Can You Exercise Away A Bad Diet And Lose Weight?

If you have been exercising but not losing weight, you may be assuming that exercise alone will help you shed pounds. Learn whether exercise can make up for a bad diet and help you lose weight.

November 3, 2015
img y7fbkqic7yjrmoestwrr

If I had a dollar every time I heard someone say they were entitled to a fattening, high-calorie food because they exercised, I’d have a lot more money than I currently do. Exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. But if you live under the assumption that exercise will offset a bad diet and help you lose weight, read on to see whether this is a myth or reality.

What Is A Bad Diet?

There are many definitions of a bad diet. Some people say that eating meat is a bad diet, others indicate that people who eat grains are choosing to eat a bad diet, and still others feel as though someone who eats processed foods is eating poorly.

Because there is no one definition of a bad diet, let’s just assume a bad diet is one lacking in nutrition, that provides you with calories above and beyond what your body needs, and makes it difficult to maintain or get to a healthy weight.

The Estimation Issue

If you are like the majority of people, you probably overestimate the number of calories you burn when exercising. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness indicates that people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise by three to four times. For example, if a participant actually burned 200 calories during exercise, the average amount they assumed they burned was 600 to 800 calories.

That’s a big difference.

If you do not accurately calculate the number of calories you burn while exercising, you can easily eat more than you should because you assume you burned more calories than you actually did. Doing so can lead to weight gain instead of weight loss.

To further compound the difficulty of exercising enough to lose weight without eating at a weight loss level, studies show that most people underestimate the number of calories they consume. It’s easy to do because calorie estimation is very difficult, especially when eating out.

That’s a double whammy right there.

If you underreport the calories you eat and overestimate the calories you burn, you are never going to lose weight. Taking this into account, you can understand why exercise alone is a poor way to lose weight.

A Common Scenario

A common scenario is a person who exercises regularly but cannot seem to lose weight.

She might go to the gym five days a week and work out out vigorously. However, because she overestimates the number of calories she burns, she eats too many calories throughout the week and either maintains her weight or gains a bit.

She is exercising but not losing weight.

Be Wary Of Exercise Calculators

It is almost impossible to correctly estimate the number of calories you burn while exercising without a professional’s help. Online exercise calculators vary widely and are generally not targeted to your weight, age, and level of exertion. There is even a wide variation in the calories burned between wearable fitness devices.

The fix is to look at an online exercise calculator or a wearable fitness device as a general tool rather than an exact measurement. I believe it’s better to underestimate how many calories I burned during my walk than overestimate them. Then I know that my 45-minute walk did not burn 800 calories and won’t totally make up for the piece of birthday cake I might eat later.

Knowledge Is Power

The only way that exercise alone can fix a bad diet and help you lose weight is if you are doing extreme amounts of exercise. Hours and hours of exercise a day will burn a lot of calories, but that type of exercise is not realistic for most people.

Acknowledge to yourself that exercise is meant to improve your health and not solely cause weight loss. Once you do that, you can combine a diet designed to lose weight with your exercise regimen and finally achieve success.

Stick with a reasonable amount of exercise that improves your fitness, move your diet from bad to good by eating the right number of healthy calories, and look at exercise as a single part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR