If you had a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and have joined hundreds of people sweating at the gym only to find a few months in you haven’t lost a pound you are not alone.
Adding more exercise can improve your overall health and cardiovascular fitness, but you may be surprised to learn it may do little to drop the number on the scale.
Does exercise really not help weight loss?
A 2011 article published in the American Journal of Medicine reviewed 14 trials and 1,847 patients, and found that moderately intense exercise programs of six months only resulted in a 1.6-kilogram weight loss and 2.12-centimetre decrease in waist circumference. Similar programs of a year didn’t offer much difference (1.7-kg and 1.95cm decrease).
You can’t burn off a bad diet!
Research over the years consistently shows that although you can lose small amounts of weight by initiating an exercise program, much bigger weight-loss results come from nutrition changes. Weight loss research clearly shows NUTRITION TRUMPS EXERCISE. Even better, using a combination of reducing your calorie intake and adding exercise can offer slightly better weight-loss results than nutrition alone.
What about the exceptions?
So if exercise alone isn’t the best strategy to lose weight, you might wonder how someone you know has lost plenty of weight simply by exercising more. One theory is that this has more to do with the influence exercise has on reducing your intake (calories in) than the calories burned during exercise (calories out).
A 2011 article in the Journal of Obesity suggested that metabolic, hormonal and psychological changes are involved. Exercise can help improve your overall mood and stress response, which can help you tackle emotional eating and regulate how much you eat. Physical activity also helps combat depression and sleep issues, which in recent years have been linked to higher risk of obesity.
Also, while exercise alone may do little to help you lose extra pounds, research shows that exercise is one of the best ways to prevent weight gain and also to maintain weight loss over the long run. Long term exercise (especially strength training) can help build more muscle which increases the metabolism and helps prevent the age related decline in our metabolic rate (the rate we burn energy).
Where should I start?
As obesity expert, Yoni Freedhoff, often reminds people, “most weight loss happens in the kitchen, not in the gym.” I couldn’t agree more.
If you have a large amount of weight to lose, you could begin a new eating plan as well as a new fitness regime at the same time – but I would encourage you to start with one or the other.
It’s very challenging to successfully start and maintain both areas of change, especially when you are living a real life with big family and work commitments. Go easy on yourself and commit to one major lifestyle change at a time.
Start with your nutrition first, since the research shows you can begin seeing faster changes on the scale, which can be more motivating to continue on your journey to better health.
Once you see the changes in your body from improved nutrition, it can be psychologically as well as physically easier to get going on a healthy exercise plan for life.
What is the best nutrition tip for weight loss?
When it comes to nutrition for weight loss there are broadly two things to consider:
#1 Could I make changes to the TYPE of foods that I eat?
Take a good look at your pantry, fridge and plates of food. If a dietitian was visiting your kitchen, eating lunch with you at work, or sat down at your table at supper what might they suggest? Since we often eat whatever is convenient start by managing your environment (what you stash in your cupboards, cars and at work). A good place to start is thinking about having a supper plate with half a plate veggies, one-quarter plate grains/starches and one-quarter plate protein. Remember you don’t need to be perfect but really take a hard look and consider what you could change with a bit better planning and focus. Also consider which of your favorite treats chosen for fun such as sweets and savory are really worth it?
#2 Could I make changes to the AMOUNT of food that I eat?
If you are generally a healthy eater and make good choices, chances are you could benefit from shifting your portion sizes. Think about switching to smaller plates and bowls as well as taller slimmer glasses for high calorie beverages. Purchase hard to manage foods in the smallest size packages possible and just at the time of purchase. Research shows when we have more we eat more.
Also consider working with a Registered Dietitian, the nutrition experts for one-on-one nutrition counselling. This is the best way to receive custom feedback about additional changes that you could make to your current plan based on your own unique health needs and preferences. Check your employer health benefits and health spending accounts since many of them cover the services of a Registered Dietitian.