Why exercise is NOT the best way to burn belly fat…
What if I were to tell you that exercise is fairly useless for losing weight?
Now before you accuse me of heresy, let me explain. There’s no doubt that exercise is one of the best things in the world you can do for your health.
Exercise improves mood and it’s great for your heart. It even helps you grow new brain cells.1 And people who exercise on a regular basis have lower risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.2
But weight loss? Not so much.3, 4
Here’s the truth: the exercise/ weight-loss equation is way more complicated than we’ve been led to believe.
Is it Really About the Calories?
Most people overestimate calories burned during exercise (by a long shot) just as they typically underestimate daily calorie consumption (ditto!).
Forget what the computer readout on the machines at the gym say—according to the Mayo Clinic, even high-impact aerobics only uses up about 511 calories an hour; walking at a pace of 3.5 mph barely uses 300. You can wipe that out with one big “low-fat” muffin from Starbucks!
Then there’s the appetite factor. Exercise makes people hungry and people often compensate for exercise by eating more. Ever told yourself, “I can indulge with a Krispy Kreme today cause I just worked out.”? Sorry. That’s like saying you saved some money by buying milk at Target so you might as well go to dinner at the Four Seasons. The math just doesn’t work out.
Exercise vs. Diet: No Contest…
Interestingly, the research is very clear that it’s next to impossible to keep weight off unless you exercise regularly.5 But using exercise alone as a weight-loss strategy is—forgive the bad pun—an exercise in futility.
That’s why the best trainers have a saying: “You can’t out-train a bad diet”.
So does that mean you should give up exercising? Absolutely not. But it does mean you should give up the pipe dream of losing belly fat just because you started walking.
It’s the Hormones, Stupid!
Belly fat happens for two reasons, both related to hormones. The first is that you eat too many carbohydrates which causes your insulin levels to go sky high. Insulin, also known as “the fat-storing hormone”, is secreted by the pancreas whenever your blood sugar rises.
And what makes it rise the most—and stay up there the longest—is sugar and processed carbohydrates. Cut the carbs, lower your insulin, and you’ve removed one of the main causes of belly fat accumulation.
The second reason you’ve got belly fat is because of stress. When you’re under stress, your body pumps out another hormone called cortisol, which sends a message to the body to accumulate fat around the middle.
What to do, what to do?
So What’s the Solution?
First of all, cut out sugar. No kidding. And I’m not just talking about the white stuff in the bowl. I’m talking about foods that convert to sugar in a heartbeat, and have the exact same effect on your fat-storing hormone (insulin) as the white stuff does: cereals, breads, pasta, rice, cookies, crackers, and soda. (Especially soda!)
If you want to lose weight, you’ve got to control your insulin levels. It’s that simple. And the fastest and most effective way to do that is to cut way back on carbs, as that is the major macronutrient that drives insulin up in the first place.
The second thing you can do is figure out how to manage your stress. This isn’t an article on stress management, so I’ll leave it to you to come up with how best to do it. Just know that managing stress needs to be on your radar if you want to have a body you can be proud of.
Now if you can do those two things—lower your carbs (and your insulin), and lower (or at least manage) your stress—you’ll finally be on your way to losing that belly fat.
Add exercise to the mix and you’ll turbo charge the results.
But do exercise without the dietary change, and you’ll still be jogging on that treadmill a year from now, wondering why nothing’s happening.
P.S. The first thing that people do when I tell them that exercise isn’t the best way to burn belly fat is their jaws drop…the second thing they do is ask me “well, what should I do then?” I get this question so much that I decided to put together a funny little video that explains it all.
I walk you through exactly what foods to eat (there are 3 types you want to get as much as you can of), the two types of foods to avoid and how you can protect yourself from a world that seems hell bent on making us all sick, fat, tired and depressed.
1 Colcombe, S., Erickson, K., Scalf, P. et al. 2006. Aerobic exercise increases brain volume in aging humans. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 61(11): 1166–1170.
2 National Cancer Institute. Factsheet on physical activity and cancer. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/physicalactivity. Accessed June, 12, 2012.
3 Cloud. J. 2009. Why exercise won’t make you thin. Time.
4 Gleim, G. 1993. Exercise is not an effective weight loss modality in women. J Am Coll Nutr. 12(4): 363–367.
5 The National Weight Control Registry. Research findings on weight loss. http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/published%20research.htm/. Accessed June 12, 2012.