Christian Fitness - Exercise is a Terrible Way to Lose Weight

Exercise is a Terrible Way to Lose Weight

Have I got your attention?

I know it sounds contrary to what you’ve been told your whole life. After all, if it’s a bad way to lose weight, what’s with all the gyms, fitness studios, and video-based workout programs? Running clubs? Jazzercise? Pilates? Treadmills and stationary bikes? None of it makes any difference?


And no.

The fact of the matter is, losing weight by exercise alone is not a good strategy. Let me explain.

Let’s say you weigh 160 pounds and you run 6 miles per hour. After one mile (i.e. 10 minutes), you will have burned roughly 120 calories. If you run for 30 minutes total, that’s 360 calories (120 x 3 = 360). Not bad. So what’s the problem?

Well, actually, there are several. First of all, calories consumed and calories burned change from day to day. One day you might eat 1,800 calories worth of food and the next day 2,200. 

Furthermore, your sleep changes, as do your other activity levels. There is no constant.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say that by some miracle you were able to achieve perfect calorie equilibrium day after day. You burned and consumed the exact same amount of calories, netting you a balance of zero at the end of 24 hours.

The fact of the matter is, losing weight by exercise alone is not a good strategy.

Then you started running four days a week. Assuming you weigh 160 pounds and run three miles at 6 mph like in the example above, you would burn 1,440 calories in a week ([120 x 3] x 4 = 1,440).

Sounds good until you understand that there are 3,500 calories in a single pound of fat. That means it will take roughly 2½ weeks to lose just one pound. ONE! And again, that assumes your calories in/out are exactly the same every day.

Yes, you could find more intense exercise options to help you burn more calories. But there’s another problem. 

When we exercise, a couple of things can happen. Pending the type of exercise, our hunger may actually increase. In fact, studies suggest that even thinking about exercise can lead to increased calorie consumption.

I notice a striking difference in my hunger when I exercise. It even corresponds to the type of exercise. Strength training makes my hunger increase a lot more than shorter bouts of cardio.

When our appetite increases, we have to be careful not to overcompensate with extra food or we will undo the benefit of burning the calories. Easier said than done.

The other issue when using exercise to lose weight is the trap of rewarding ourselves with extra food. We’ve all done it. “I biked today so I deserve a second dessert.” It’s one of the several nutritional lies we tell ourselves. This habitual behavior, at best, takes us back to square one.

More likely the case is that we will overestimate the number of calories we burned and underestimate the number of calories we consumed. It’s human nature. It’s also the formula for a calorie surplus, quite the opposite of what we are seeking. 

All that said, this is not a license to quit exercising! Quite the contrary. We were created to move and be active. God gave us amazing bodies, intending for us to do amazing things with them. 

We do, however, need to change our mindset on the primary purpose of exercise. We should exercise so that we will be healthier physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Now building healthier bodies, for many, includes the need to shed fat. I get that. And if you want to get the most bang for your buck with exercise, you need to focus on building muscle by strength training. But again, our focus of strength training should be to get healthier, not skinnier.

Let’s say you are exercising and are reasonably strong, but want the scale to move. If that’s the case, you need to focus on your nutrition. What you put in your mouth is the most important determinate on your weight. And the easiest to manage from an effort standpoint.

For example, what if you cut out the mid-morning bottle of Mountain Dew? Not only are you saving yourself 290 calories, you have freed up an extra 25-minute run to burn off those calories to get you back to zero. Eating healthier adds years to your life and hours to your day. 

In 12 days of no Mountain Dew, assuming all other variables stayed the same, you’d shed your first pound (not to mention saved some money). Unlike our first example, we lost one pound in less than two weeks and we did it without doing anything extra… but by merely removing one item from our diets.

May not sound like much until you realize that after one year, you would lose 30 pounds. THIRTY POUNDS! 

Want to shed that same amount of weight by running rather than giving up The Dew? Hope you’re ready to carve out 146 hours of your busy schedule so you can run 875 miles (the distance from New York, New York to St. Louis, Missouri)! 

You see why exercise is such a terrible way to lose weight? It’s just not enough on its own.

It is, however, essential if you want to create a healthier body. You’ll build stronger bones, stronger muscles, stronger mind, and a stronger heart. 

You’ll decrease the likelihood of injury, sickness, and disease.

You’ll feel better, look better, and sleep better.

And most importantly, you’ll have more energy, ability, and opportunities to serve others. 

Therefore, make every effort to exercise. But also pair it with good nutrition, solid sleep, and never mistake the purpose for our fitness.

Our bodies are not our own. Let us be faithful in caring for them in order that we might care for others and honor our great God.