One step forward, two steps snack

I always love when people start to exercise more. What I don’t love is hearing about how they reward themselves with more food afterwards.

Because here’s the thing: It takes a whole lot of running, walking, biking, or swimming to burn off that Starbuck’s pumpkin scone. More than even reasonably active people are likely to be doing on a daily basis.

People tend to inflate the fat-burning power of their exercise regimen in a very real way. A quick run in the morning earns them a scoop of ice cream after dinner. And that’s the very definition of counterproductive.

Exercise indeed plays a critical role in weight loss—and it will certainly make you healthier.

But if you don’t change your diet, too, don’t expect a whole lot of payoff where your waistline is concerned.

According to the National Weight Control Registry, we also need to adjust our ideas about an effective exercise program in this regard. (This registry collects data from people who have lost at least 30 pounds and who have kept it off for at least one year.)

Turns out, a good 90 percent of people who have successfully shed weight exercise an hour daily, on average. That’s a good three times more than the 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity that U.S. health officials recommend.

Studies indicate that you’ll need at least twice as much exercise every week to really start budging those numbers on the scale, assuming you make no other changes.

Obviously, I don’t want to let this little tidbit to deter you from exercising. Quite the contrary! I want you to know what works and what doesn’t.  Because if you are going to take the time to exercise, you should reap all of its benefits.

Remember, moderately intense exercise done in as few as 10-minute increments, two to three times a day, markedly reduces your risk of death by any cause.

We should also strive to be more active every day—even on days you work out.

Just because you’re going to the gym that day doesn’t mean you can’t walk to the store, or use the steps instead of the elevator, or bike to work. It all adds up—and every little bit helps.

So please, exercise. Just don’t overeat to compensate. Because numerically speaking, even if you ran a 26-mile marathon, you still wouldn’t burn a full pound of fat. (And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even believe in the overly simplistic calories-in–calories-out theory.)

I saw a patient just the other day who was so proud of herself because she had finally lost 16 pounds. How’d she do it? Well, she worked at it. Actively. Every day. By watching what she eats. And exercising.

Bottom line, losing weight isn’t always easy or comfortable. (And depending on your metabolism, neither is maintaining it.)

I’m not trying to be a killjoy. That’s just the way it is.

This has been something of a personal mantra of mine for decades now. Call it tough love. But you can’t make sweeping changes to your lifestyle and expect your body not to put up a fight.

If you dig in your heels and stick to your guns, though, you will reap the rewards.


Internicola, Dorene. “Trying to lose weight? Ditch calorie-rich rewards after exercise.” Reuters. 22 July 2013.