My wife and I were talking with a friend of ours a few days ago, when the subject of daily exercise to lose weight came up. She wanted to know “the secret” of our weight loss. You see, I would say that we’re among “the grads” mentioned at 60 in 3. We have managed to get our weight down to much “healthier” levels. We continue to learn about healthy eating and weight loss, but also have the opportunity to focus more on the fitness and prevention side of health. I started my journey with the idea that I could just use daily exercise to lose weight, and moved forward from there. The following outlines our discussion.
Daily Exercise To Lose Weight
So, our friend wanted to know what we were doing differently. She knew that I had started exercising to lose weight back in 2003, and she assumed the daily exercise was responsible for my weight loss. I’ve dropped 42 pounds during the course of my journey, and 56 pounds, from my peak weight. She also knew that my wife was teaching yoga, so it seemed logical that our daily exercise was the key. That, of course, is what I thought — back before I started this whole adventure. I think the answer surprised her…
Step 1. Acknowledging My Weakness
I recognized a weakness in myself. I have never been into exercise, “just for the sake of exercise.” I had also never been a runner, preferring to get my exercise as an aside to group activities. Things like playing basketball or tennis. Yet, as an adult, I was unable to both a) find a partner that could commit to those activities regularly, and b) commit to them myself. I, and others, are just too busy taking care of kids, jobs, homes, and marriage. So, working under the assumption that the fastest way to lose weight was exercise, I decided to run a 5K, and all of my training was to be during my lunch breaks. Quite frankly, I didn’t like running, but it can be done as a lone activity, and preparing to run a 5K isn’t very time intensive. This meant I had to stop eating out at lunch, and instead, pack a lunch. I changed nothing else in my eating habits or exercise. On day 1, I weighed 242 pounds. Twelve weeks later, on the day of that event, I weighed 215 pounds. I attributed the success to running.
Step 2. Moving Beyond The Initial Success
This is where I started to flounder. I no longer had an event to keep me committed to running, and although I had achieved a level of success, I was still overweight, and needed a goal. At that point, I decided I would need to increase my running to drop more weight. I committed to training for a half marathon. Something I never thought I would do, but logic dictated that if running 10-15 miles/week was good for weight loss, then running 25-30 miles/week would be better. Over the course of 12 weeks, I completed the preparation for a half marathon, and finished the race, albeit not gracefully. After three months of training, on the day of the race, I still weighed 215-pounds. It was terribly disappointing and frustrating.
Step 3. Evaluating My Failure
This is where I decided to set aside my preconceptions, and actually explore the math behind weight loss. What I discovered is that daily exercise alone to lose weight doesn’t work. Why? Let’s say I exercise at a very high intensity level, and assume I run for 30-minutes at a 8 minute/mile pace. Over the course of that 30 minutes, I will burn about 500-calories. That means I have burned the equivalent number of calories of any one of the following foods (approximately):
- A ham sandwich
- Three 12-ounce cokes
- 1 cup of ice cream
- 2 cups of cereal
- One fried chicken sandwich
- 2/3 of a Big Mac
- One order of French fries
Step 4. Reload
In the grand scheme of food, calories, and exercise I have come to realize that it would be nearly impossible for me to lose a significant amount of weight through daily exercise alone. Although the exercise helped with my weight loss, the real driver was avoiding restaurant meals at lunch. Simply by eating lunch at my desk, I was consuming approximately 600-calories per day less than I had before I started my exercise regimen. Add to that the fact that I was burning an additional 200-300 additional calories daily with exercise, and I lost weight.
The next step was, of course, to figure out how to improve my eating habits, so I could continue to exercise, lose the weight I desired, and not feel like I was starving myself the entire time.