What Exercise Won’t Do

I’ve been writing more about exercise, so I thought this worth pointing out: Exercise won’t make you skinny.

Yes, some people exercise for weight control. But it requires working out a lot, not a little, and you don’t necessarily lose a lot of weight.   Some people gain a little weight when they start exercising.  Bodybuilders work hard to gain weight.

Exercise can improve your mobility, balance, and strength.  It can improve your heart, lungs, joints, cholesterol, insulin sensitivity, bone, and your overall health.  Exercising a lot may make you thinner.  But it will not necessarily make you thin.

32 thoughts on “What Exercise Won’t Do

  1. What I think is so interesting, for me, is how hard my body will work to maintain the weight it wants when I start exercising more. I hate the whole idea I saw in an article the other day that people don’t lose weight when they exercise because they reward themselves with a donut after. I don’t think that’s quite how it works. I know that, if I really increase the length and intensity of my workouts, my body lets me get away with it with no change in appetite for a couple of day. But, if I keep up the new intensity for longer, by the third or fourth day my appetite increases a lot. It’s like my body is going, “Sure, if you want to rev up your workouts for a day or two, that’s cute, and I won’t say anything, but if you think you’re going to keep this up without giving me more fuel, think again!”

    If you start burning more calories, your body is going to start asking for more calories. To me that just shows that our bodies do indeed want to maintain a certain weight, and has nothing to do with people “rewarding” themselves with cookies.

    • Yup. If I go straight to the gym after work, meaning I haven’t eaten in 6 hours? Tunnel vision, headaches, feeling shaky, and monster cravings for salty food. If I eat something with protein and carbs beforehand? I’m fine.

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. It’s not a question of rewarding myself, I sometimes feel hungry after a workout. Why wouldn’t I? My body needs more fuel to replace what it just used. Do you reward your car with more gas after a long drive? Jeez. And if I’m excercising more than usual, I start craving calorie dense foods.. my body’s way of letting me know if I’m going to be burning more calories, I’m going to need to consume more as well.

  2. Working out might not result in weight loss if you take off fat and gain lean muscle. Your body will get better even though it might not be lighter.

    • This is a common assertion. It may, but it depends on how hard you’re working out and genetics. Some people grow larger muscles easily, some don’t. Plus, “those who inherit an ability to gain muscle strength may not be able to grow large muscles and those who can easily increase their ability to do aerobic exercise may be thwarted on the weight room floor.”

      But whether your body composition noticeably changes or not, you still get the benefits.

  3. Who cares about being skinny? Well, practically the whole world but that’s another story…

    I’ve been fat almost my entire life and in the past, thought (and was taught…grrr!) that I couldn’t enjoy movement because I was fat. I couldn’t have been any more wrong! In the past 5 years, I have started weight lifting, ran a 5k, learned how to bellydance (perform regularly) and am now training to compete in the Highland Games, which involves throwing around heavy lead balls and trees.

    While I haven’t lost any weight doing this fun stuff, here’s what I ‘ve gained: crazy strength, high energy, better sleep, mood enhancement galore and body confidence to spare.

    If only I could convince EVERYONE that movement is vital on so many levels, I’d be a very happy woman :)

    • Wooo, Highland Games! :D Caber tossing always makes me boggle.

      It hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the men tossing trees and heavy lead balls around are noticeably fat. (Haven’t seen any women in the local games yet, but hopefully someday…)

  4. I found that the more vigorous my workouts it made me much more hungry afterwards.
    I’ve been trying to tone the cardio down and see how it effects my hunger, so I find it interesting that this is now out in the NYT, as well I seen another article on this stating very similiar things. That exercise really just increases your hunger.

    Thanks for the link.

  5. My experience with ‘weight control by exercise’ was that, whenever I increased my exercise to 3-4 hours per day, which I have done on four different occasions in my life, & kept at that level for between 3 & 4 years each time (guess I have a fixation with the numbers 3 & 4), that over that long period of time, with that very excessive amount of exercise, I lost 15-18 pounds in weight, but improved muscle tone & lost inches. When I have returned to my normal levels of 45-60 minutes of exercise daily, occasionally a little more, but not usually as my aging disabled body just will not take it, my weight thanks me for pushing it so hard by regaining 30-35 pounds. Of course, this last time I had the effects of aging & going through menopause added in to help weight gain.

    As for hunger, there were times when I was somewhat hungrier after working out, but there were other times when I guess I was too exhausted to care about food & experienced some loss of appetite. My normal exercise levels are, I am sure, good for my overall health & help me to stay mobile & independent longer, but do not seem to have a great effect on my appetite. As usual, we again have people taking any opportunity to be snarky about fat people &, for the ten millionth time at least, reiterate their belief that we eat huge amounts & eat constantly, most likely stuffing in the donuts (&, yes, I like donuts & eat one when I feel inclined to do so) WHILE we exercise. None of this has to have any basis whatsoever in realiy.

  6. I meant, of course, that my BODY thanks me for pushing it so hard by regaining much more weight than I ever lost. My mind & my fingers are often not in sync.

  7. My weight does adjust downward a little when I’m moderately active – 10-20 pounds. I think it’s less because of calories burned (I DO get hungrier and eat more when active) and more because my body tends to adjust to the demands being made on it. When I’m doing more physical work and eating well, it seems to think “Hum. With this activity level, I can function better at a lighter weight. There doesn’t seem to be a food shortage, so I’m going to lower my set point and let go of some of my energy reserves.” If I tried to eat less while exercising more, then paradoxically, I think that my body would be reluctant to drop any weight. It would think there was a food shortage and would try to avoid burning any fat.

  8. Hello! I just stumbled across your website tonight – you’re doing a terrific job!

    I’ve got a lifetime of hating my body behind me and have been everything from a 48kg gym junkie to a 120kg+ couch potato. (Please excuse the metric – I’m Australian.)

    After many years of yo-yo dieting, I’ve finally decided to go for a ‘sustainable lifestyle’. In other words, I’m sick of fixating on what I look like and want to just live my life instead!

    I know this isn’t a weight loss site – sort of opposite, really! – but I just wanted to share my thoughts on exercise. I tried to lose some weight about 3 years ago by being fastidious about what I eat and killing myself in the gym for at least 90 mins a day. 90% of that was extreme cardio. I also had a boxing trainer once a week.

    Unlike most personal trainers who yell and scream and act all peppy, my trainer was quietly encouraging and taught me a whole lot about bodies in general. Back then, he told me I was doing waaaaay too much exercise and that it would make no difference to my weightloss. I said “yeah, right!” and continued to kill myself in the gym.

    Needless to say, I burnt myself out after 4 months and after losing about 30kg. I went back to my old couch potato ways and of course, the weight all came back on in 3 years.

    As I said before, I’m now going for sustainable lifestyle. I’m still quite fastidious about what I put in my mouth, but I also have a blow out every few weeks and I don’t let it affect my social life. I.e I still have one! If I really want something, I eat it and don’t beat myself up about it afterwards. As for exercise, all I’m doing is walking my dog for approx 30 or 40 minutes most days a week. He’s a puppy and we live in an apartment, so I don’t really have a choice but to walk him.

    And what do you know? The weight is coming off at exactly the same rate as it did when I exercised like a maniac and severely limited my food intake! It’s really been a wake up call for me and I’m now convinced that exercise has little to do with weightloss – as my trainer said to me three years ago, weightloss is 90% diet and 10% exercise.

    Exercise is important for general health, flexibility and overall wellbeing. But it’s not the be all and end all!

    Anyway, as I said, this isn’t a weightloss forum, but I just wanted to share my exercise experience. But thank you, Ms 400lbs, for sharing your life and opinions with the world – I only wish I’d found you when I was feeling really down about the size I am. I know you’ll help a lot of people!

    Cheers
    Annie from Down Under

  9. Yeah…yeah. I’ve upped my exercise recently as well, and have been surprised by how often I have to confront the little “but why haven’t you lost WEIGHT!” voice in my head. As if that were the only purpose for doing it …sigh.

    @ Fitnessboy–most people who claim to have “gained weight” in the form of muscle are *lying,* especially if they just started working out in the past 6-8 months. It’s incredibly hard even for men and takes and incredible amount of work.

    As for whether or not it’s beneficial to replace fat with muscle–well, it is at a very high level of athletic performance where carrying the extra non-muscle weight is a hinderance. But we’re talking professional athlete here, specifically pro marathoner or biker, etc. And maintaining that physique IS a full time job (hence the “professional” portion of our program).

    The only other sport I can think of where it’s really an issue is scuba diving–fat works like neoprene in that it adds bouyancy, which means you must wear more weight, which adds to the overall danger and uncomfortable-ness of diving. Again though, it’s more of an issue for extreme diving rather than tropical vacay diving.

    • Chava –

      When I started running, I didn’t lose a pound of weight (several months), but I went down two dress sizes during the same time. My *weight* didn’t change, but my physical size did. How else to explain that other than by muscle replacing fat?

      • Heh, I find that when I’m walking more I get less “chub rub”. Could be I’m losing fat and gaining muscle, or could be my body is just going, “Gee, we’re doing this one movement more, let’s optimize her gait” and I’m unconsciously adjusting.

        That said, this article by Gina Kolata might be interesting.

        Dr. Thompson, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, is a marathon runner who, despite his best efforts, has never been able to grow big muscles. He suspected a strong inherited tendency existed for muscles to respond, or not respond, to training.

        ”Some people get big just by walking by the barbells,” Dr. Thompson said. ”Others can lift weights a lot and their muscles don’t grow much.”

        So yeah, some people do grow muscle pretty fast, and others don’t. Also someone with bulky muscles isn’t necessarily stronger than someone with smaller ones.

  10. There were about three months where I was trying to lose weight by exercising very vigorously twice a day. Jogging or weight lifting in the morning, then some other kind of cardio in the afternoon. Totally unsustainable, but I was ravenously hungry the entire time. I had to eat every 3 hours or there would be hell to pay. I did lose some weight (about 10 lbs) but I doubt that I would have lost too much more than that. I also had no time for life and suffered from deep depression shortly afterward.

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