Using exercise to lose weight is a BAD idea.
No, that’s not a typo.
Today, I’m gonna show you why using exercise to lose weight, I’m talking specifically about counting calories burned, is a bad way to lose weight.
Don’t worry, I’m also gonna show you what you need to do instead.
Exercise To Lose Weight – Why It’s A TERRIBLE Idea
It’s still very common to hear in the general fitness space of people trying to manually burn calories through exercise. It’s still as pervasive today.
I even hear people counting calories burned from doing hot yoga.
And I’ve been talking about this topic on my channel for a few years now that you can’t just manually burn off that donut you just had.
It doesn’t work that way. That’s now been scientifically proven to not work. If that’s news to you, now you know.
Again, that idea came from the old calories in versus calories out model that the masses have been sold for decades now. Which is just such an over simplistic way of looking at the human body.
Here you are possessing the most complex thing in the known universe which is your brain. And then you think you can just eat a little less and move a little more to lose weight. No.
It fails almost every single time. It’s got about a 99% failure rate. It’s a little bit more complicated than that.
Calories in vs calories out debunked
For starters, the purveyors of this model just makes the erroneous assumption that the ‘calories out’ part of that equation stays stable. It does not stay stable.
Your metabolism for example can go up or down by as much as 40%. You can also only burn a finite amount of calories in one day.
Instead, you wanna think of it as calories burned versus calories stored.
The human body is set up to store excess calories for future use. And it’s very good at it.
If you look at some of these extreme shows like ‘My 600 pound life’ on cable TV in the U.S., it seems like there’s no limit to how much fat the body can store. So, there’s that.
You have to remember that excess fat is stored energy waiting to be used. It’s not just there for looks to make you feel bad about yourself.
Think of it as granola bars strapped all over your body. If you have a spare tire around your stomach, you have a granola bar belt.
The good thing is we also have the genetic capacity to take out that stored energy and convert it into usable energy in the form of ketones. We can also manufacture our own glycogen through gluconeogenesis.
It’s an evolutionary trait we developed to survive periods of scarcity. The human brain is actually wired to overeat because we didn’t know when our next meal was gonna come back then.
But again, we also have the capability to tap into stored energy to fuel us.
Like I said, the human body is really smart. It knows what to do. You just have to point it in the right direction and give it the right signal to do its thing.
Manually burning calories does NOT work long term
So this notion that you can just somehow run your way to a six pack and severely cut calories like what they do at shows like the Biggest Loser does not work long term.
You might see some initial gains but the body is super smart and it’s eventually gonna adapt in an undesirable way by lowering your metabolism.
The sad part is if you look at studies done on these contestants after they’re done the show, they regain all the weight they’ve lost, and then some.
Again, there’s a limit to how many calories you can burn in a day. You can’t just try and get it all back.
I see that behaviour at my gym where I see the same people do 2-3 cardio classes in one day.
And because their bodies are in a chronically stressed state from exercise, they specifically start gaining weight around their mid section. They have the right intention but the wrong execution.
You also can’t just cut calories and not expect your body to adjust to it by lowering your energy expenditure. Which is unfortunately what a lot of people do.
Take a look at the cardio machine area at any commercial gym and they’re filled with well meaning people trying to melt their fat away on their favourite machine.
If you go on the extreme performance end, if you’ve ever been around the endurance running scene where people run marathons, ultra marathons, or triathlons. The participants are a complete wreck for days or weeks after the event.
A common side effect of over exercising to the female body for example is they start losing their menstrual cycle.
The problem with chronic cardio patterns
That type of training has been shown conclusively to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, mitochondrial damage, and accelerated aging. It’s often referred to as the excessive endurance exercise hypothesis.
It’s a zero sum game. There’s a price to pay whenever you’re going after these extreme endeavours.
So how does someone achieve sustainable weight loss if counting calories burned from exercise isn’t the answer?
You wanna focus on higher leverage tasks and prioritize achieving something called metabolic flexibility.
What is metabolic flexibility?
It’s where your body is easily and efficiently able to get its energy from the foods that you eat, or whether you’re using stored energy.
There’s no discernible difference whether you’re getting glucose from eating sushi rice or you’re using stored glycogen in your muscles and liver.
Or whether you’re getting fat from butter or you’re using body fat and converting it to ketones for energy.
You’ll almost never feel hungry when you’re metabolically flexible.
All of a sudden, you get taken out of this hamster wheel of trying to manually burn calories.
Now, it’s more about optimizing certain hormones to put the body in the most optimal fat burning state. A way higher leverage task.
That’s why I’ve always said that a calorie deficit will only work if you optimize hormones.
For example, if you moderate the storing hormone insulin through dietary intervention, it unlocks your fat stores to be burned for energy.
Every time you eat, insulin goes up. High insulin blocks fat burning. You’re in fat storing mode. Your body can only be in one of two states.
The most destructive eating behaviour
That’s why one of the worst things you can do is graze on food all day. You’re basically in fat storing mode all day. Unfortunately, that’s what most people do. The average eating window for most people is 15 hours.
Late night snacking is especially insidious because the human body is more insulin resistant at night. All those calories has to go somewhere and they almost get immediately stored as body fat. Because your body has no way to burn those excess calories.
This constant snacking pattern also always makes you hungry because of the blood sugar and insulin swings.
You’re also most likely not enough protein to trigger muscle protein synthesis when you have these little snacks. Plus, people usually don’t snack on the healthiest stuff.
You’re just sending your body all the wrong signals if you’re eating all day. It promotes metabolic inflexibility. The complete opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
Why metabolic flexibility is the key
When you’re metabolically flexible, you also get control of other key fat loss hormones leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, and other counter regulatory hormones like glucagon, epinephrin and norepinephrine. It’s a beautiful thing.
You’re satiated, you’re getting adequate and high quality protein to build and maintain muscle, and building a robust immune system.
More importantly, it keeps certain fat loss hormones moderated so the body can burn off excess fat for energy. That should be your number one goal. Metabolic flexibility.
Not this idea of trying to manually burn calories through exercise. One of the biggest downfalls of that model is that exercise also triggers a compensatory increase in appetite.
So as you burn more calories, you also eat more calories. It becomes a wash. And it’s so easy to overeat. For example, an hour of hard cardio only burns around 400-500 calories. That’s one krispy kreme donut.
Imagine working your butt off for one hour just so you can justify eating one measly donut.
And you can only do that for so long. It’s just not sustainable.
The average person for starters really only works out twice a week. And if you’re doing the wrong type of exercise, specifically one that doesn’t build and maintain muscle aka cardio, you’re screwed.
That’s why any workout program worth its salt should revolve around resistance training.
The benefits of exercise
The biggest takeaway here is exercise has many benefits. It strengthens your heart, it builds stronger bones and muscle if you do resistance training, it improves your mood, it promotes better sleep, and other awesome things. But weight loss isn’t one of them.
I hate to keep picking on runners because I’d rather people go for a run than not do anything at all. But just look at the number of people still carrying excess body fat at the starting line of any marathon.
These people presumably had to train for that event. You don’t just wake up one morning and say you’re gonna run a marathon. No. You would’ve had to put in at least hundreds, if not thousands, of training hours.
Yet a lot of these well-meaning enthusiasts still easily carry at least 25 to 30 pounds of extra fat. It makes no sense.
According to the calories in vs calories model, they should weight zero pounds because of the training hours they’ve put in. Something’s off.
The best diet for weight loss
Now, how do you shift your diet? You wanna try and mimic how we originally evolved to eat as human beings.
In terms of what to eat, revolve your diet around animals, animal products, and plants that your body tolerates. Everyone’s different. Eat seasonal fruit.
Also, what you stop eating has far more impact to your health than what you start eating. Minimize your intake of sugar, refined grains, and industrial seed oils.
Learn to read food labels. Industrial seed oils are everywhere. Don’t drink your calories.
In terms of when to eat because it’s just as important, we evolved to go through times of abundance and scarcity. Feast and famine. We did not evolve to graze on food all day.
One of the best ways to tap into your fat stores is to just reduce the frequency of meals that you eat.
If you cut down your meals to two or one and a half and consume it in a compressed eating window of 6-8 hours, you’re simply giving your body the opportunity to make up the difference by burning up some of your stored energy.
That’s how I want you to think about it. It’s not about eating less, but less frequently.
Because again, every time you don’t eat, insulin goes down and fat stores gets released to be burned for energy.
There’s even studies done on mice where simply reducing their eating window to 12 hours, independent of any dietary intervention, was enough to protect the mice from obesity and disease. It’s that powerful.
And by the way, you also activate a cleanse on a cellular level called autophagy which can help reduce your risk of cancer and other disease when you take a break from eating.
There’s obviously an adaptation period to this. Especially if you’ve just been eating the standard American diet of grazing on highly palatable and ultra processed foods.
But over time, your body will re-learn and develop the capacity to tap into your fat stores and burn it for energy. Again, the body is super smart. It knows what to do.
We just have to send it the right signal. And we do that through hormones. The entire human body runs on hormones. It’s not just a simple mathematical equation.
You don’t even have a calorie counter in your stomach. I don’t have one. Do you have one?
Again, instead, if you give your body the right hormonal signal, then you can use exercise like resistance training as a tool to build and maintain muscle.
Why you need to prioritize muscle
If we go back to the average person who you can expect to only go to the gym twice a week, that’s enough to build and maintain muscle.
I’ve said this many times but muscle is the mechanism of health. It’s your metabolic currency. It’s what pays for the dance. The more you have, the more you get to eat.
It’s also the organ of longevity. The higher the muscle mass, the better the protection against all cause mortality. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s life got worse because they had more more. No. Muscle makes everything better. It’s like money.
In terms of fat loss, muscle is a very active and energy expensive tissue to build and maintain. Imagine burning more calories at rest because you have more muscle. Instead of trying to manually burn calories by doing cardio.
And, by the way, doing too much cardio is catabolic meaning it’s anti-tissue. It’s an adaptation to make the body more efficient at burning calories. That’s why you see a lot of runners rocking that skinny fat look. Just saying.
Resistance training is the only form of exercise that’s pro-tissue.
That’s why I’ve always said that the best exercise to lose weight is to put down the fork and do something else. Take a break from eating. Give your body the opportunity to burn off some of that body fat for energy.
Instead of snacking every hour and all the other BS information we’ve been told to do which is really just conventional stupidity these days.
At the end of the day, there’s no shortcut. You still have to put in the work. But I believe that this is as clear as it gets when it comes to achieving sustainable weight loss.
Use exercise as a tool to build and maintain muscle and improve your cardiovascular fitness.
You also get to appreciate food so much more when you do eat because you’re not so emotionally attached to it anymore. It’s a win-win.
As always, if this was helpful, share it with a friend who could benefit from it as well!
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