Why Your Exercise Isn't Resulting In Weight Loss
Not losing weight even though you're working out consistently? Here's why.
The first point-of-call for many people who want to lose weight is exercising. They believe that the more they exercise, the more weight they will lose. But what happens if this doesn’t work for you? Your seven-day-workout-weeks are just making you feel tired, and your weight isn’t shifting. Here’s why, and what you can do about it.
Is exercise the best way to lose weight?
Different people have different ‘methods’ for losing weight: some focus on clean eating, some focus on exercise, whilst some combine increased exercise activity with dietary changes to achieve their goals. But what is the most effective method for weight loss, according to research?
What the research says
A 2012 randomized controlled trial (gold standard of research) lasting a year looked at whether diet, exercise or both combined was most effective for weight loss. The researchers found that the average weight loss was highest in the diet and exercise group (10.8% of body weight), compared to diet (8.5%) and exercise (2.4%).
A systematic review of intervention studies using exercise for weight loss, found that exercise energy expenditure had absolutely no correlation with weight loss.
A study conducted in Tanzania sought to understand the relationship between energy expenditure and energy intake by studying the Hadza, a hunter gatherer tribe. Researchers were surprised to discover that the tribe burnt a similar number of calories per day to the average American but they had no prevalence of obesity. Why? The only possible explanation was their diet.
Numerous studies conclude that exercise has, at best, a modest impact on weight loss but it’s less than most people believe. As summarized in a 2015 meta-analysis of over 200 studies, your diet brings about the most change to body weight, but when combined with exercise (particularly resistance training) the body is healthier and weight loss is maximized over the long term. You really can’t out-train a bad diet!
Why your workout routine isn’t resulting in weight loss
Energy balance (i.e. weight gain or weight loss) isn’t as simple as calories in vs. calories out - you can’t eat a cheeseburger and then burn a cheeseburger and think you’re back at zero. What’s more is that unhealthy food is extremely calorically dense, for example, a standard cheeseburger contains approximately 350 calories - you’d have to lift weights for over an hour to ‘burn’ this amount of calories.
But as mentioned, that isn’t how it works. It’s not as simple as calories in vs. calories out. Certain foods, specifically unhealthy foods, can trigger specific pathways that cause fat gain, hunger, or reduced satiety. No amount of exercise can reverse this, only dietary changes can.
But if you are eating healthy and in a caloric deficit, there are a few other reasons why your exercise routine may not be resulting in weight loss, and this comes down to the type of training you are doing.
Why the type of exercise you’re doing is important
Certain types of exercise and training frequencies increase cortisol, adrenaline and glucagon levels and cause a catabolic response - the breaking down of muscle and fat tissue. This includes endurance training (e.g. long runs), training too frequently, improper recovery, or excessively long workouts.
Plus, these types of training styles/frequencies also drastically increase the appetite. You may feel perpetually hungry, tired or lethargic, which can cause hormonal changes that prevent effective fat burning.
Focus on caloric restriction as the number one way to lose weight
Eat a clean, wholefood diet
Don’t attempt to out-train eating too much or eating unhealthily
Limit your training to one endurance workout per week
Aim for 45 minute intensive weight lifting sessions to accelerate fat loss