Confusing Fitness with Weight Loss

There is a topic that has been stuck in my gut for a while, but it’s hard for me to discuss it in conversation with my clients and would-be clients: weight loss as a result of working out.


Recently I’ve had individuals I have trained for several months shocked at how much they’ve exercised, yet how the number on the scale has barely budged, as if their workouts would instantly begin to reflect a difference every morning as their unclothed bodies step onto that magical purveyor of good or bad news.

So I am going to dash one stereotype here and now. Fitness training is not necessarily about weight loss. It’s about fitness. Trainers who claim all the hard workouts he or she are putting you through will permit you to have that extra drink at happy hour or permit you to indulge in a fatty dessert every day you exercise should find you running the other way. 

Just because you are dripping wet at the end of a 45-minute, 700-calorie-burning workout doesn’t mean you earned that double cheeseburger. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain telling you that as long as you get on that bike, rower or treadmill, you can keep indulging — and still lose weight. That is the message that has been reinforced by fitness gurus, celebrities, food and beverage companies, and even public health officials, doctors, countless gym memberships, fitness tracking devices, sports drinks, and workout videos. There's just one problem: this message is wrong.

In a Vox article by Julia Belluz and Javier Zarracina, the writer/researchers studied more than 60 sources on the topic. Here is what they found:

  • No matter what you read or hear about weight loss, exercise is pretty unhelpful as a source of it. Why? Because even though 100% of the energy we use comes from food, only 10 to 30 percent of it can be used up in the form of exercise.
  • Physical activity seems to set off a plethora of changes that can affect both how you eat as well as how many calories you use. How this affects weight varies from individual to individual and can be hugely different between men and women.
  • No matter how much you exercise, food intake is the major determiner of weight loss. The nature, the amount and the frequency of your eating play the biggest roles in your weight loss efforts.
  • Fitness is about toning up, restoring balance and flexibility, and replacing fat with muscle. It kick starts all your other health maintenance goals as well as health-hopeful efforts and is a crucial ingredient to aging well. 

A regular fitness regimen also makes you look better in your clothes. But that doesn’t happen overnight. I have clients who have been with me for more than a year and are just beginning to remark on how differently things fit them, how friends and family think they’ve lost weight (and many of them haven’t) and are just beginning to understand the beauty of feeling and looking better at the same time. Do they complain of exercise soreness? You bet! And while it’s not pleasant for me to hear my clients’ whining about “leg day” I know I am putting them on the right track.

So here’s the thing. I can help you get fit. I can recommend a food regimen that works at getting those pounds off. But I want anyone I work with to understand that while trainers like me are THRILLED when their clients go down a size, we are more concerned with getting you strong, healthy, and on the path to healthy aging. Healthy weight loss, even with the methods I recommend, means losing of only a pound to a pound and a half or so a week. Even if your body gives up more than that, it may be difficult to maintain that loss over the long term.

For more information on how I can help with the extra pounds through healthy eating, just give me a call and we can lay out a plan for success. In the meantime, there is always the next leg day.