While there’s likely no behavior more important to over-all health than exercise, in the real world exercise doesn’t drive weight loss.
Have you ever eaten anything “because you exercised”? An extra portion? A higher-calorie choice? A reward for your hard work? Or have you ever been hungrier because you exercised? And once you start eating in response to your exercise, exercise’s weight benefits quickly disappear. Exercise has a tremendous impact on us psychologically and physiologically, and in regard to weight management, those impacts are both for better and for worse.
While exercise may lead us to unknowingly consume more calories as a reward for our exertion than the calories we burned exercising in the first place, there’s no doubt that exercise does us many tremendously good services; and it’s no myth that exercise helps us keep weight off. Don’t get me wrong, as an exercise physiologist, fitness/exercise is utmost important as well for longevity, quality of life, function, disease prevention, and a plethora of other benefits. It’s likely these indirect or less tangible benefits that lead to weight management’s most unfair paradox: While exercise alone is unlikely in the real world to lead to any dramatic weight loss, we know that without exercise we’re far more likely to regain whatever weight we’ve lost and not live the quality of life we deserve. When all is said and done, dietary choices are responsible for 80% of a person’s weight, while fitness covers the remaining 20%.
I don’t know about you, but if I had a final exam where the questions were to be weighted 80% in favor of one semester’s material, I’m pretty sure that’s the semester that would get the vast majority of my study time and attention. To put this another way: It’s far easier to lose weight in your kitchen than it is to lose weight in your gym.