Weight Loss Tuesday: Science told me not to exercise

OK, I’m being facetious.  Science did no such thing.  But this week, science did suggest to me that exercising may not necessarily be the best way to lose weight.  I’m talking about this article from Time.com.  Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

Don’t have time to read it?  I’ll summarize it for you (through the lens of what I want it to say, I’m sure): exercising may trick you into eating more.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, but in a nutshell the article asserts that exercising not only stimulates hunger, but you’re more likely to say to yourself “Hey, I jogged today.  I’m going to have that muffin.”  But you’re also very likely to overestimate the number of calories you burned working out and underestimate the number of calories in your post-workout snack, so when you combine exercise with appetite stimulation with the human tendency to suck at math, you may not be doing yourself any favors in the weight loss department.

This article does NOT say that exercise is bad.  In fact, it points out some of the many many benefits of exercise.  But when it comes to weight loss, it suggests that you’re better off eating less and living an “active” lifestyle, without what I call “purposeful exercise” – exercise done simply for the sake of exercising.  Studies in kids (linked to from that same article) show that kids who are more active in school move less at home after school, and vice-versa.  I can definitely see that tendency in myself.  I live in Brooklyn, where I walk a lot.  Not a sweat-inducing speed walk, but walking as a way of getting somewhere.  I also ride my bike two or three times a week as a mode of transportation.  I live in a four-story house, so I’m on stairs a lot.  But I suspect that when I exercise, I sit on my butt more for the rest of the day.  I have no way to prove this, it’s just anecdotal.  But it makes sense.

I happen to like the way my muscles look when I’ve been toning them with hand weights or doing pilates.  I jogged quite a bit this spring, and I could see a definite difference when I ran for the subway.  But was any of this getting me thinner, or just fitter?  And was it encouraging me to eat more?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the last 25lbs I lost, I did it with virtually no exercise.

Now, if you’re thinking of writing in and saying that this theory can’t possibly be true, because you just biked your way to a size 4, that doesn’t disprove the theory.  It just may mean that you have better control over your mind than the rest of us.  Great for you.  But if you’ve exercised your butt off and your butt is still there, you may want to let the Time article sink in.

I’m not going to stop exercising.  I like lifting weights (not that I’ve done it for the past month, but I’ll start up again soon).  Jogging after I drop the kids off at school worked great with my schedule, so I’ll be starting that up in about a month.  But I’m not going to feel bad about not exercising any more.  Because I read on the internet that exercising might not be helping me lost weight, so it must be true.

And now for a recipe: Greek Pasta

Greek PastaTonight for dinner I made Greek Pasta.  I love this.  It involves a minimum of prep.  I can go do other things while it’s cooking.  And it’s really healthy.  I’m going to tell you how to make two servings, adjust as you need to.

Boil some penne pasta.  2 ounces per person is a reasonable portion.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add two sliced shallots and let them cook until they start to get soft, about five minutes.  Add a couple of diced plum tomatoes and some red pepper flakes to taste (be careful, you won’t know how hot it is until it cooks a little).  Cook for about five minutes more.

Add a five ounce package of pre-washed baby spinach and cook until the spinach is completely wilted.  Add two ounces of diced Feta cheese.

Once the penne has cooked, drain it and add it to the skillet.  Toss everything together and serve.  The entire recipe has about 800 calories, so my half was 400.  It was incredibly delicious, and very satisfying.

BTW, the Twitter experiment was a dud

A couple weeks ago I decided to try a Twitter experiment: posting about what I wanted to eat and letting the Twitterverse influence me.  It was a complete dud.  I discovered rather quickly that while the occasional Tweet about food was fun and spontaneous, having to Tweet every time I wanted to eat was just stupid.  And Twitter agreed: there was very very little response whenever I Tweeted that I was tempted by something or couldn’t decide.

The other problem was that it didn’t work when I wasn’t glued to my computer.  I Tweet all the time when I’m out, by texting the Tweets in on my phone.  But for this experiment, I had to actually read, right then, what people were saying back, which is not easy on my phone.

So, while I think Twitter could be a source of general support, and my Tweeps have come through when I’ve needed them on occasion, Tweeting about what I eat all day would probably lose me a bunch of followers, and I would bore even myself to tears.  Live and learn.  And enjoy the pasta!

Originally posted on Selfish Mom.  All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted.  Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    In the few long stretches of my life when I exercised regularly (more than 3x a week consistently), I too never saw a difference in my weight loss. So when I saw this study a while ago, I agreed wholeheartedly.

    I know I should exercise for health reasons, but I have to admit it would be a lot more motivating if I saw the pounds melt off when I was doing so.

  2. Toni says

    I like what you said about active lifestyle being the key.
    Interestingly, the site we use, myfooddiary.com, tells us we should “eat back” our exercise calories. But as you and I have discussed before, I stopped doing that after awhile.
    I think you’re right about mindset. If you can have to discipline to *really* only “eat back” what you’ve really “worked off”, scrupulously, that’s fine. But I’m not that person. To be frank, my weight loss (53 pounds today) (sorry, I can’t help mentioning it whenever I can work it into a conversation. “Did you get the mailing ready for Scottish Festival?” “Yes, and also, I’ve lost 53 pounds. Please pass the stapler.”) has been a result of making food not be my reason for living. I’ve adjusted my portion sizes and found other ways to occupy my time other than stuffing my face, and I feel good about not just maintaining that but being able to make it habitual.

  3. Cara says

    This is coming from an avid lifelong exerciser…you are right. I run a lot and this makes you extremely hungry…I have to be very careful and choose wisely what I eat and how I eat because it would be very easy to eat those calories back. I do run for weight loss and maintenance but I run just as much for my mental health. It’s beautiful and quiet where I live in the early morning and it helps me to wake up and get ready for my day. As far as being “active” I couldn’t agree more..remember when we were kids..we went outside to play pretty much everyday for hours…it’s just what we did.

  4. werner from howtoloseweightinaweekonline.com says

    I certainly have the opposite when I exersice. I am hungry after the exercise but I will not over eat. And the exercise makes me feel good.

  5. Toni says

    Thanks, Cara! :)
    I used to “power walk” for mental health, and then, ick, I actually got to a point where it wasn’t helping but rather hindering — too much time with my own angsty thoughts. But I know that feeling!

  6. says

    @Toni – That’s awesome! And hilarious. “Excuse me, do you know where I can catch the subway?” “Sure, it’s one block that way. And I’ve lost 53 pounds.” :-)

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