For far too long now, we have been told that exercise is the key component to losing weight. The 'calories in and calories out' approach constantly propagates that we have to keep burning what we eat and the more we burn and sweat, the more weight we lose. This messaging is hammered down by the cohort of apps, fitness gurus, celebrities and Instagram influencers who've popularized myriad workout routines which have gained even more popularity during the pandemic-induced lockdown. However, the science on this is clearer than ever before and we now know that we can't keep indulging in food and think it can be miraculously burned out on the treadmill the next day. The reality is, that exercise alone is almost useless for losing weight.
Why exercise is not the key to weight loss
Research from several leading obesity experts, nutritionists and scientists says that while we get 100 per cent of our energy from food, we can only realistically burn 10 to 30 per cent of it through physical exercise. Additionally, studies support the fact that exercise really only accounts for a minor portion of daily calories burnt. In reality, there are many more components to energy expenditure in our bodies and most people don't take into account the calories that are used through other daily activities. Our bodies use calories even while we work, clean or read; breathing, blood flow, body temperature regulation, digestion - all of these processes take energy. Hence, we have to understand that vigorous workouts only account for a tiny portion of our total energy expenditure. What does this mean? This means that more workouts do not equal increased weight loss and spending hours at the gym, unfortunately, might not yield better results.
Weight gain and weight loss are complex processes that involve a host of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, environmental markers, diet components etc. and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is why the internet is replete with forums where people talk about their weight loss being slowed down or even reversed after a few initial months of success. This is because it is still unclear as to what effects weight loss programmes have on different people.
Exercising hard can have different effects on different people, for example, some people may indulge in what are known as compensatory behaviours. This happens when people who have exercised hard feel hungrier and eat more to satiate their hunger, this means more calorie intake that nullifies any benefit of a workout. Some people overestimate the calories they have burned and indulge in food as a reward mechanism. These are all natural ways of our bodies to unconsciously compensate for the calories that it is has burned.
Thus, diet is the most important component in all the above scenarios. And what we eat and how much we eat has a greater bearing on weight loss than we can imagine. Unfortunately, countries such as the US and even India-which is notorious for its carbohydrate-rich diet and where obesity rates continue to grow at a frightening pace-are losing the plot when it comes to messaging. Exercise apps, gym instructors, and fitness centres continue to grow and deploy the pseudo-science that says we can exercise away our weight. In actuality, we are eating more than ever before, and unless we don't correct this, we will continue to fall prey to the cycle of eating more and exercising more, never really arriving at health.
Should exercise, then, be completely discarded?
No, physical activity is good for the mind and body, it helps to maintain good heart health and also helps to maintain a healthy weight. However, when it comes to weight loss, we have to see it for what it is - a very small part of a larger process where the main role is played by dietary changes. Exercising has a slew of benefits, but weight loss is not really among them.
Hence, for those looking to lose weight and create that important calorie deficit, there is better luck in making sensible alterations to diets such as reduction in refined carbs, lessening sugars and increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables. Changing what we eat and how much we eat is, thus, the only way to shed those extra kilos and kick-start a journey towards health.
About Author: Rohit Shelatkar is a Fitness & Nutrition Expert and VP at Vitabiotics Ltd.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information