As the owner of a fitness studio, one of the most common questions I’m asked by women thinking of starting is, “Will I lose weight?” I long to answer with, “How should I know?! Are you planning on eating a Twinkie after class every week?”
There is a HUGE misconception about the relationship between working out and weight loss. The constant “Burn that stubborn belly fat with these 6 exercises” and “Work off your muffin top” Facebook sponsored posts I see daily are obviously fueling the confusion. Weight loss in and of itself is a simple equation: calories burned > calories consumed = weight loss. Yes, you will burn calories through working out, but the true power in this equation is the calories consumed. Weight loss happens in the kitchen, not the gym.
That’s the cold hard truth. You can work out 8 hours a day. You can have great muscle tone, be fit and have good cardio health, but if you eat cheese curds with ranch and a hamburger for lunch, and an ice cream sundae with extra chocolate sauce as a snack your amazing six pack of perfect ab muscles will have a lovely fat cushion protecting them from outside viewing. All the working out in the world simply cannot make up for unhealthy food choices. Every single decadent thing you are dying to consume is going to take a marathon of exercise to “work off” so working out isn’t really the weight loss path.
Oh the despair! We all have been told that we “earn” our french fries by doing that second set of squats. But alas, no. You earn the french fries by deciding to eat them and enjoying them. You work out because you want to have a wonderfully functioning vehicle that may or may not be the ornament you dreamed of driving around.
Wait, don’t despair! There are some very important benefits to working out in relation to weight loss. Working out will change your body composition. That is where it fits into the weight loss equation. A pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same (because they are both a pound) but they take up a very different amount of space. Think of muscle like gold — you only need a small block of it to make up a pound where as fat is feathers and you need a big old pillow of them to reach the pound mark. That is where working out will aid in your weight loss goals because as your body becomes more gold and less feathers it will look different.
Working out can help change your metabolism, which may aid in the calorie burning process. And of course you do burn some calories when working out, so there is that. But the biggest benefit of working out in relation to weight loss is that you will be building a healthy lifestyle that makes you want to make healthy eating choices.
For example, my six pack abs will not be available for your viewing pleasure anytime soon as I really love cake, cheese and wine. Am I working on losing some of my extra weight? Yes, most days! But I’m also not willing to give up everything that makes me happy to have the perfect body so I try to find a happy middleground. When I don’t work out and I am sitting on the couch, my mind says super un-helpful things like “Well, today is an ‘off’ day so you can eat anything you want.” Or “You’ll be healthy tomorrow.” And then the bag of Doritos comes out and I proceed to eat the whole thing. However, when I get to the studio, get sweaty and I lift myself into some cool shape in the air, when I get home and collapse on the couch my mind says, “I feel good! Let’s keep it going with hummus and carrots.” And “it will be easier to do that trick if you eat quinoa tonight.” After a workout most of the time your body is trying to replenish the macronutrients and minerals burned so your food cravings will more likely be the healthy variety. But more importantly your best saboteur, your mind, will be on board with happy exercise endorphins pushing through it so your internal dialogue will be more healthy.
So in conclusion, yes, you should workout. You should make time (note I didn’t say “find time” — you will never find it, you must choose to put your physical health as a priority) and workout daily. Your body will thank you. But more importantly all the other healthy benefits of working out will kick in and your weight loss and maintenance goals will be more manageable when you have a healthy lifestyle supporting it. Work out because you love moving your body. Work out because you want to see what your body can accomplish next. Work out because you were made to move and our bodies are amazing. Build that six pack because your abs want to be strong and they will protect your spine when they are. And if you also dedicate yourself in the kitchen maybe someday we’ll see them. And maybe we won’t. Either way having them will make your life better.