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Why Doesn't Exercise Help You Lose Weight?

Time magazine had an article back in March about weight loss and exercise.  The article was answering "5 key questions about weight loss," and had some interesting ideas that I wanted to share with you all. I know that typically on Just Add Lauren, I talk mostly about eating real, whole foods. However, this is because the diet journey that I am moving on is more a process for me than the fitness one. I have always been athletic and active, and now is no exception. I definitely do not want to give the impression that I do not work out, because I work out on average about 4 hours a week, sometimes more depending on how motivated I am. I say this not to make anyone feel guilty or to praise myself, but just to simply state that I think that a well rounded, healthy lifestyle incorporates real foods and some form of exercise. For me, the real food aspect of it is a bit more difficult than the fitness aspect, so that is why I write mostly about that.

Moving on…

I’m going to be working through these questions one by one in a series of posts, so look for my take on the rest of the questions that were asked in the coming days.

The first question that was asked in the Time article was “Why doesn’t exercise help you to lose weight?”

Time responded by saying that often times when a person works out, they tend to compensate for the calories they burn during a workout by eating more. In addition, people can often “reward” themselves for being active by eating a treat.  They also said that people that work out can replace the fat they have on their bodies with muscle, which is more dense than fat and therefore can cause them to stay the same weight or even gain weight.

I agree with aspects of this answer. I think there can be certain people who will eat more because they know that they have worked out, and so they reward themselves with a good dessert or snack.  For many people, though, I know that exercise just makes them hungrier. When I run, I find that I am absolutely famished about 45 minutes after I am finished running.  The best way to combat this hunger is to eat something after your workout, but before that wave of starvation hits you. My advice would be to eat something with a combination of carbs and protein. I like a few (like 8-10) almonds, a slice of fruit, or eggs (or a mixture of more than one of these). Also good would be a slice of bread with nut butter, or a fruit with nut butter. I would definitely not reward yourself with something sweet after a workout, since this will cause the series of ups and downs that I talked about in Why I'm Reducing My Grain Consumption, and 5 Reasons Why You Should Too. 

The other part of this that I wanted to talk about was the whole “muscle weighs more than fat” argument. Seriously, I am so tired of hearing this argument. First off, muscle does not weigh more than fat. One pound of muscle weighs the exact same one pound as one pound of fat. Muscle is simply denser – meaning that for the same amount of space that it is taking up, muscle will weigh more.  However, usually people have to very consciously and purposefully try to gain muscle. It doesn’t usually just happen – especially to someone who is cutting calories and trying to lose weight.  I am a member of the weight loss site, Sparkpeople, and I often visit their message boards. I will see people write on there that they have worked out for two weeks, and have gained 5 pounds. Others will respond “it is probably muscle, since muscle weighs more than fat.” Argh! You all know that I’m a huge Jillian Michaels fan. I listen to her podcasts while I run, she said one time on a podcast that over the course of a season of the Biggest Loser, she has had contestant put on about 11 pounds of muscle. That is over the course of 4-5 months, and working out about 8-10 hours a day with a world-class trainer, and eating very carefully! Water weight does fluctuate wildly (especially in women) and can cause temporary weight gain, but chances are if you have put on some weight recently, it is either a) you are eating too many calories for the amount that you are burning or b) you are retaining water, which can be blamed on a variety of different factors.

Ok, end rant about the muscle weighing more than fat issue, and getting back to the original question. 

Exercise can make you not lose weight for all the reasons listed above, and beginning an exercise program definitely makes you muscles retain water for a period of time. If you are just starting out on an exercise regime, give it at least a month, maybe closer to 6-8 weeks before you get discouraged or say that you aren’t seeing any progress. Although exercise all by itself will not be the magic bullet in making you lose weight, it is certainly part of a well rounded lifestyle and is extremely important in things such as mood lifting, helps you sleep better, lowers your risk of some diseases, etc. You should not see exercise as the key to being able to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but you definitely should see it as one part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

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