Why exercise won’t help you lose weight. But this will.

 In Prediabetes & Diabetes Prevention, Prediabetes Reversal

I know, it’s not a popular way to look at it but you know I’m gonna give it to you straight up:

Exercise does bupkiss for weight loss. 

(As in nothing.)


Lemme explain with this story:

A friend told me how she got up every morning at 5am, trugged across the campus in the dark in freezing cold weather and swam for 45 minutes.

She told me once she burned about 300 calories doing this exercise.

Then told me how she promptly ate 300+ calories for breakfast just an hour later.

“What was the point of all that?!”, she’d exclaim, exasperated. 

She of course was referring to the ever so pervasive myth that is still alive and well today.

And that is:

Exercise will cause weight loss.

She was swimming, relentlessly, day after day after day, expecting weight loss but found it unreasonably cruel that her efforts were being shot down immediately after she finished.  

Or so she thought.

Aside from being super frustrated with her perceived lack of progress in the calorie imbalance department, she had struck deep at an incorrect belief that still reigns supreme:

If I workout hard enough, I’ll lose weight.

Do you have this belief too?

If so, keep reading.

In this blog post, I’m outlining my Top 5 Reasons This is Totally True (and What to Do About It.)

In this blog post, I’m outlining my Top 5 Reasons This is Totally True (and What to Do About It.)

Number 1

People over-estimate the number of calories they burn in one session.

Your FitBit says you burned 600 in that spinning class.

MyFitnessPal says you burned 922 in that weight lifting session yesterday.

A quick Google and you find you only burned about 120 on that walk tonight.

And on and on and on…

You get the picture – it’s confusing.


And the number of calories you burn with exercise depends on so many, many different factors.

Like how much you weigh, your gender, age, how hard you work out, etc, etc, etc.

The approximate calorie burns on that treadmill at the gym are just that: approximations.

I don’t want you to put too much “weight” into them (sorry) because then something else happens all too easily…

Number 2

People often make up those calories – and more – very easily by eating more or less healthy.

Sometimes, exercise gives people the green light to eat twice as much at mealtimes on the days they exercise.

They think:

Well, I worked out today. I deserve this!

So they have the extra toast in the morning; or they have a giant smoothie mid-afternoon; or they munch mindlessly in the evening because again they think, but I worked out today!

One more point under this, exercise generally makes people hungry.

And in my experience working with clients, this is partly because they are under-fueled to begin with.

So when people start working out with an “empty tank”, and then get SUPER hungry from working out, they’re really shooting themselves in the foot actually because that intensified hunger will be very difficult to control without a plan.

People generally get hungrier from exercise and in my experience working with clients, this is because they are under-fueled to begin with. 

Number 3

The calories that are burned from exercise pale in comparison to what your body burns each day.

Your body burns the majority of it’s calories during the day from just being – by that I mean by breathing, keeping your heart beating, etc.

And the number you burn from working out is very small in comparison.

It’s important to know so you realize that you’re burning most of your calories just by being, and anything else you burn is a bonus (but as in Point 1, you’re not getting too excited about the number!)


Number 4

People tend to move less to make up for the exercise.

This sounds like a good example of human behaviour, shooting itself in the foot but it’s actually more like the body fighting to stay at a sort of equilibrium when it comes to caloric imbalance.

Sometimes people end up burning less calories overall when they exercise because they’ll skip the stairs at work.

Or, they’ll park really close to the office door that day when normally they’d park at the end of the lot.

In these and other ways, they’ll manage to “even out” their calorie burn from the exercise that day.

And this could be conscious or unconscious. 

But the message coming into the mind is: hey, we sweat like craaaazy in that spin class, so let’s converse the rest of the day.

Nancy Clark is a Sports Dietitian who writes so well about this topic. Check out her take on why eating less doesn’t work for weight loss here.


Number 5


If you add weight training to your exercise routine, you’re going to add muscle.

And muscle weighs more than fat, right?


One pound or kg of muscles weighs the same as 1 lb or kg of fat. One!

The difference is in the density.

So muscle is more compact. It takes up less space than fat.

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If you add 1-2 lbs of muscle, while you lose fat, you may notice the scale doesn’t change much.

But what else is happening?

Do you feel more fit? Stronger? Able to bound up stairs without becoming out of breath or having your knees hurt?

Can you carry all the groceries in from the car in one load now, with a toddler in the other arm? (This was my most recent and favourite side effect from weight lifting.)

Focus on the non-weight benefits you are getting from working out and let the number on the scale be only one part of the picture – not the whole picture.

Changing your body’s percentage of fat to muscle will help tremendously with prediabetes reversal because muscle is more sensitive to insulin.

Plus, with more muscle on board, your body burns more calories at rest – all the more reason to make sure you have a realistic and effective nutrition plan you can follow for life.

Now after all that, are you totally de-motivated to exercise?

I sure hope not 🙂

The bottom line for people just starting out on a weight loss journey is this:

Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start with your diet and get it cleaned up and right for you.

For prediabetes reversal, I recommend about 45% of your calories come from carbohydrates.

Start here if this is new to you.

And when you’re ready, add in exercise slowly. Talk to your doctor if you have any health issues that would make it unsafe for you to exercise.

As you start losing weight and seeing progress, build on your success each day.

It’s not a race – really!

Adopt healthier habits for life.

The exercise will play a much bigger role in weight maintenance, than weight loss.

More on that in upcoming posts….

If you want more information, and to stay up-to-date on all my blog posts, click on one of the pictures below.

Until next time,


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