Exercise is great but not helpful wiht weight loss

Exercise and weight

Exercise and weight loss is an interesting one. My clients often ask whether they should start or increase exercise to help with weight loss.

My answer is yes and no.

Yes, by all means do exercise. Exercise, in any form, is very good for your health.

If your question is, will exercise help you to lose weight? The answer is no. Exercise is not a good strategy to lose weight.

What I am actually saying is do not start exercising to lose weight.

However, if you are already doing exercise effortlessly, by all means continue whatever you are doing.

I am also saying, if you are not already exercising then I recommend that you do not start at the beginning of you ‘stop overeating’ journey, when your weight loss is just starting. Do not start exercising with the sole intention that it will help you to lose weight.

Exercising will not help you to lose weight

People think exercising helps to lose weight because it burns calories. While this seems logical, the reality is not as straightforward as you might think.

Firstly, because exercising to lose weight aims at ‘burning’ calories by increasing energy expenditure. Most of the times the problem is ‘overeating’, the behaviour that underpins the weight gain, not the weight itself which is just a symptom. The best strategy, the one that will lead you to permanent weight loss, is the one that addresses the cause.

Secondly, exercising might lead you to eat more rather than less. Exercising, especially if you aim to build muscle, can increase your appetite. There is an additional reason why exercising leads to overeating. You might feel entitled to eating more food than you actually need because you are exercising.

Third, and again following the advice I gave you in an earlier post, I recommend that you focus your energy and effort to change one behaviour at a time.

You will be more successful if you constrain the behavioural changes you are pursuing.

It feels limiting but trust me, you will achieve many more goals if you tackle them one at a time than if you attempt them all at once. As a reminder, what happened to the many New Year’s resolutions?

Fourth, and the main reason why tackling one at a time is better, is that you will overwhelm your brain by asking it to keep up with too many significant changes all at once. The brain has evolved to be efficient by relying on unconscious processes. Any change requires the brain to be conscious and intentional. That is an effort.

The summary is, exercising does not lead directly to weight loss (the maths is not there) and if you are not already exercising without effort it brings another layer of change. If you are already exercising effortlessly, keep it up exactly as you are doing it, without effort.

Sequential behaviour change

Just like research shows that multitasking is not an efficient way to complete tasks, changing multiple behaviours at the same time is challenging for the brain.

What’s more, once you’ve successfully stopped overeating you can use the same skills to stop other behaviours you do not want (over-drinking, procrastinating, smoking, netflixing to name a few) or start new ones you want to do (what about, start exercising?).

Behavioural changes compound exponentially. You might achieve changes quicker on your second behaviour because you have already solved many of the limiting beliefs that kept you stuck in your previous pattern. It’s fascinating to realise that how we do one thing, is how we do everything. The undoing works the same.