fix all of their weight problems with just exercise have to face a harsh truth – they’re wrong. Unless they’re willing to change their mentality, they have to face the door. As a coach I have no choice but to reject these types of requests for help even though it means I’m rejecting a paycheck. Why?
As the physician and best-selling author Mark Hyman states:
You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.
Coaches and trainers (big difference) out there will exaggerate how important your activity levels are for losing weight. They are somewhat right. What’s missing is fully understanding the link between exercise and weight loss. A coach might tell you that exercise is the mother of all habits because it forges discipline. Well you could apply that same discipline and drive to the less attractive side of weight loss: proper diet.
Indeed exercise alone won’t solve your problem of carrying extra weight. In fact, exercise will always make you hungrier.
This has been shown in a variety of studies. For example, 1997 study in the UK investigated the effects of exercise on appetite control. Most study participants reported a lack of appetite right after intense exercise. However, just moments after that, their appetite would rise to levels that would impact their behaviour. They’d feel raging hungry and, as a result, they would overeat.
You might think they were just exercising too much and that a 15-min jog in the park wouldn’t do your appetite any harm. Perhaps you could by some miracle burn more calories than you’d consume later. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
What’s clear is that exercise induces metabolic response, which in turn is associated with bigger cravings. Your body needs to restore the energy balance, but since you’ve put it through bigger than usual demand – it needs much more in order to survive next time. That’s why people overeat without giving a second thought. This then leads to storing fat and unwanted adiposity.
Ok, but how about those people whose diet is high in fat? Yes they may burn fat for fuel but wouldn’t they overeat too and gain weight?
Well, what’s interesting about these studies is that they show that after exercise people consume higher amounts of a specific macronutrient: carbohydrate. This makes sense because on a normal diet (not high in fat) your body is primed to burn carbohydrates and sugar for fuel fuel. Depending on intensity of exercise, the body will want to replenish that fuel supply after exercise. (People on high fat diets prime their bodies to burn fat over carbs for fuel, thus avoiding this issue.)
The point I’m making is that carbohydrates are nature’s known shortcut to gaining fat. Due to increased appetite we’re likely to eat too much of them after exercise. As a result, we stunt our weight loss.
We exercise, we get hungry, we overeat.
So many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight yet only 2% stick with it long enough to see a difference. The rest are doomed to repeat this vicious cycle of overeating carbs as long as they continue to prioritise exercise over simple nutrition tweaks. And when they don’t see a difference in their body or fitness, of course they quit early in the year. I’d quit too over such stale results.
Of course, the benefits of exercising regularly are endless. But what we put in our body matters just as much, if not more. From the point of view of behavioural psychology, no one is strong enough to curb cravings caused by exercising. Even more so if their dietary choices are skewed to begin with.
The solution is pretty simple: focus on your diet first. Correct what you put in your body, then add exercise for good measure. Add exercise not for weight loss primarily, but for the following benefits:
- Confidence and natural leadership
- Mental clarity and productivity
- Better sex life
- Strength and vitality
- Better mood and many more.
It’s nutrition first, then exercise. Not the other (easy) way around…