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December 25, 2022

Can You Exercise Your Way Out Of A Poor Diet?

Can You Exercise Your Way Out Of A Poor Diet?

A cardinal mistake is thinking you can exercise yourself out of a poor diet. You cannot. Don’t make that mistake that so many who go to health clubs make.

It is extremely difficult to lose weight with exercise alone. In fact, exercise only contributes a small fraction of weight loss. Diet is the real key when it comes to weight loss.

There’s plenty of reasons you can not exercise and save yourself from a poor diet. Drinking a 6-pack and eating a pizza, and then thinking you can burn those calories off go by exercising the following day is wishful and foolish thinking. But, it works better than drinking a 6-pack and eating a pizza, and sitting on the couch the next day watching TV or playing video games. So do not not exercise if you are trying to lose weight.

Here’s today’s take home point: nutrition carries more weight (pun intended) than exercise when we are talking about weight loss and healthy living.

Why You Can’t Exercise Your Way Out of a Poor Diet?

Exercise doesn’t burn a lot of calories.

The main reason you can’t exercise your way out of a poor diet is that exercise isn’t too terribly effective at burning calories. That may be a surprise to you.

Many of us have been to a fitness center and every day we have seen the same fellow or gal exercising on a stationary bicycle or stairclimber and they continue to be 20 pounds overweight despite going to the fitness center for the past 5 years. Why is that?

It takes a lot of exercise to burn 3,500 calories – the number of calories in a (fat) pound. Let’s put this in perspective. A 150 pound person who runs a marathon (26.2 miles) at a 6 mph pace burns 2,862 calories for 4.33 hours of effort. You just spent over 4 hours running and you did not even burn enough calories to burn one fat pound. Let that sink in. Review our article, How Many Calories in a Pound: [We Are Not Sure].

Go to this link to find a calorie calculator for running. A 6-pack of beer is about 900 calories and a 14 inch pizza alone is worth around 3,000 calories, and that’s assuming it does not have any toppings.

Exercise has many benefits – but calorie burning isn’t a major one. If you are exercising to lose weight, and by weight we mean body fat, then you need to pick the correct forms of exercise.

Resistance training and high intensity interval training will do a better job at burning calories than aerobic exercise. You still need to do some aerobic exercise as it serves as the foundation of fitness but for the expenditure of time, resistance training and high intensity interval training provide more bang for the buck from a pure calorie burning standpoint.

You still need to do some aerobic or cardivascular exercise for general health and longevity goals. But, when it comes to weight loss the purpose of exercise is to rev up your metabolism so that you are burning calories at a higher rate 24 hours a day, not just during the time you are exercising. It is possible after a bout of high intensity interval to raise your metabolism for the following 24 hours. This is not true with aerobics. With aerobics your metabolic rate usually returns to its baseline 60 minutes after exercise. 

If you have a poor diet you’re making too much insulin.

If you’re eating poorly you are most likely eating too many things from a box, bag, can, or jar. These foods tend to be laden with sugar and its namesakes. Such foods trigger excessive release of insulin

Insulin is the fattening hormone. Even if you exercise you will not burn many calories from your fat stores in the presence of elevated insulin levels. Insulin will not allow it. Insulin “locks” up calories in fat cells. Exercise is a great way, though to improve insulin sensitivity. This means your body can function with less insulin.

Many insulin receptor are found in muscle cells. Building more muscle will build more insulin receptors which improve insulin sensitivity which aids in weight loss.

Sugar messes the appetite control center.

We still have an insufficient understanding of all the factors that control eating and appetite. But, we do know that sugar affects the brain center for appetite in an adverse ways. Sugar definitely has addictive properties. The challenge for most of us is we do not realize the addictive nature of sugar as most of us have been consuming added sugars from the day we were born. We don’t know life without it.

If we want to simplify what a healthy diet is, we could say that a healthy diet is one that does not include any added sugar.

Stop the Poor Diet: Make Better Food Choices

There are few simple ways to guide you to better eating. In addition to avoiding anything from a box, bag, can, or jar follow these three pieces of wisdom.

  • If it flies in the air, swims in the water, falls from a tree, or can be grown from the ground you can eat it.
  • Do not eat anything that your great-grandmother would not recognize as food. In her day there were no Twinkies, no Oreos, no potato chips, and so on.
  • Only shop and eat foods found on the perimeter of the grocery store. These are the healthiest foods. Doing so will make it easier to follow the above two pieces of advice.

These strategies will enable you to eat foods in their natural state. That’s the best way to rescue yourself from a poor diet.

Article updated 12/25/22.  Originally published 5/13/13.

See related articles.

Super Bowl Calories: Can You Exercise Them Away?

It’s Still Sugar: Don’t Be Fooled By The Many Names Of Sugar

Anti Aging Nutrition Guidelines


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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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