Question: I have been going to the gym everyday for the past two months and my weight has stayed the same. I’ve noticed that many of my fellow “gym bunnies” are not that lean either. A coach told me me that its because I am gaining muscle and muscle weighs more than fat. That sounds good, but my new “muscles” have not slimmed me down either. Do you have any advice backed up by facts? I am so frustrated I am going to get a big Mac with fries as soon as I have sent this email.
Answer: The balance between weight loss and exercise has puzzled me for years. For example, friends regularly run in Central Park and actually use their gym membership– yet they still carry an extra 20 pounds. This winter, a study published in Scientific American shed some much needed light on the exercise/weight loss relationship.
Weight Loss and Exercise 101
The calories we take in from meals and snacks are used to fuel the body’s function. We need the energy of the calories in food to keep our heart pumping, food digesting, brain thinking and feet walking. But one of the most important functions in the body is the use of calories to control inflammation.
The flood of harmful chemicals from inflammation has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and strokes. One of the well proven benefits of exercise is the reduction of inflammation that reduces the risk of chronic diseases. That’s the good news. The bad news? The lower levels of inflammation means the body no longer needs to burn up calories to deal with inflammation. There are now extra calories in the body that can be stored as fat. And if you, like so many of us, reward a workout with a treat, you may see pounds tick up.
This is not a sign to throw away your yoga pants. Exercise has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and increase strength and immunity. It’s an important part of healthy lifestyle but its not that valuable as a weight loss tool. In the words of the researchers who wrote the Scientific American article” You can’t outrun a bad diet”
One Final Thought
Human beings have evolved to be calorie hoarders. People who burned up calories quickly did not make it through the prehistoric hunter- gatherer cultures. Naturally chubby individuals were able to endure long periods where food was scarece. This worked well when we lived in caves and literally had to eat what we killed. Now living in Fast Food Nation, our calorie hoarding metabolisms has left us at odds with a world that values bikini bodies. It’s sad but true that when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight nothing works as well as calorie counting. I would definately keep working out for the health benefits, but keep a food diary to keep an calorie intake.