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But it’s in the area of weight where we can over-estimate how much benefit exercise is going to have. We know the basic ‘energy in vs. energy out’ theory (although it’s a bit more complex than that) but we tend to believe that if we just add in a few workouts, we’ll lose weight.

This view is reinforced by Biggest Loser-style TV shows, which appear to show contestants training like maniacs but hardly touch on what they’re eating. And we see it in magazines and social media with workouts and exercise plans promoted with incredible before and after shots, suggesting whatever gut-busting workout being sold (and it’s almost always being sold) is responsible for the dramatic makeover.

In reality, what science shows is that losing weight is highly unlikely to come from exercise alone. It’s mostly due to what goes in, rather than what we sweat out. You’ll see various figures tossed about: it’s 80 per cent diet and 20 per cent exercise, or 75/25. Whatever the numbers, it’s worth fixing in our minds that weight loss is mostly about food.

That’s partly because of the way our bodies work. Most of the energy we expend – around 60 to 80 per cent – is just from being alive; what’s called our basal metabolic rate. About 10 per cent of our energy is spent on digesting food. So activity, including formal exercise, can only really account for 10 to 30 per cent of energy expenditure; we’re never going to ‘burn off’ an excess of what we take in if we’re not eating well.

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Some psychological things happen when we exercise, too. We tend to be pretty bad at estimating how much we’re eating, and pretty good at underestimating it. We forget extras we might add in: the coffee, the muffin, the smoothie; the wine.

It’s a bit like spending. It’s pretty easy to forget the little extras we pop on the credit card – $20 here, $10 there – but those charges can add up to a surprise when we get the statement at the end of the month.

Sometimes when we exercise we overcompensate, too. We might reward ourselves for a good workout with a little treat – I deserve this bliss ball, dammit, I went to the gym today! And exercise can make us feel hungrier sometimes, so we might eat more. Any of these things can easily undo any weight loss benefit we might have had from the exercise.

That doesn’t mean we should abandon working out. As we know, exercise is super good for body and mind, and offers us a huge range of health gains. It’s been said that if the benefits conferred by regular exercise could be put into a pill, it would be a wonder drug, preventing millions of deaths. So, we really need to keep moving. Think of exercise as a health essential; part of the ‘health gain’ plan I talked about a couple of weeks ago.

If weight loss is a goal though, the answer might be as simple as borrowing from the budgeting experts: keeping an eye on those little food ‘expenditures’ – the extras we don’t need that we eat and drink habitually. We know hardcore diets don’t work, long term, but changing everyday habits can. Ditch the sweet treat you always have with your coffee. Think about whether you really need a snack after a workout, or can you wait for the next meal? Choose water instead of a sports drink or juice to rehydrate. Skip the pre-dinner wine and nibbles during the week.

Small changes, over time, can add up to significant gains. It’s true for exercise – we will get fitter and stronger and healthier – and it goes double (or triple) for food.

Interested in giving Woop a try?

By nutrition expert – Niki Bezzant

Niki Bezzant is a writer, speaker and commentator who is passionate about food and health. Niki has been involved in the food media for 20 years. She was founding editor of Healthy Food Guide magazine, and is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday, the Monday Herald Be Well, and a frequent contributor to broadcast media. She is a proud ambassador for the Garden to Table  programme which helps kids learn how to grow, cook and share food. She is a member of the Council of Directors for the True Health Initiative and a board member for the NZ Nutrition Foundation.

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