Not losing weight with exercise?

You can't out exercise a bad dietHopefully, many of you have embarked on my 4×4 fitness challenge as many at my work have (shout out to Erika D.  for being the Carroll Hospital leader so far!).  If you haven’t , it’s not too late – click here.  People have already started to see improvements in their fitness levels.  Many can now pound out pushups and burpees in week 3 which they couldn’t do so well in week 1.  In spite of their hard work there is a recurring issue that people bring up to me all the time with respect to exercise and weight loss.  People often complain that, in spite of exercising regularly, they are unable to lose weight.  The root of this problem lies in the way that exercise affects appetite.

The first problem with exercise and weight loss  is that as your activity increases, often your appetite increases in step.  Food intake will often increase.  This will eventually reverse the benefits of exercise.  This is a very common problem.  You usually see it in the following form:

suzy sweettoothSuzy Sweettooth loves chocolate cake but doesn’t eat it because she’s put on a few pounds over the years.  She decides to get healthy and joins a gym and starts working out pretty hard.  She loses weight and decides that she can have an extra piece of chocolate cake now and then because, after all, she earned it.  Slowly she starts to eat a little more here and a little more there, all the time thinking that it’s OK as long as she works out.  If she didn’t work out she’d weigh even more, right?  The increased calorie intake slowly negates all the weight loss benefits from the exercise and the weight slowly comes back on.

There is evidence that calorie intake increases when people exercise.  To give a specific example, one study looked at variation in the amount of weight people lost during exercise.  The researches wanted to see why, in spite of being on the same exact exercise program, some people lost and others didn’t. Theoretically, if people are on the same exercise program they should lose close to the same amount of weight.  This study showed a wide variation in weight changes.  Some subjects lost over 30 pounds in 12 weeks while others actually gained weight.  The researchers then compared people who didn’t lose weight with those who did.  Why were some more successful than others?  They found that the biggest difference between the groups was in their caloric intake.  The group that didn’t lose weight ate significantly more calories every day than before they started the exercise program.  Just like Suzy Sweettooth, they increased their calorie intake in a way that offset the calories burned in the exercise program.   The group that was successful at losing weight was able to control their calorie intake so that it stayed the same or decreased.


The solution to this problem is to be exacting with your calorie counting.  The reality is that, as I have said many times, if you’re not counting your likely not losing.  If you’re exercising and not losing weight, the first place to look at is your calorie intake.  Keep in mind, that your body is very strict in this regard.  What I mean is that if you are very good 6 days a week but on the seventh you binge and take in all the calories you missed in the previous days, you will not lose weight.  I wish it wasn’t this way but I, unfortunately, I don’t make the rules.

The second problem with exercise and weight loss is that people are not exercising intensely enough or not as intensely as they think they are.  More on this in the next post, so come stay tuned…

For more on the topic check out:

The Importance of Measuring

Why You Can’t Be Trusted

Catenacci V, Wyatt H. The role of physical activity in producing and maintaining weight loss. Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology and Metabolism 2007;3:518-29.
Ross R, Dzagnone D, Jones P, Smith H, Paddags A, Hudson R. Reduction in obesity and related comorbid conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men. Annals of Internal Medicine 2000;133:92-103.

8 thoughts on “Not losing weight with exercise?

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