Posted on 21/11/2022
If you use exercise as part of your strategy to lose or control your weight it’s really important to understand that you can’t outrun a bad diet.
So often we meet people who’ve become disheartened in their attempts to lose weight. They’re often exercising desperately hard, and they often have very important health reasons for needing to lose the weight, but despite their best efforts the extra kilograms just won’t seem to budge.
And – not uncommonly – the reason for this difficulty stems from the way they’re eating.
The way we eat, move, handle stress and even sleep all work together to help us maintain a healthy body weight, but roughly 80% of the ‘success’ a person has when they want to lose weight usually comes down to switching to a diet that is high in vegetables, fibre, and good quality fat and protein, whilst at the same time avoiding highly processed and energy dense ‘foods’ that are full of refined carbohydrates, sugar, refined vegetable oils and alcohol.
This fact is starkly reinforced by English G.P. and author Dr John Briffa on page 190 of his really informative 2010 book ‘Waist Disposal’:
‘The most comprehensive assessment of the impact on weight loss to date was conducted by members of an international group of independent researchers known as the Cochrane Collaboration. The review included 43 individual studies, and its point was to quantify the effect that exercise has on weight loss. The amount of exercise prescribed in these studies varied from study to study. Typically, exercise sessions lasted 45 minutes with a frequency of three to five times a week. The total length of the studies ranged between 3 and 12 months.
The individual studies in this review were designed to study different things. For instance, some of them compared the impact of exercise or diet on weight loss. Here the results showed that the ‘dieters’ lost between 2.8kg and 13.6kg in weight. On the other hand, exercisers lost between just 0.5kg and 4.0kg in weight.
In other words dietary change is far more effective than exercise in bringing about weight loss.
Some other studies in this review compared the effect of diet and exercise with dietary change alone. Here it was found that weight loss for those dieting and exercising was between 3.4kg and 17.7kg, but for those just dieting it was 2.3kg-16.7kg.
Overall, the additional weight loss from exercise averaged out at a shade over 1kg.
Imagine cleaning up your diet and in six months you find you’ve lost 10kg in weight. If, on top of this , you had been exercising for 45 minutes, four times a week, you could expect to have lost about 11kg.
And the time you would have spent exercising to get this additional 1kg weight loss benefit? 69 hours.’
Adding an extra 30 minutes to your run or a few extra reps to your weights routine doesn’t really ‘make up’ for that extra glass of wine or second helping of cake, and if you’re someone who is struggling to control your weight understanding the primary role healthy eating plays in that can be life changing!
And so is exercise of any use? Of course it is. It has a huge array of benefits! It’s just that weight loss (based on an outdated belief that weight loss is simply a case of burning more calories than you consume) isn’t really one of them.
Remember, you can’t outrun a bad diet!