Can I lose weight by exercising? We have been told by everyone from the fast food industry to the local gym that the key to weight loss is exercise. Is this really true? Many patients come in and tell me they have been trying to lose weight through exercise for years, and are frustrated because it does not work very well -and they wonder if something is wrong with them. In our office we explore many hidden reasons why people may not be able to lose weight, and make sure there is "nothing wrong" that we can easily fix (such as hypothyroidism, over the counter medications that are causing weight gain, etc.) but that said, exercise, when used all by itself, is not the best way to lose weight. I experienced this problem myself in the 1990’s when I initially tried to address my own obesity with exercise by itself. It was not that difficult to lose 10 pounds through exercise, but I seemed to hit an insurmountable plateau and could not lose any further. New research shows why this is the case.
We have known for years through studies like the National Weight Control Registry that exercise is very important to help keep weight off after we have lost it, but in the initial phases of weight loss, diet is a more important factor than exercise. Of course exercise is important for our health, regardless of its impact on our weight. And new research shows that exercise does help with weight loss - but only up to a certain amount of exercise. When exercise becomes extreme, it is no longer helpful in the battle to lose further weight, due to a physiologic quirk in our metabolism. Long story short, if we exercise too intensely for too long, our body turns our metabolism down when we are at rest. In other words, excess exercise can backfire, by putting our body into a "panic mode"; our body tries to hold onto some fat. We have seen this again and again in our patients who become high-intensity athletes, marathon runners and triathletes. They have been losing weight nicely, then ramp up their exercise intensity, and suddenly they are having difficulty losing weight. This research study gives us some insight into why this happens:
So when it comes to exercise, what should we do? It's a matter of finding the sweet spot, just the right amount of exercise for where we currently are in terms of our fitness and overall health. If people are entirely sedentary, we recommend that they check with their primary care medical provider to see if they need any cardiac testing before beginning, particularly if they have risk factors for cardiac disease, diabetes, or other health problems. Most patients are able to safely start with a 10 minute walk, and they can use something called the talk test to make sure the intensity is right for them.
If you are already a moderate exerciser, and want to lose more weight, it is more important at this point to address your diet rather than try to increase your exercise intensity – you will get much better results that way! If you are already working out at a gym or doing an intense exercise regimen and are stuck, again the answer is to have a complete review and revamp of your diet plan, to make sure you are getting the most benefit from all of your efforts!
As for the "perfect" plan, there is no "one-size-fits-all diet" . There are many new fads out there in 2018, and one thing we help patients do is sort through information that appears to be conflicting, and find what works best for each person’s unique body and needs. The National Weight Control Registry shows that the “best diet” for an individual is one that is sustainable for the long term…fad diets and extreme approaches simply do not give good long-term results, and are a waste of our valuable time, energy and money. It’s also important to note that our needs change over time, as we get older, face hormone challenges, medical conditions, metabolic syndrome, and more, we need to have our diet changed to meet our needs and goals.
The best plans are realistic, detailed, science-based. Food should be tailored to your lifestyle, needs, and preferences. Any food plan should meet the “four enoughs” criteria - it should be simple enough, tasty enough, filling enough, and should yield “good enough” results. If your plan is not working, don’t give up on your health - instead, re-evaluate your plan.
If you need help, give us a ring! (603) 379-6500. Read more about our program: healthyweightcenter.com