November 14, 2008

Burning calories or boosting spirits?

Photo by: Sergio Silva

This guest post is written by Drew Harvey, who blogs over at Diet Tired. Drew is an exercise and nutrition physiologist, entrepreneur, and advocate of diet free weight loss.

Few would disagree that regular physical activity is important for weight loss. But how it leads to weight loss and more importantly, keeping weight off is commonly misunderstood.

Let’s start with what constitutes the best form of exercise for weight loss? Here is a shocker: anything that gets you moving on a regular, preferably daily, basis.

Many have a hard time understanding this concept, including sleeveless personal trainers.

I suspect this is because weight loss ultimately comes down to calories in versus calories out. Therefore, maximizing calories burned and feeling the ‘burn’ should be your number one goal right? Or another common fallacy is spending hours in the mythical ‘fat burning zone’.

Thus common exercise recommendations are: as high of intensity as possible, as long as possible and of course, as miserable as possible.

Thanks to weight loss television shows, visions of overweight people panting up hills and performing embarrassing obstacle courses while being ridiculed by obnoxious hard bodies come to mind. Ultimately suggesting that doing ‘miserable’ forms of exercise is the answer and if you stop being so lazy you too could drop magical amounts of weight.

Worse, while performing these exercises you scold yourself with “I wouldn’t have to do this if I hadn’t gained all this weight.”

Is taking the ‘any activity is good activity’ approach a cop out? Is it something that I suggest simply to make my clients and readers feel better? No, this strategy works and here is why.

Being physically active is the best predictor of sustained weight loss and it still would be even if it didn't burn any extra calories! You might need to read the previous sentence again.

Here is an example. Many feel discouraged when the machine they have just sweated on for 30 minutes tells them that they have burned a measly 200 calories, the equivalent of a large double-double or a large cookie. However, they are not counting the health benefits of the exercise or the boost in confidence and willpower that ensues, making them far more likely to make healthy food choices.

It is a well known fact that people eat healthier on days that they are active. By simply being active and consequently feeling good about yourself, you decrease your daily calorie intake through better food choices.

I’ll leave you with a proud client example. After some convincing, Randy decided to take a 20 minute walk each evening around his neighborhood. Previously he felt that walking wasn’t vigorous enough to promote weight loss. After just two weeks he told me that he had taken a liking to the evening walks because they burned an extra 400 - 500 calories.

I didn't want to burst his bubble but I did indicate that a 20 minute walk burns approximately 100 calories; not 500.

To which he replied, "I know, but if I had stayed home I would have eaten 400 calories worth of cookies!"


  1. That's an important point: good exercise involves walking (in a direction away from the refrigerator :)
    Good post, Drew!

  2. Love this post..... the other benefit that I never got about the "Many feel discouraged when the machine they have just sweated on for 30 minutes tells them that they have burned a measly 200 calories, the equivalent of a large double-double or a large cookie. " bit of the equation was until I understood how it affected my basal metabolism.

    I wrote about this at:

  3. Yes, so true. The time spent exercising can also be looked at as
    1) time not eating
    2) time having a moment to think, relax, and remotivate.

  4. That is a very good point - I think the calories you don't consumer should be counted! What a genius!

  5. "If I had stayed home I would have eaten 400 calories worth of cookies!"

    That's genius, I love it! And it's so true. Every minute spent exercising is another minute not spent hoovering snacks or sitting on the couch feeling down.

  6. I totally agree. Whenever I find myself standing in front of the pantry (with no memory of how I got there, lol) I ask myself if I have worked out today. Most of the time, that would be no. If I've worked out/am working out, even for just half an hour, I don't have time for that 4:00 PM pantry attraction.

  7. It's something I just discovered (and blogged about) least something related. If I excersise, I don't want to overeat (makes you feel weighted down). It brings you out of the vegging attitude too.

    Why is it that we think exercise isn't real or doesn't count unless we push ourselves to uncomfort?

  8. Great point! I find that high intensity exercise actually makes me ravenous and more likely to overeat. But nice relaxing walks, or yoga, or weight lifting mellow me out & I eat much less and lose more weight!

  9. Just the kick in the butt I needed to get me out of my funk. I haven't exercised in about...oh... 2 weeks.

    *hiding face in shame*

    Thanks for the reminder about why I need to exercise. Randy is a genius btw. :-)

  10. I love exercising. Moving should be fun. I just started doing a bellydancing DVD that I order from Netflix. It's not as hard a work out as biking for an hour and half, but it's fun and I can do it in the rain or cold. I can bike in the cold, but I feel miserable. Dancing to a DVD inside keeps me warm and happy.

    I also love to jog. With an exercise DVD, I have time to jog in the same day. It's great way to break up the routine. It isn't the amount of calories burned during exercise that's important, but the love of doing it.

    An hour dancing probably burns less calories than an hour bike riding, but I'm not in the cold so it's an hour spent happy.

  11. Two points I really liked (and agree with)...

    It is about calories out being greater than calories in for weight loss.

    Calories avoided reduces calories in. Randy is 100 percent correct.

    The important thing is to get moving and do do something you enjoy. Than includes playing something like Dance Dance Revolution (gets my heart pumping and is a great way to spend time with the human family), or walking your dogs (again, gets you moving and is a great way to spend time with the fur family).

    Great post Drew, I will be adding "Diet Tired" to the feedreader ASAP!

  12. That is a brilliantly simple point. Time spent in an activity, any activity, is better than sitting within reach of the pantry! And yes, exercise should be fun, and not always involve burning pain (there's a time and place for everything! :o)). I think that's why I find it so easier to lose weight when I'm training for a competition - the more hours I'm practicing, less time I have to eat!

  13. I like the story! I have frequently suggested a morning or evening walk to patients. It's the gift you give yourself :-)

  14. Such a cute story and SO TRUE. There's been many times when I've started to go for the chocolate/cookies/any food available and then went out for a walk to get away from the snacks. Got a little exercise and also avoided mindless eating!

  15. The story of the dieter taking the 500 calorie walk cracked me up.
    That would be a longass walk.

  16. Excellent point! Exercise does make me feel, who wants to waste their time counting calories? :)

  17. This post also reminded me about something (sort of in reverse to Drew's point) i've always remembered about kids, exercise, and television. A wise person (probably) told me...

    "It's not that the actual content of kids TV is so harmful, it's all the exercise, creativity and fun they are NOT doing when they are watching TV that is harmful"

  18. Hi Drew,

    What an excellent post! Please give Randy a big ole thumbs up from me.


  19. Phew good thing I wear sleeves.

    Come on guys- why all the hate? Why do personal trainers get such a bad wrap?

    Heads up: personal trainers at big gyms (24 hour fitness, gold's, Bally's etc) arent real trainers. most of them arent certified and just earned their way up from the front desk. Dont lump us real trainers in with them please.

    The link to his blog doesnt work :(

    Kelly Turner

  20. Hi folks.
    Thanks for all the wonderful feedback and comments. My blog is

    (the link above is currently incorrect).

  21. It's fixed!
    Apologies for the inconvenience.
    Crabby's co-blogger was sleeping on the job. (It's hard to get good help these days.)

    Drew, thank you again for the great post!

  22. Great Post!

    I have recently gotten bored of my nightly walks because I don't feel as if they are getting my heart pumping enough - so instead I've been sitting inside.. eating from boredom.

    Time to pull out the walking shoes. :]

  23. I learned a lot from your blog, including the bit about elevated confidence and self-esteem one gets after "getting it done." That is so true and I know I eat healthier when I get in the exercise! Thanks!

  24. This was a great post! Exactly what I needed to hear. And I loved the point about the calories unconsumed during the walk....

  25. For me, more exercise = less depression = less likely to eat for comfort.

  26. "It is a well known fact that people eat healthier on days that they are active."
    Now isn't that the truth.

    With diet and exercise 99% of the battle is just starting.
    Once you make an effort the rest falls into place.


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