Do we really lose weight through exercise?

Just to clarify and shock you even more, the answer is NO.

Don’t worry I was just as confused when I heard this being told to me; infuriated almost, using the old argument that ‘it worked for me’.  And as much as personal anecdotes are useful, in case you didn’t know it’s not science.  So why are we convinced that exercise leads to weight loss?  Well it’s quite hard to escape when that is how most fitness franchises and professionals promote their business.  In fact one marketing guru actually tells people to have a before and after shot as part of their main advert.


Let us now begin to tackle the above question by examining weight; when we step on the scales what are we actually being told, this number that becomes the maker and breaker of our daily happiness and focal topic of all our conversation.  What is actually being measured?  Enter Doctor Robert Lustig expert in childhood obesity whose lecture entitled ‘Sugar, The Bitter Truth’ went viral with millions of viewings.  He states that when we weigh ourselves we are measuring 4 components:

  1. Muscle
  2. Bone
  3. Subcutaneous fat (fat layered underneath skin)
  4. Visceral fat (inside the body around the organs)

And to prove he is not a fictional character here the link to the lecture.

In fact, did you know that you could even be a TOFI, Thin on the Outside and Fat in the Inside; enter professor Jimmy Bell, a professor in obesity and (I like to think) personal friend of mine.  Bell has found many people who are TOFIs and he discusses the concept in a 2006 Guardian article the link for which is below.




So what does exercise do?  Simply it increases muscle, yes immediately the hearts of some women are filled with trepidation, ‘I get more muscles?’  I don’t want to be muscley or ‘hench’!!! No silly, you don’t have to be working big superficial muscles like bodybuilders, you may be working your cardiac muscle through cardio, or your deep core muscles through yoga and pilates, even long kinetic chains of several muscles with functional and bodyweight movements.  But anyway, whatever the type of exercise you are not losing weight directly from exercising you are gaining muscle.  Hence you could be not be losing weight but losing body fat and looking better but the weight may not have decreased in the slightest.  Therefore, your first take home lesson from this post (if you made it this far) is don’t get too obsessed by the number on the scales.


And it is here that things start to become clear; introducing your new best friend, MITOCHONDRIA.  To be fair most of you have heard of these bad boys before, during biology lessons but for those of you that never took it past school level they are the power plants of cells and their role is to convert nutrients we eat into energy.  Hence, if you enhance your muscle, any type of muscle, you will not lose weight but you will increase your total number of mitochondria creating a pathway for the excess fat to be metabolised.  Everything clear?



Now you know this, it is easier to understand the type of exercise we need to be doing in order to lose body fat.  More importantly, what exercises are actually ineffective, pointless even.  In a nutshell, there needs to be a routine that you can stick to all year round which you can build on when you are making a drive, for the Summer for instance, or ease off from prior to Christmas.

The Department of health state that we should be getting at least 150 minutes exercise of moderate intensity per week which can be broken down into 4 40 minute workouts.  So that is your base to build on which you stick to even at Christmas time in my opinion, but at least at the beginning of year.  Many make the mistake of pushing too hard at the beginning of year.

Then there needs to be variety in your routine.  So with your 4 weekly workouts you will want

1 flexibility workout like yoga

1 weights workout like body pump or your own all-body routine

1 cardio workout like spinning

1 circuit workout like…oh yeah that’s right no one cares about circuits or they do versions which are too hardcore!!

This with a healthy meal plan is all you need to start with.  To monitor your progress by all means measure your weight, but also take photos to build a picture over time.  Circumference measurements around the arms and waists will also help you visualise your improvements.

I hope I have managed to clear up a few areas of confusion and all the best with reaching your goals for 2014.

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