I have heard experts estimate the ratio of diet VS exercise at 70%-30% or even 80%-20% in importance. So if you want to lose weight, diet is far more important.
I know this very well because for years I pounded away at the gym and swimming pool with minimal weight loss results. I would go through a period where I exercised 5 or even 8 hours a week, and lost weight. That was hard to sustain. During the periods of more intense exercise I probably showed higher motivation to eat healthily as well. I have gone through many months of exercising 3 or 4 hours a week and have even put on weight.
I tend to push myself in the gym, or swim constantly for 100 lengths or more. When you really exercise hard your appetite often becomes ravenous, I remember many a time where I would come home from the pool, and eat far too much. I would often go to a restaurant after a good workout and feel that I ‘deserved’ a few beers, then a few more.
During exercise, the number of extra calories burnt over your normal resting rate is insignificant during the course of a week, especially after accounting for the increased appetite. What I am saying is that purely as a weight loss tool, exercise never really worked for me.
It is true that increased muscle mass will help you burn calories. It is also true that your metabolism will stay higher for about 24 hours after exercise. Exercise is the only way to become stronger, or to sculpt your body shape once you have lost the fat. Exercise is good for posture, for energy levels and for a better self-esteem. Exercise is good for your heart, lungs, circulation, joints and overall health. So exercise is just as important as diet for you to lead a happy and healthy life.
For weight loss, focus on your diet.
I remember many times where I ate fast food, or junk food guilt free because “I was going to the gym anyway”. This attitude doesn’t work.
If you want to keep eating rubbish then exercise will be better than couch surfing. If your goal is to lose fat then you need to lose the junk food regardless of how much you exercise!
Some studies have shown that the amount of exercise needed to achieve health results is much less than previously thought. You will get almost full health and metabolism benefits by simply exercising 1 hour per week! If you run for 20 minutes 3 times a week that is plenty. Even better would be interval training where you sprint 1 minute then walk 1 minute alternately for 20 minutes.
I recommend Tim Ferriss’ 4 HR body which has a number of different regimes that will give measurable results with little time spent. The title of the book is based on a muscle building technique where you can pack on a lot of muscle in only 4 hours per month. The logic and science behind it is related to the ‘minimum effective dose’. This is the amount of exercise needed to activate certain hormones or other physiological changes.
One thing that I need to mention on this topic is the people that fool themselves in the gym. I’m talking about the people that hang around without breaking a sweat. You will see them chatting, hogging a machine whilst sitting there texting. They will watch TV, sip their sugary ‘sports drinks’ and stretch endlessly.
They spend as much time in the changing rooms as the gym itself, especially if the gym has a sauna, Jacuzzi or even a hair drier. These people might spend 2 hours in the gym building without doing much at all. Maybe they will have walked on the treadmill for 15 minutes at 5 km per hour. They would have used more calories in the shower … These people might tell their friend how hard they work out for little results.
These are the same self fooling people who will talk about their slow metabolism or how they put on weight even by ‘looking at food’.
These people might be receiving health benefits through relaxation, but not so much through exercise. If you are one of these people, you need to start an exercise diary. Write down exactly how many minutes, and at what speed. How many repetitions of what weight. Check your pulse, write down if you felt exhausted or out of breath. Write down facts and measurable data that can be used for reference or comparison. This will help prevent self-delusion, and will give satisfaction later when you see how far you have come.
One issue facing overweight or obese people is either feeling self-conscious, or too unfit for anything. (Eg: If you get out of breath walking up the stairs in the house then whats the point of embarrassing yourself at the gym?)
You might think: “No one wants to see a huge fat person sweating and wobbling on the treadmill!” Right?
I have felt this way especially when I was much younger, (or at my fattest). The good news is that you will experience the fastest results at the beginning. If you are starting from a low base, it will be easy to see fast results.
I’m not talking about suddenly becoming thin. I mean that your fitness, endurance and energy levels will improve quickly. It will be easy to measure improvements in distance, speed, or the amount of weight lifted. It will be easier to experience positive reinforcement.
Are you embarrassed to go to the swimming pool? Then go to aerobics. Still can’t handle that? Then go to the gym. Still too much? Walk briskly at night, in a disguise if necessary!
Still too much effort? Can you do more than last week? Did you do nothing last week? That’s an easy bar to beat! Why not try walking around the block three times a week? How about walking up and down the stairs twice for each time that you need to get something.
My point is, you don’t need a ‘regime’ or to join a grueling club of some sorts. This chapter is unscientific, I am not a scientist, you don’t need to be one either.
My message is as follows:
- Since exercise is only perhaps 20% of the weight loss story then focus on what you eat.
- Since only 4 hours per month is needed to get most exercise health benefits, then improvement is very achievable for you.
- Since you are planning to change your life, for the rest of your life, there is no hurry. As long as you do a little bit more than last week, you can build up from any base.
- It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do in the beginning, just do something. Anything. This will activate hormonal release and physiological changes in your body.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of an exercise regime. Many get discouraged or put off entirely by the conventional wisdom such as ‘no pain, no gain’ or that you have to keep your heart rate over 150 beats per minute for 30 minutes. You might have heard that you need 5 hours per week of intense exercise. It simply isn’t true. You can always build up to these levels if you choose to when you are already relatively slim, fit and healthy.
For now, you can simply do 2 things:
- Keep a diary and write down facts that can be referenced later. For example writing: “I walked on the treadmill for 10 minutes at 5 km/ph then 5 mins at 8km/ph”. NOT “I had a really good workout today, I felt really good after and my best friend told me that I look like I have lost some weight”. DELUSION ALERT!
- Do a little more than last week. That could be more minutes, a heavier weight, faster, or higher intensity depending on what you are doing. Again, it has to be measurable, recordable and comparable.
If you always do a little more than last week… Then you measure it accurately to stop self-delusion… You have the rest of your life to achieve your goal….. Guess what! You cannot fail!
There, it is! Easy….
Just to reiterate, do more every week, measure progress, keep going.
Can you handle that regime? I think so. Of course improving every week on a permanent basis will involve plateau periods of weeks or even months. That is fine, it is natural. Like the seasons, the peak and ebb of the tides, consolidation is fine.
When you have a week where you didn’t do more, don’t get discouraged. Just start again next week, it doesn’t matter in the long run. Realize that your health, fitness, and metabolism gains will not disappear in 1 week.
Eventually you will plateau at a stage where, for example a normal week might include 1 hour playing tennis, 1 hour in the gym, 1 hour running and 1 hour kickboxing. At this time you will be at your ideal weight and feeling fit and sexy.
At this plateau you will have new goals.
My ‘2 step plan’ of measuring and doing more than last week is to illustrate how easy it is to change your life. Start at whatever level you are currently at. It doesn’t matter whether your baseline is zero, or 3 hours of ‘lazy gym sessions’.
Just as I recommend the principle of being a ‘healthy person who chooses nourishing food” instead of ‘being on a diet’.
…I recommend being “a healthy person who enjoys physical activity” instead of being “on an exercise plan to lose weight”. It is all about who you are, your self-identity, and you have the rest of your life to change, to evolve into the person that you should be.