Weight Loss: The Dirty Secret

One of the dirty secrets of weight loss is that some think exercise isn’t necessarily the key thing to focus on. Research came out this year indicating that exercise may not be the prime driving factor in losing weight. According to an article from UK publication The Guardian, studies “have demonstrated no or modest weight loss with exercise alone,” per the Mayo Clinic. Also from Mayo, The Guardian reveals that “an exercise regimen…is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss beyond what is achieved with dietary exchange.” Additionally, research out of the University of Louisiana that had women exercise for varying amounts of time over a six-month period (or not at all) showed all lost the same amount of weight.

If you join Weight Watchers and attend meetings, or browse through the many message boards on the Web site, you will meet countless people who have lost weight without breaking a sweat (other than when it comes to passing up a serving of cake or a second helping of lasagna). I am one of them, having lost most of the 45 lbs. by which I am lighter without a regular exercise regimen. (Yes, there were periods during which I did exercise, but periods of dieting stretched longer.)

Recently I have started exercising more regularly, but I find I do lose more easily when I’m not also incorporating physical activity. And this is not some light, half-hearted exercise I’ve been doing; I started working out to Jillian Michael’s “30-Day Shred” a little over a month ago. I was dubious at first that I could outlast even the easiest version of the workout (OK, I was also a little scared of the relentless fitness juggernaut that is Ms. Michaels) but, after a couple of weeks of doing the first phase of the video, I find myself able to do it without the muscle soreness and buckets of sweat that accompanied my first sessions.

Sticking with the video is easily one of the most surprising and satisfying accomplishments of my life, one that I would’ve never experienced if I had not gotten up at 5:15 in the morning, put on some workout clothes, and cued up the DVD. (I have also seen awesome results in how my clothes fit and how my body looks; I will have to write up a review shortly!)

But lately, with increasingly hectic, longer work days, and cold temperatures greeting me in the morning, the call of my bed has been stronger than that of the workout DVD. So, I have been less active, getting in one or two workouts a week, rather than five or more. But my weight loss hasn’t slowed. I have truly enjoyed the Shred DVD, as well as the “Brazilian Dance Workout” DVD that I also purchased recently, but my continued, respectable weight loss with diet alone has caught my attention.

The U of Louisiana researcher, Timothy Church, said the women in his study didn’t lose weight due to “compensation”–eating more after working out as a reward or due to hunger. The article notes that eating as light as a few extra pieces of fruit after a workout, or as heavy as a pastry, equally undermined weight loss. (I did eat somewhat more during the weeks I was exercising heavily, but I ate within Weight Watchers’ approved limits of additional food consumption, dictated by exercise intensity and duration.)

Why am I bringing up my experiences and the research? Let me be clear: I would never tell anyone to *not* exercise, because the benefits are huge in terms of improvements in your body, endurance, spirit and overall sense of well-being. But if you have wanted to start losing weight and the thought of having to exercise is holding you back, consider starting with food changes and adding in the activity later.

And don’t feel like you have to train for the Boston Marathon or climbing Mt. Everest when you do start exercising. Start small, and gradually take yourself out of your comfort zone into more challenging feats. (However, as Jillian Michaels implies on her DVD, you may be pleasantly surprised that you can handle more of a physical challenge than you think you can. That’s definitely what I learned!)

Or, if you find yourself unable (or less willing) to exercise like you have been, know that you can still lose weight quite effectively through just diet, until you get your physical activity mojo back.

You may be overly self-critical about sticking to a weight loss or exercise regimen (I know I’ve definitely done this!), but rather than considering this research a loophole for avoiding exercise, think of it as proof of why you should not beat yourself up if you falter in moving forward with exercise. It’s absolutely possible to lose weight without exercise. And your muscles will always be waiting to rev up when you are ready to flex them again.

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