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Exercise Matters, But Does It Effectively Promote Weight Loss?

Is the majority of our population truly incapable of getting off the couch, or have we been miseducated on how to best incorporate exercise when looking to shed pounds?
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Need to lose weight? Eat less. Move more.

You've probably heard those guidelines as the simplest requirements for achieving weight loss. But they also happen to be the same methods that increase bodily hunger. If you aren't convinced, try skipping a meal while adding an extra Zumba class to your daily planner. What happens? Odds are you'll reach the doorstep of "hangry" before nightfall -- feeling cranky and leaving loved ones behind as you plot your next heaping plate of food.

The many benefits of exercise include improved muscle and bone strength, cardiovascular health, and better sleep, while also reducing risks of some cancers, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. However, increased exercise is also heavily promoted as an effective weight loss tool even though more than two-thirds of U.S. adults remain either overweight or obese.

Is the majority of our population truly incapable of getting off the couch, or have we been miseducated on how to best incorporate exercise when looking to shed pounds?

You Can't Outrun Your Fork

"Exercise is the world's best drug, it's just not a weight loss drug," says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, M.D. founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa. "Exercise should never be undertaken in order to lose weight as the calories burned through exercise aren't enough to be fair and people often have a bad habit of eating back their exercise." Renowned as Canada's most outspoken obesity expert, his book The Diet Fix, Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work also addresses key missteps individuals are making when it comes to exercise and weight loss. Sabotaging our workouts with added calories is perhaps weight loss enemy number number one. "That doesn't mean exercise doesn't play a role in weight management," says Freedhoff, "It's just that exercise alone, or exercise undertaken to compensate for an indulgent diet, is almost certain to fail. Overexercising is as much a risk to dieters as undereating."

A Sustainable Exercise Program for Weight Loss Doesn't Require Suffering

Another key error we may be making when it comes to accomplishing our weight loss goals is the belief that success can only be reached through extreme discomfort. No pain, no gain. "Temporary efforts only yield temporary outcomes," says Freedhoff. "The message is amplified by idiotic TV shows like The Biggest Loser, which suggest suffering is the ticket to the weight loss express. That train is for most folks, a circular route where regain once a person decides they've had enough suffering, is often quite rapid as well."


In 2015, former Biggest Loser contestants Suzanne Mendonca and Rulon Gardner went on record stating how the show's weigh-ins were rigged and the extreme measures to make goals included eating baby food, spending 6-7 hours in saunas and competing with stress fractures. Mendonca added that NBC hasn't staged a "reunion" show because the majority of contestants have gained the weight back.

How to Support Weight Loss Through Exercise

There's a distinct difference between exercise being one of the most important tools to stay healthy, and looking to exercise to promote weight loss. Here are a few quick tips for incorporating exercise into your health and wellness goals whether just getting started or returning to the gym:

1. Set Realistic Expectations For Your Exercise Regimen. Exercise is crucial for weight control, but it's far better utilized to prevent added pounds than it is to lose them. "Whether it's a five-minute walk outside, or time spent intentionally engaging in physical play with your children or grandchildren, what's important is that you mentally acknowledge the importance of exercise to your health and at the same time, the importance of not biting off more than you can chew," says Freedhoff. Ask yourself whether your targeted physical activity is something you can reasonably incorporate and maintain within your lifestyle.

2. Recognize "No Pain No Gain" is a Myth. Suffering toward weight loss isn't mandatory nor is it productive to long-term weight loss goals. Choose an activity that's enjoyable. If just getting started, returning from injury, or even repelled by the notion of breaking a sweat on purpose, determine what Dr. Freedhoff describes as a "toothbrush level" of daily physical activity you can commit to. In other words, what amount of exercise could you add to your day regardless of likability? "And then, as with brushing your teeth, figure out when you are going to do it."

3. Remember to Balance Nutrition and Exercise Accordingly. Exercise should only account for 20 percent - 30 percent of your weight loss strategy. Mindful healthy eating is far more critical to losing weight. Freedhoff offers an excellent analogy for simplifying the nutrition/exercise balance for weight loss. "I don't know about you, but if I had a final exam where the questions were to be weighted 70 to 80 percent in favor of one semester's material, I'm pretty sure that's the semester I'd be giving the vast majority of my study time and attention. To put this another way: it's far easier to lose weight in your kitchen than it is to lose weight in your gym."

If weight loss is your objective, identifying a daily food and exercise plan that works for you is key. Once you've found a program that's sustainable (not too restrictive, also satisfying) -- be sure to look to exercise as a way to promote health and overall fitness beyond a special event, pant-size or number on the scale. In other words, make sure your big-picture fitness plan doesn't come with an end date. Freedhoff's exercise mantra written for The Diet Fix is an easy one to remember, "Some is good, more is better, everything counts..."


"Exercise Matters - But Does it Effectively Promote Weight Loss?" - is excerpted from the 6-part "Confessions of a Miseducated Dieter" series hosted on and Facebook.