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do I need to exercise to lose weight?

You cannot out-exercise bad eating habits.

I speak from experience, because I tried. For most of my life, I had the mentality that I could eat whatever I wanted because I worked out. Hard. Often. And for a long time. I’m talking 6 days a week, minimum of 1 hour per day, and sometimes up to 5 hours in 1 day. I gave myself permission to eat like every day was Thanksgiving. And even as the scale kept creeping in the wrong direction, I told myself it was OK because I must have a lot more muscle than the average woman, right? Well, that kind of thinking got me all the way to 240 lbs. Female bodybuilders usually top out at around 160.

The truth is that exercise, no matter what kind you do, is not the major determinant of how much you weigh. Exercise has a long list of benefits, but weight loss isn’t anywhere near the top of that list. Exercise can help you build strength, stamina, flexibility, agility, and mobility. It can enhance your mental health and the quality of your sleep. It boosts your immune system and your mood. It relieves stress. It enhances your self-esteem. It can even be a social outlet. But it cannot make up for bad eating habits.

According to my treadmill computer, if I could sprint nonstop for an hour at my top speed (which I can’t!) I could expect to burn around 600 calories. It would take me less than 10 minutes to eat a Big Mac with medium fries and a drink. According to the McDonald’s website, that contains 1,080 calories.

So if you exercise, do it for all the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits. Do it because you enjoy it, or because it helps you accomplish your performance goals. But don’t do it thinking it’s going to help you lose weight. For that, you need to pay attention to what’s going into your mouth.

Weight loss requires a calorie deficit. Period, end of sentence. The most common reason why we don’t maintain a calorie deficit is because most of us are in the habit of eating when we’re not hungry (eating to soothe our emotions, or to entertain ourselves) and eating well past the point where our hunger was satisfied (over-eating). So if weight loss is your focus, you need to make sure that you’re only eating when you are physically hungry, and that you’re stopping when you are satisfied instead of when you’re full.

Food does not solve boredom, loneliness, frustration, or stress. Food does not entertain you or keep you company. Food does not love you. For those things, you need to do the real work that starts inside your own head. The only problem you can solve with food is a growling stomach. Pay attention to what you eat but more importantly, WHY you eat.

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