Is the key to weight loss exercise or eating less?

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Jim and I read this Time article at about the same time:

Why exercise won't make you thin

(A friend on Facebook pointed me to it.)  The article suggests that exercise has comparatively little to do with weight loss. What does make the difference is simply eating less.  The calorie-burning effect of exercise is marginalized or negated by a few things:

  • Replacing 10 pounds of fat with muscle only results in an extra 40 calories per day burned.
  • Exercising doesn't burn as many calories as you might think.
  • People tend to eat more than they should after exercise, and there are a number of reason why they do.

The article does not state that exercise is unimportant.  There are other health benefits to exercise, such as enhanced cognitive ability and cardiovascular health.

Just don't expect to get skinny without eating less, too.

2 thoughts on “Is the key to weight loss exercise or eating less?”

  1. I read the article, and I believe its conclusions entirely. I know very, very few people who lost weight only by doing more exercise, a number of people who lost it by dieting and a surprisingly high number of people who did not lose weight after changing lifestyles and doing more exercise.

    In my mind, the key factor here is that exercise does not burn a lot of calories. Let’s say a 200 pound person does 30 minutes of exercise does 30 minutes of moderate exercise on a stationary bike. He would burn 318 calories. Had he been sitting and doing some light office work, he would have burned 68 calories. He managed to burn 250 calories more than otherwise.

    The problem is, a Snickers bar has 271 calories.

    So there are two ways to reduce your calorie count by 250 calories a day: a 30-minute cycling routine and not eating the Snickers bar (I know there are more, but I am simplifying). Which is easier to do? Which is more realistic in the long run? Cutting back on food is probably more effective than doing more exercise.

    There is one thing I will criticize in the article, though: “Replacing 10 pounds of fat with muscle only results in an extra 40 calories per day burned.”

    The fine print here is very important: this is only true if one does not move the muscles. Muscle burns a lot more calories than fat when the muscle is at work. And this, I think, is the key to the weight loss in people that exercise: in my experience, people that lose wight tend to be those who increased muscle mass.

    In your experience, does this sound about right?

  2. Plus there is the fact that muscle takes up less space…adding muscle weight might make the scale go up briefly, but it drasticly cuts down clothing sizes, which is what most people care about and what others see. There are no numbers floating above your head telling others what your scale said. But you inevitably will have a tag sticking out at some point in time.
    In the last year the scale hasn’t changed that much for me, but I am down three dress sizes. The happy dances at being able to shop at general stores instead of specialty ones was mildly ridiculous. Best of luck!

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