Exercise: Image of group of aerobics instructors

Exercise Is NOT the Key to Losing Weight (And here’s a ton of research and quotes to prove it.)

For years I felt guilty for not exercising on a regular basis. I’m talking, I felt really guilty. Because I believed exercise was the way to stay fit and trim.

But recently I remembered that not one, but two gym-owners, have told me:

“90% of the way your body looks is not due to exercise. It’s due to the food you put in your mouth.”

As I sat down to write a New Year’s resolution-y blog post about dropping some LB’s, the exercise vs. food intake theory came to mind. Then when I Googled the thought I learned the gym owners are right!

Once I tumbled into this particular rabbit hole, I found multiple articles on the topic. I’ll link to them in case you want to fact-check me.

The first article I read was Vox’s,

“The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight.”

This article provided some great (and well-researched, as in 60+ studies) points such as:

  • Exercise only accounts for a small portion of your daily calorie burn.
  • You actually have to exercise a ridiculous amount to cause a significant calorie deficit.
  • Exercise can make you hungrier.
  • You may let yourself eat more after working out because you think you burned a lot of calories, when in truth, an hour of hard exercise can be erased with five minutes of (ravenous) eating afterward.
  • A rigorous workout can make you slow down afterward.

All this to say,

“So if one is overweight or obese, and trying to lose dozens of pounds, it would take an incredible amount of time, will, and effort to make a real impact through exercise alone.”


If you are the parent of young children or if you have a full-time job—oxymoron, I know—fitting an hour of exercise in multiple times a week is a humongous challenge. You know that, and I know that, and I used to be an aerobics instructor, for crying out loud!

For 12 years I taught group fitness. And yes, I loved it. Except for the thong leotards. Dang, those things leave a mark:/

I eventually felt guilty for dragging three kids to the gym and leaving them in the daycare room three times a week or more, so I retired from my side-hustle. But guess what? Once I stopped getting paid to exercise, I stopped exercising. Exercise in the formal sense of the word.

The US government says we should get 300 minutes of moderate-intense activity a week. That’s 43 minutes a day. You can exercise less if you move “vigorously.”

Somebody remind me, who was it that said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that?”

Most days, my workouts consist of climbing up and down the three flights of stairs in our house. That and grocery shopping. I find it difficult to squeeze in the government-approved number of recommended exercise minutes and I’m not as over-scheduled as many of my friends.

Then my father-in-law was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer of the stomach. He died 34 days later.

After that, I decided our family should eat more healthfully. The first thing I did was eliminate foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and/or high fructose corn syrup. That’s the only step I took: reading labels. And I lost more than 10 pounds. Maybe it was 20. The point is, I lost more weight with that “activity” than I did with teaching aerobics three times a week. Interesting….

All you devoted exercisers and health professionals, do not despair! The Vox article went on to say,

“Exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug—better than any pharmaceutical product any physician could ever prescribe.” Yoni Freedhoff, obesity doctor

Exercise can:

  • Prevent cancer
  • Improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or sugar numbers
  • Reduce the risk of diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • Improve attention, energy, and mood
  • Maintain weight loss (While exercise isn’t great for losing weight, it actually is quite effective for maintaining weight loss.)

Not only that, but my friend Jessica Savage, owner of SOAR Fitness Studio in Morgantown, loves the “ripple effect,” she says exercise has on individuals. “When you exercise you start to feel better which leads to eating better which leads to sleeping better, and so on.”

At the bottom of the first Vox article I read was a link to another article titled, “Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight.”

As you might expect, much of the text supported this idea:

“There is … a phenomenon researchers have been documenting for years: that it’s extremely difficult for people to lose weight once they’ve gained it by simply exercising more.”

The article talks about a study done in October 2017. The  journal Obesity published the results of the research done on 14 contestants from the reality show: Biggest Loser.

The study found the people who lost the most weight on the show did not exercise the most; they ate the least. In addition, it might be interesting to note, 13 of the 14 contestants studied gained back 66% of the weight they lost. Four of them actually became heavier than they were before they competed on the show.

You may be thinking, “But I’ve heard stories of people who lost a ton of weight by exercising.”

Yes, such stories exist. But the bulk of evidence shows these individuals are in the minority.

Part of the reason we think exercise is the answer to the problem of losing weight is because for years we’ve heard this traditional weight loss formula:

Calories in + Calories out = how much you weigh

The articles I read all agree, that formula is overly simplistic. Even so, dozens of government departments and organizations—from the American Heart Association to the US Department of Agriculture—have told us increased physical activity (with or without a change in diet) is the way to reverse weight gain.

Sadly, the emphasis on exercise for weight loss encourages people to ignore or underestimate the greater impact of diet.

But the truth is, as researchers at one journal said:

“You cannot outrun a bad diet.”

And goodness knows, the world, especially the US, needs a good diet.

  • Since 1980 the prevalence of obesity has doubled world-wide.
  • In the US, nearly 70% of the population is overweight. 40% of the population is actually clinically obese.

So exactly what does work for weight loss?

I read a third article—”The Weight Loss Trap: Why your diet isn’t working”—in the June 5, 2017 issue of TIME magazine. This article reiterated much of the info in the Vox articles. It also included tips from the National Weight Control Registry. In order to be a member in this group, individuals need to have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a minimum of one year.

Here’s what those successful losers recommend.

  • Change your diet.
  • Keep a food journal to help you identify negative patterns.
  • Weigh in at least once a week.
  • Eat appropriate portion sizes.
  • Remember slow and steady wins the race.
  • If you have fallen off the “diet wagon,” don’t give up. Heave yourself back on and try, try again.
  • If the first “diet” doesn’t work, try, try another “diet.”
  • Exercise. Because while it doesn’t really help with initial weight loss, it can help with the maintenance of weight loss. Walking was the most common activity.

In addition, two other factors were significant. Many of the NWCR members had experienced a health scare and were told in order to live longer, they needed to lose weight. So they did. Also 62% of the NWCR members reported they watch fewer than 10 hours of TV per week.

In the TIME article, I found these two quotes to be particularly helpful.

“Experts say the most important thing a person can do to lose weight is limit calories in a way they like and can sustain. With a focus on eating healthfully.”

“Individual responses to different diets vary enormously…it’s possible for anyone to reach a healthy weight—people just need to find their best way there.”

Some weight loss programs for you to try include:

Another thing to remember is, don’t be too ambitious with weight loss goals. People tend to set goals up to three times what a doctor might recommend. That sets you up for failure. Not only that,

“Research shows that with just a 10% loss of weight, people will experience noticeable changes in their blood pressure and blood sugar control, lowering their risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes—two of the costliest diseases in terms of health care dollars and human life.”

There now. Have I pissed you off? I hope not. Next time I run in to you, I hope you say, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”


If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I am a big fan of a (relatively) gluten-free lifestyle, intermittent fasting, and eating lower carb-higher (healthy) fat. If you’d like to receive my brand new resource: “Lighten Up the Wordy Girl Way,” it includes recipes, simply subscribe to my e-newsletter. The link is in the sidebar to the right. If you’re already a subscriber, email me through the CONNECT link up above and ask for the document.

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