Diet vs. Exercise for Weightloss

Dear Leah Renee, 

I joined a gym about 6 months ago and enjoy some of the group classes offered or use the elliptical machine.  I haven’t noticed much difference in my weight, and I know it’s not because I’m “gaining more muscle” because it’s not that significant.  Do you know why or what I can do to make a difference on the scale??  Thanks!  -Elise A., CO

I feel ya!  A good question to ask yourself is if you have made any other adjustments to any other part of your life (other than joining the gym) to further contribute to losing weight.  Joining a gym is a great start, but it’s not the whole equation.  If you have ever heard the term “70/30” in relation to the diet-to-workout ratio, there is a reason.   In order to obtain desired results, what you choose to eat, and how much you eat plays a bigger role than workouts alone.

Burning more calories than we consume is what affects our total body weight to decrease.  We burn calories when we are sitting at our desks at work, reading, and sleeping.  We burn a lot more when we partake in a vigorous workout.  But, regardless of how often or vigorous the workout, eating more than (or the same as) you burn will not whittle your waistline.

For some of us, the mental aspect of working out impacts our perception of how much or what we eat.  “I worked out, so now I can go eat a pizza”.  That’s basically like receiving a a nice, hard earned check and spending it all immediately.  Was it really worth it?  Maybe!  Unfortunately, that sort of outlook will also prove a lack in results.  There’s a couple reasons this mentality could be hurting your desired outcome:  you could simply not be burning enough calories to cover the indulgence, even with a serious sweat sesh, and secondly, that outlook can be habit forming.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly OK to treat yourself sometimes, just not each time you workout, or eat more overall because you figure you can, or need to.  Those of us who are athletes or regularly have very intense, strenuous workouts daily will naturally need to consume more calories than those of us who are sedentary or only workout a few days a week.  I am referring to the majority who enjoy a few spin classes a week, do some yoga, or workouts of choice.

The reason “70/30” came into existence is to emphasize the significance diet plays into your body-weight.  Not to worry–you don’t need to start carrying a calculator everywhere you go or purchase a kitchen scale to weight out every gram of food.  Watching your portion sizes, paying attention to how you actually feel–whether you really need that extra piece of this or that will help significantly.  Swapping that bag of chips (yes, even the 100 calorie bags) and opting for an apple or some almonds (or some of both!) instead will make a significant difference in a month’s time!  Consuming more fluid throughout the day is also a great way to keep your body from thinking you’re hungry when you’re not; we often confuse hydration with hunger because our body sends a similar signal.  Keep in mind just how hungry you really are before reaching for a snack.  I like to keep track on a 1-10 scale;  if I feel like I’m at an 8, snack time!  If it’s a 5, I’m usually just bored.

Why is diet so important and how come it plays a larger role than working out alone?  In order to lose ONE pound, we need to burn 3,500 calories.  I don’t know what you’re doing, but none of my workouts burn that many calories…or two, or 3, even when I leave drenched in sweat!  The best way to find out how much you can consume in a day in order to arrive at your goal weight takes a simple calculation.  The Harris Benedict Equation is a formula that uses your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and then asks you to account for your daily activity factor in order to determine your caloric needs (for your desired outcome or maintenance).  Click here to find your BMR.  Once you have your BMR, apply your activity factor:

Multiply (your BMR) by 1.2 if you are sedentary or little exercise;  x1.375 for lightly active (1-3 days a week);  x1.55 if you’re moderately active (3-5 days a week);  x1.725 if you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 days a week) and if you’re a total rock star, you get to multiply your BMR by 1.9 meaning you exercise very hard each day and a physically demanding job (typing 90 wpm doesn’t count–sorry!).

I promise that when you focus on both your diet and your workouts, and limit indulgences for when you are truly craving something in particular, you will notice a big difference in the outcome!

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