A TIME magazine story, “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin,” overturns popular thinking about exercise, namely that it helps people lose weight. For many dieters who clock grueling hours at the gym, exercise may be pretty useless when it comes to losing weight, according to recent studies. Here’s why.
Exercise makes us hungry. The weight loss formula remains the same. In order for scale numbers to descend, we must burn more calories than we consume (a pound of fat equates to 3,500 calories). The problem: The harder we work to burn calories, the hungrier we become. This easily negates the purpose of a workout for people who want to lose weight, says TIME.
Ravenous compensation. In a PLoS ONE study cited by TIME, 464 overweight women who did not exercise regularly were separated randomly into four groups. Three of the groups were asked to work with a trainer for 6 months – for 72, 136, and 194 minutes weekly. Members of the fourth group were asked to maintain their regular routines. All groups were asked not to change their dietary habits. While everyone lost weight, surprisingly, the women who worked with trainers didn’t lose much more weight than those who didn’t. Some of those women even gained weight.
Researchers theorize the women who exercised ended up eating more than they did before participating in the study. Blame it on increased hunger or the nagging urge to reward ourselves after a tough workout, but either way, the sad fact is that most of us end up washing our exercise efforts fairly easily.
Weight and willpower. Can’t you just will yourself to eat healthier snacks and meals? Unfortunately, a few people can, but many cannot… and guess what? It’s not anyone’s fault. TIME cites a Psychological Bulletin report that likens willpower to a muscle, one that weakens the more it’s used. Forcing yourself to work out only eats away at your self-regulatory impulses. In one eerie example, Steven Gortmaker, head of Harvard’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity, jokes that while it may sound like a conspiracy theory, playgrounds at fast food restaurants might operate with the intention to make kids hungrier.
Bottom line: It’s easier to watch what you eat than to try to burn it off at the gym. But before you quit your gym membership or stow away your running sneakers, remember that regular physical activity has physical and mood-lifting benefits. And losing excess weight is still important. You won’t just look and feel healthier but you’ll also be helping to protect your body from disease.