Moving your body is critical to well being, but when it comes to losing weight, exercise is not the optimal strategy, experts say. You may already know the frustration of regularly working out and not seeing the scale budge one bit. Here are 4 reasons your workout doesn’t work.
Exercise is vital for your overall good health. But if you’re strictly interested in dropping pounds, eating less delivers the best results.
“Exercise is very important for improving someone’s cardiometabolic health and reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, but it’s not a very effective intervention for helping people lose weight,” Dr. Samuel Klein, professor of medicine and nutritional science and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Washington University School of Medicine, told TODAY.
“Diet is the key but for people to lose weight — eat fewer calories.”
Here are four common reasons why exercise can fail you in the quest to slim down:
1. You overestimate how many calories you burn
When you work out, it may feel like you’re expending huge amounts of energy, but the reality is different.
“It takes 5 minutes to eat 500 calories, but it takes two hours of moderate exercise to burn it off,” said TODAY Health and Nutrition Editor Madelyn Fernstrom.
Let’s say you go for a 30-minute walk and you weigh 155 pounds. You might burn 150 calories, or about half a plain bagel.
If you want to get rid of 300 calories daily, you can either cut out 2 ounces of potato chips or run 3 miles in the park every day, Klein noted.
“It’s very difficult to comply with a long-term physical activity program,” he said. “It’s just more difficult to do that than just reducing food intake.”
Klein wishes there were more tables posted in gyms showing the amount of physical activity required to burn common foods.
2. Exercise makes you eat more
Exercise is quite good at burning calories, but it also ends up making us hungrier, said Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of psychiatry and adolescent medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
People often don’t notice, but they end up eating almost precisely the exact number of calories they burned during a workout in a phenomenon called “caloric compensation,” Ochner noted.
“We make up for the calories burned during exercise,” he said. “If I work out heavy, I know the next day I’m starving.”
Ochner tells people who are beginning a diet not increase their exercise for at least a month or two until they’re used to the weight loss plan.
3. You “reward” yourself for working out
Made it to yoga class? You indulge in a big sugary smoothie afterwards to congratulate yourself. Completed that killer strength session? An extra helping of pasta hits the spot — you’ve earned it!
If your goal is to slim down, that type of thinking defeats the purpose.
“If the reward means eating food… that would counteract the beneficial effect of exercise on body weight,” Klein said.
4. Your exercise regimen makes you move less overall
After you come back from the gym, you either feel like you’ve done your “duty” for the day or you’re so tired that you can barely move. Maybe you will take the escalator rather than the stairs after all, or drive to the nearby store rather than walk.
It all adds up to being less active — on average — than before you started your exercise routine.
“It’s a 24/7 energy balance equation. If you exercise aggressively for one hour and then you’re very sedentary for 23 hours… that will really overcome the calories you burn during exercise,” Klein said.
He pointed to a study that found older adults who exercised for one hour every day didn’t actually change their daily total energy expenditure at all because they were much more sedentary after their workout. This sums up the 4 reasons your workout doesn’t work.
If you want to lose weight, Klein offered these tips:
- Reduce your calorie intake. One of the best ways to do that is portion control — cut the amount of calories you eat at each meal.
- Cut down on snacks and beverages that might have high calories.
- Remember that liquid calories count even though we don’t seem to be as much aware of them as solid calories.
- Exercise is an important adjunct to calorie restriction for people who are obese or overweight and want to lose weight, but exercise won’t have a very pronounced effect on weight loss.
Do you dread exercising? Maybe not dread, but you talk yourself out of it more often than not? No worries! Did you know you can feel energized and tension-free in just three minutes? Yes, three minutes. The following exercises are designed specifically for people who HATE to exercise. All you have to do is stand up and try.
To strengthen and tone your muscles, do this workout every other day for two weeks.
Benefit: Loosens hips and lower back
Reach and Tap
Benefit: This is great cardio exercise and it tones your arms and legs
Benefit: Strengthens and tones your thighs
Benefit: Firms and strengthens your arms & shoulders
Benefit: Tones stomach, quadriceps (thighs), and arms
See These Exercises in Action
Need more info? Watch me demonstrate these exercises and other easy moves in my short, how-to video: Easy 3-Minute Workout You Can Do Anywhere
Everyone would like a flat, toned midsection. Too often you’ll hear advertisers promote diets and products that will flatten your wallet but not your tummy.
Here are ten no-nonsense ideas that will help trim your waist:
1. You need to drink more water; recent research found that drinking 2 cups of water before meals helped men and women lose more weight when on a diet.
2. Have a small snack of almonds (1 ounce or about 22 almonds). This sounds like the opposite thing to do if you want to lose weight, but research shows it helps you lose weight and control appetite.
3. Increase your intake of low glycemic fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Aim for 5 to 10 servings daily. In order to consume this amount of fruits and veggies, you’ll need to add some to each meal and snack.
4. Eat ‘whole’ food as much as you can. That is, avoid processed foods and eat food that is closest to its natural state as possible.
5. Reduce your starchy carbohydrate intake (potatoes, rice, bread, etc) in the evening meal. Fill three-quarters of your dinner plate with veggies.
6. Avoid trans fats and include heart-healthy fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids (cold water fish, walnuts, flaxseeds).
7. Eat five to six times a day. Keep meals and snacks small and never let yourself get famished or full. You need to stay just a little hungry.
8. Drink green tea daily. 9. Limit alcohol consumption. This may sound like a ‘no fun’ suggestion, but if you’re serious about flattening your tummy, you’ll need to reduce calories from alcoholic beverages (and the extra calories from munchies consumed after a few drinks). 10. Don’t get fooled into thinking that eliminating an entire
9. Limit alcohol consumption. This may sound like a ‘no fun’ suggestion, but if you’re serious about flattening your tummy, you’ll need to reduce calories from alcoholic beverages (and the extra calories from munchies consumed after a few drinks). 10. Don’t get fooled into thinking that eliminating an entire
10. Don’t get fooled into thinking that eliminating an entire macro nutrient group is your answer to slims-ville. In the 80-90’s there was the ‘no fat’ craze that resulted in a skyrocket increase in Type II Diabetes. Next came the ‘no/low carb’ bandwagon. Eliminating carbohydrates will result in weight loss, but it’s a tough road to go down and the kicker is that weight management is very difficult. Once you start introducing carbs back into your diet, you may gain back any weight you’ve lost. A healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat is the answer to healthy weight loss and maintenance.
So what is a healthy balance of carbs, fat and protein?
The following percentages allow you to get sufficient intake of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals:
45% to 65% of calories eaten should come from carbohydrates.
20% to 35% of calories eaten should come from fat.
10% to 35% of calories eaten should come from protein
The exact percentages of each macro nutrient vary from person to person based on goals and activity levels. The main thing to remember is that you need to include all three macro nutrients. Of course it goes without saying that those most successful with weight loss and management are those that include exercise in their plan. Muscle building, heart pumping exercise is not only great for reshaping your physique; it provides those ‘feel good’ endorphins that help you stick with your program. If you just diet, you may lose weight, but may not like the shape your body takes after you’ve lost it.
Again, common sense rules the day regarding the loss of belly fat: sensible, conscious food choices and more exercise!
No time to fit a workout into your busy weekend schedule? No problem. This tush-toning, 3-move workout takes just three minutes. Complete this three times a day, whenever you have a few minutes to spare.
Single-Leg Forward Reach
- Stand with all your weight in your left foot, abs engaged and chest lifted.
- Reach your torso forward as you lift your right leg behind you. Reach your arms out in front of you for balance as your torso and leg come parallel to the floor.
- Hold this position for a moment, and reach through your right heel to engage the back of the right leg.
- Moving in one piece, lower your right leg toward the floor as you return to standing upright, resting the right foot lightly on the ground. This completes one rep.
- Do 30 seconds of reps on each side.
Sumo Squat Jump
- Stand in a wide sumo squat position with your feet slightly turned out, arms resting on your hips.
- Jump up explosively, keeping your core engaged.
- Land with control, lowering your body back into the wide sumo squat position to complete one rep.
- Do as many reps as you can for 60 seconds.
Basic Squat With Side Leg Lift
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width distance apart, feet parallel.
- Bend your knees, lowering the hips deeply, so your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping your weight back in your heels.
- Rise back up, straighten the legs completely, and lift the right leg out to the side, squeezing the outer glute.
- As you step the foot back into shoulder-width distance position, squat down again. Then stand up and do a side leg lift on the left side. Lower the leg back to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
- Complete as many reps as you can for 60 seconds.
To lose those remaining stubborn pounds, many of us just need to tweak our diets and cut our portion sizes. One secret is to incorporate low fat, low calories foods, like these, into your diet. The following eight filling foods deliver the goods as far as dietary fiber, powerful protein, and essential nutrients so you get more bang for your bite…
How do you like dem apples—especially since they rank number one on our list of satiating foods. Apples contain a secret weapon when it comes to slowing digestion and creating that full feeling for longer—it’s called pectin.
According to nutritionists at Tufts University, pectin in a whole apple is more filling than the equivalent amount of fruit in juice. After all, it takes effort (just ask your jaw) to devour an apple so your brain and body have adequate time to register a feeling of hunger satisfaction
You don’t have to be shy when cracking eggs (including the yolks) to eat. According to dietary research from Saint Louis University, people who consume eggs for breakfast, eat roughly 330 fewer calories daily compared to those who eat cereal, toast, or bagels for their morning meal.
Food scientists dub eggs the “complete protein,” which refers to the nine essential amino acids contained within a single egg. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, claims this collection of amino acids is what suppresses the appetite and tells your brain and body that you’ve reached food capacity.
A belly full of oats is a happy belly. Just ask anyone who gobbles down this high fiber breakfast bowl. Oats stall mid-morning snack attacks because they absorb liquid (i.e., water, milk, almond milk) like a sponge—meaning you’ll eat fewer calories, but feel full until lunchtime.
The secret of slow digesting oats is that they take much longer to work their way through the digestive system, which compared to the quick fix you’ll get with most breakfast cereals, quells hunger pangs and regulates blood sugar so you’re satisfied for much longer.
Not only are they naturally sweet if you’ve decided to cut out refined sugars in favor of natural sweetness, figs are thick and fleshy for a satiating bite. That means you’ll get sticky-sweet without the added calories.
On top of a caloric cut, figs are a great source of dense, filling fiber. For instance, one fig clocks about 37-calories and 1 gram of fiber to stall the release of sugar into the blood stream and prevent hunger cravings from spiking shortly following meals.
Potatoes have a bad rap. However, it’s all in how you prepare the vegetable. Sure, potatoes are a starchy bunch, but a healthy boiled, baked, or grilled potato (not fried) will satisfy hunger for quite some time.
In fact, potatoes squelch hunger for about the same duration as brown rice or whole wheat bread—at far less carbohydrates than both. But don’t shun a grilled, baked, or boiled potato from your plate. If you do, you’ll be missing out on a ton of nutritious fiber and vitamin B6, potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, niacin, and phosphorus.
6. Greek Yogurt
Hark the Harvard researchers who tout Greek yogurt as “the single best food for shedding pounds.” During a study that monitored the weight and dietary habits of 120,000 people over a 20 year period, Greek yogurt was found to balance blood sugar (and curb cravings) and satisfy hungry tummies for longer.
In fact, the same study found that those who opted for protein-packed Greek yogurt, shed unwanted, extra pounds without changing any other habits (i.e., diet or exercise). Keep in mind that Greek yogurt contains double the protein, no whey, and a sliver of the sugar compared to any other type of yogurt.
7. Wheat Berries
Have you tried wheat berries? The whole-wheat kernels do get a lot of notice as a super food, and similar to quinoa (another super food), wheat berries are super rich in both protein and fiber compared to most other grains.
To give you an idea, a serving of wheat berries contains roughly 6-grams of protein and 6-grams of fiber—meaning twelve times the appetite satiating power. Foods like wheat berries and quinoa trigger the release of ghrelin, a hormone that indicates to the brain that we’re full.
Beans, beans might be good for your heart, but they’re also ideal for whittling your waistline. Beans fill you up because they absorb a lot of water during the cooking process—for example when incorporated into stews, soups, and sauces.
On top of that, beans are also high in fiber that fill you up quick and tell the brain that you’re full. Beans also provide resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that delays the release of sugar into the bloodstream to provide feelings of satiation.
How many times have you started a diet, but felt so sluggish and cranky after a few days that you threw in the towel? You’re not alone. Dieting can deplete energy because you are cutting back on calories, your body’s source of fuel. But it is possible to lose weight and still feel good. Here’s what I tell my clients about the healthy way to diet:
Eat More Meals, Not Fewer
When you don’t eat breakfast, you overeat at lunch. And while that may add up to the same number of calories (no breakfast + big lunch = breakfast + smaller lunch), larger meals zap more of your energy because they put greater stress on your digestive system. The reason? Approximately 10 percent of your daily energy supply is used in the digestive process. When you overeat, that process goes into overdrive, demanding, even more, energy to break down the food and leaving your body drained. (Think of how sleepy you feel after a Thanksgiving feast.) Smaller meals several times a day can help you conserve energy.
Carry Water Everywhere
Yes, there are studies that now say people may not need as much water as previously thought. But that’s not true for dieters. In order to lose weight without feeling sluggish, you need your H2O. Here’s why: Water regulates your body temperature, removes waste, transports nutrients to cells, cushions joints, and protects organs. Without enough H2O in your body, it becomes increasingly difficult for your system to operate — leaving you tired and even light-headed. Another point: It’s easy to mistake the midafternoon munchies for hunger, when dehydration could be the culprit. Don’t believe me? Next time the 3:00 snack attack occurs, pour yourself a tall glass of water instead of reaching for chips. Even if you still want the food, I’ll bet you eat less after drinking a glass of water.
Exercise is a key part of any diet plan, not only because it burns calories, but because it keeps your energy up even when you’re not working out. Anything that elevates your heart rate — walking, biking, playing Frisbee — circulates more oxygen to your lungs. The better your circulation is, the more energy you’ll have.
In fact, not exercising does more damage to a weight-loss plan than many women realize. After age 20, women lose 0.5 to 0.7 pounds of muscle each year. That’s five to seven pounds lost each decade! What replaces the muscle? Fat. So you’re not shedding weight — just developing a weaker, less fit body. Everything becomes more difficult: carrying groceries, holding a child, taking out the trash. Exercise — especially strength training — helps ensure that you don’t just get slim, you also get strong.
Monitor Sleep and Stress Levels
Sleep is a critical element of successful weight loss, since it’s your body’s chance to recharge. Too little sleep doesn’t just make you sluggish, it can also cloud your thinking, leaving you more susceptible to temptation when you pass the donut shop on the way to work.
Controlling stress is also important (it can wreak havoc on a diet in more ways than chocolate). Did you know that stress can actually induce a physiological change that makes losing weight harder? It causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol, which may encourage fat cells to build up in your abdomen as part of the stress response. So take a deep breath, get some sleep, and relax.
Commit to One Week of Dieting
Bottom line: Weight loss is the long-term key to feeling more energetic. If you’re overweight, your organs and muscles have to support a larger mass than nature planned, meaning they must work harder to perform everyday activities. So even if you’re a veteran of many failed diets, try again. This time, just commit for one week. The first few days will be tough — but after seven days, you’ll start to see a difference. You’ll also feel stronger and more energized — and you may even be ready to commit to week two.
Next: Your 7-Day Smart Diet Plan
Smart Diet Plan: Day 1
Breakfast: 1 packet instant oatmeal with 1/2 cup 2% milk, 2 tablespoons wheat germ; 1/2 cantaloupe; coffee or tea
Lunch: 1 can white tuna in water, rinsed and drained; 1 cup lettuce, 2 artichoke hearts, 1/2 cup tomatoes, 1 teaspoon capers, 1/2 cup cucumber, 1/2 red bell pepper, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled chicken; 1 cup mixed greens, 2 artichoke hearts, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; 1 small baked potato, 1 teaspoon margarine; 1 pear
Smart Diet Plan: Day 2
Breakfast: 2 frozen waffles, 1 tablespoon all-fruit spread; 8 ounces low-fat yogurt (any flavor); 1 medium apple; coffee or tea
Lunch: Chopped salad: 1 cup lettuce, 1/3 cup chopped red cabbage, 1/2 cup chopped spinach, 1/2 cup diced cucumber, 1/2 red onion, sliced, 1/3 cup broccoli, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; top with 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled salmon; 8 steamed asparagus spears; 1 small baked sweet potato, 1 teaspoon margarine or grated cheese
Smart Diet Plan: Day 3
Breakfast: French toast: 2 slices of bread coated in 1/4 cup Egg Beaters, cooked in Pam cooking spray; 1/4 cup light syrup; coffee or tea
Lunch: 4 ounces grilled chicken; 1 cup lettuce, 2 artichoke hearts, sliced, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; 8 ounces low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon wheat germ
Dinner: 5 ounces grilled halibut; 1/2 cup steamed broccoli, 1 tablespoon margarine; 1 cup mixed greens topped with 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese; 1 nectarine or medium apple
Smart Diet Plan: Day 4
Breakfast: Fruit “cobbler”: Mix 1 packet instant oatmeal, 1/2 cup 2% milk, 3/4 cup frozen blueberries, 2 tablespoons wheat germ; microwave 90 seconds. Coffee or tea
Lunch: Turkey sandwich: 3 ounces sliced turkey, 1/2 cup chopped lettuce, 1/2 tomato, sliced, 1 large pita pocket, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard; 1 nectarine
Dinner: Veggie burrito: 1 tortilla, 1/2 cup spinach, 1/2 cup lettuce, 1/3 cup each diced tomato and red onion, 2 tablespoons salsa, 1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese; 1 orange
Smart Diet Plan: Day 5
Breakfast: Omelet: Mix 1 egg plus 3 egg whites, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 1/2 cup chopped spinach; cook in Pam cooking spray. 1 English muffin, 1 teaspoon margarine, 1 tablespoon all-fruit spread
Lunch: 1 baked potato topped with 2 tablespoons 2% cottage cheese and 4 tablespoons salsa; 1 cup mixed greens, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing
Dinner: 2 Boca burgers on 1 toasted English muffin, garnished with sliced tomato, lettuce and red onion; 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese; 1 apple
Smart Diet Plan: Day 6
Breakfast: 2 slices bread, toasted; 1 teaspoon all-fruit spread; 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese; 1/2 cantaloupe; coffee or tea
Lunch: 1 can Healthy Choice low-fat soup; 1 large tortilla topped with 1/2 cup lettuce, 1/2 cup diced tomato, 1/2 cup chopped cucumber, 2 tablespoons chickpeas, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled beef tenderloin; 6 steamed asparagus spears, tossed with 1 teaspoon olive oil; 1 cup mixed salad greens; 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing
Smart Diet Plan: Day 7
Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs; 3/4 cup fresh blueberries; 8 ounces low-fat yogurt (any flavor); coffee or tea
Lunch: Chef salad: 3 ounces sliced turkey, 1 cup lettuce, 1/2 cup chopped red cabbage, 1/2 cup spinach, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 1/2 cup sliced tomato, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; pita bread
Dinner: Chicken taco: 4 ounces grilled chicken, 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage, 1 tortilla, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 2 tablespoons salsa, 1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese; 1 nectarine