When someone first hears that I lost over 100 pounds in six months they are usually quite surprised. But when they find out that I wasn’t exercising to lose weight, they are downright shocked.
“You really didn’t do any exercising and you still lost 100 pounds” they ask.
And I’ll explain that apart from agreeing to go on a few short walks with my wife I didn’t do any exercising as part of my weight loss program. In fact, I went out of my way to avoid any unnecessary exercising during that six month period.
So why did I avoid exercise to lose weight? And why would I encourage anyone who needs to lose a significant amount of weight to do the same? Two reasons. Number one:
More Exercise Does Not Equal More Weight Loss
In spite of everything we’ve been told our entire lives, exercise seems to have little benefit in actually helping you lose weight. I know, it’s hard to believe. However, for those of us who are obese, exercising to lose weight will often result in little to no actual weight loss.
But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at the research. That is exactly what a group of professors from the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine did back in 2012. They conducted a broad review of the academic research related to weight loss and physical activity and they concluded that for obese individuals the primary benefit of exercising would be for the cardiovascular benefits and not for “inducing weight loss.” (See study here)
And then there was this interesting research study, Hunter College professor Herman Pontzer and colleagues who traveled all the way to Tanzania to study a hunter gatherer tribe called the Hadza. As hunter-gatherers, this tribe has to remain very physically active on a daily basis just to provide enough food to meet their needs. They commonly walk long distances to find edible plants and to track and hunt animals. And then, of course, they have to carry all that stuff back to their homes.
So Pontzer and his colleagues wanted to know is how many calories the Hadza people were burning each day especially compared to their lazier Western counterparts. So they recruited a number of Hadza volunteers, had them drink a special water solution and then, they had to, um, collect their urine. (Apparently, this method is the most scientifically accurate way to measure the amount of calories someone is burning).
And what did they find when comparing the amount of calories burned by the Hadza people who are constantly on the move compared to the rest of us couch potatoes?
They found that on average we’re all basically burning the same amount of calories each day. That’s right, whether you spend the day exercising your buns off or sitting behind a desk, there is very little difference in the amount of calories burned. And their findings were not unique, close to a hundred other similar studies have reached the same conclusions.
But there is an even better reason to consider holding off on the exercising to lose weight and that is because…
Exercise Can Actually Ruin Your Weight Loss Efforts
The first way that exercise can ruin your weight loss efforts is that exercise tends to make you hungrier. If you’re working on changing the types of food you eat or the amount of food you eat, making yourself hungrier is not a recipe for success. It just increases the odds that you’ll eat something not on your food plan or, worse yet, that you’ll give up on your weight loss efforts altogether.
The other big reason not to add exercise to your weight loss efforts is that it is a major drain on your willpower. In his amazing book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, scientist Roy Baumeister explains that willpower is a powerful, but rather limited resource.Â It can quickly become depleted with all of the efforts necessary to change the way you eat. In fact, even otherwise enjoyable activities like shopping for a new TV can cost you precious willpower energy.
So if you are going to attempt a major life change like completely changing the way you eat, you are going to need every ounce of willpower you can muster. If you also try and add a new exercise routine to the mix, you’re more likely to undercut your weight loss efforts than help them. It’s a bit like driving faster to get to the gas station because you are running low on fuel. It can seem like a good idea, but when you actually understand the mechanics of how things work, you realize it actually makes your situation worse.
For many of these reasons, the program that I used to lose over 100 pounds, Bright Line Eating, actually discourages exercise for most people in the weight loss phase. The founder of Bright Line Eating, Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson, argues that exercise will absolutely sabotage your weight loss success.
And, in fact, this is what she has seen happen in her online boot camp program. In her book, Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free, Dr. Thompson published the results of a study she did with her online boot campers. Boot campers were placed into one of four categories based on their self-reported level of exercise “very active, moderately active, lightly active or sedentary.” And with each increasing level of physical activity she found a decrease in the amount of weight lost.
That’s right. The more exercise her boot campers did during the eight week boot camp, the less weight they lost.
And that was certainly consistent with my experience. For the first six months of my weight loss journey, I did no formal exercising. I took things easy (physically and emotionally) whenever I could. I put 100% of my weight loss efforts into focusing on my food plan. That served me very well and I was able to lose an amazing amount of weight in just six months.
So if you have a significant amount of weight to lose don’t worry exercising to lose weight. It will cost you a ton of mental and physical energy, increase your level of hunger and it may even slow down your results. You’re much better off putting your time and energy into building a support system and focusing on a weight loss food plan, like Bright Line Eating, that can help you achieve long-term results.