So, you’re a person who would like to drop a little bit (or a lotta bit) of weight. You’re fired up, super motivated, making big plans. Bought some new sneakers maybe, some awesome graphic activewear tops that say things like “Body By Tacos” and “I’m Here Because I Love Cake.” You are ready to hit the gym or head to Zumba or join a CrossFit group.
You get online, trying to decide which of those things to do first. You type into Google, “best exercise for weight loss,” and come upon forum after forum with fitness-minded folks of many different disciplines, some of them very experienced and some just starting out, like you! You read their responses to your question, which has been asked over and over again.
Invariably, someone (usually several someones) will say, glibly: “Fork putdowns.” They might even add the less popular “table pushaways.”
This is not the answer you were looking for. You wanted to hear people rave about dancing (“I lost 25 lbs in no time at all without dieting!”) or running (“I jog 10 miles a week and eat anything I want.”). You wanted to hear that going to a bootcamp-style class twice a week would have you dropping pounds left and right. Forks and tables. That’s eating. That’s dieting, which is literally the most evil thing in the world, right?
In the 10+ years I spent trying unsuccessfully to lose weight, I almost always focused on physical activity in my planning. I realized, of course, that diet was important–as in, eating “clean,” or avoiding “unhealthy” food, whatever that means–but I had no idea of the necessary balance between the two.
Is exercise important? Science says absolutely. There are so many benefits to physical activity, from strengthening your bones to reducing your risk of certain cancers–not to mention the mental side effects like better focus and improved confidence.
But, for weight loss, exercise is more of an accessory than a necessity.
Let me tell you my experience with this: I can’t count the number of times I began my workout regimen, running and squatting and lunging until I couldn’t anymore, determined to kick my own ass into shape and lose some weight. Day after day I would work out as hard as I could, following instructors through programs on DVD, having friends join me to stay motivated, going to bed feeling exhausted and accomplished. But after two weeks or so, maybe a month, I would burn out. Why? The numbers on the scale wouldn’t budge. My clothes fit the same, or tighter. Despite promises of toned arms and legs from these exercise programs, I looked exactly the same. No change. No progress.
Why bother? I would ask myself. Why bother with all this exercise if it doesn’t do anything? And I would quit, only to remember a few months later that I still hated the way I felt and looked… and I would try the same thing again, with the same results. Rinse and repeat for my entire late teens and early 20s.
Now, here’s the thing: I was really, really trying. I truly wanted to make a positive change in my life. But I was IGNORANT.
adjective ig·no·rant \ˈig-n(ə-)rənt\
: lacking knowledge or information
: resulting from or showing a lack of knowledge
Here’s the thing. While I was vaguely aware of calories, I did not understand them. No one in my life, and nothing I’d read in my research efforts, enlightened me about energy balance.
Studies have shown, time and time again, that people are really bad at estimating their calorie intake and output. If you had asked me before (I like to think of it as “in my previous life”), I would have guessed that my daily two-mile jog more than made up for the two glazed donuts I had for breakfast. But let’s check the math.
When I was 20 and about 175 lbs, 30 minutes of jogging would burn about 278 calories.
One glazed donut is about 260 calories. That would make two 520. Oops.
Of couse, I was also drinking Dr. Pepper on the regular (the real stuff, not the terrible diet soda with aspertame–HA), and eating very good regular meals. And by very good I mean very satisfying and WAY TOO BIG.
It didn’t matter how much I exercised, I was not able to work out enough to offset my poor diet. As a regular person (as in, not a lumberjack or professional athlete), it was impossible for me to burn enough energy through physical activity to create a caloric deficit, because I was eating at least 2000-3000 calories a day. No wonder I wasn’t seeing results. No wonder I got discouraged.
The truth is, monitoring your calorie intake is the best way to lose weight. Creating a caloric deficit is the ONLY way to lose weight, and you can do that without actively counting calories, but when you’re totally unaware of the caloric content of most foods (like most people are), it’s much easier to make good choices when you have the numbers available to you by using something like MyFitnessPal.
Yes, in order to create a caloric deficit, you have to eat less. It’s a disappointing truth, but a truth nonetheless. That’s where those fork putdowns come in. It was hard to learn that being a little hungry is okay. It stinks that sometimes, you have to choose between your goals and dessert. It was REALLY AWFUL to have to pass by the donut shop every morning without stopping because I knew that if I stopped, I wouldn’t order one kolache, I would get three.
Bottom line: you can’t out-exercise a high-calorie diet.
Exercise is awesome for a multitude of reasons, and I’m much happier now that I’ve adopted a workout routine that fits into my family’s schedule and makes me feel good about my body. But I never would have lost the weight I did (60+ lbs!) without monitoring and lowering my calorie intake.
Eat foods that are good for your body and that make you happy. And then, when you’re satisfied (read as: not stuffed), put the fork down, get up from the table, and go do something else you enjoy. You’ll be glad you did.
Wishing you the best,
Follow me on Instagram (@lauramayjean) to see what kind of things I eat and what my day-to-day looks like!
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