Exercise Won’t Make You Thin, Just Healthy

Exercise Won’t Make You Thin, Just Healthy

We’re big fans of exercise due to the many health benefits it offers, but if you hit up the gym before work or plan on going after, don’t bother if your express goal is to lose weight. According to Time Magazine, exercise doesn’t make us thinner.

Photo by Anything!.

Louisiana State University diabetes and metabolism chair Eric Ravussin says bluntly that, “in general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.” The reason?

The basic problem is that while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued.

The article goes on to quote stats found by a Columbia University team back in 2001 (along with findings from its own less-than-comprehensive study) that a pound of muscle burns around six calories a day when the body is at rest compared with two calories that a pound of fat burns. So, the article contends, “after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle—a major achievement—you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight.”

Whether the hunger hypothesis holds true for you or not, these findings don’t negate the fact that exercise has myriad proven health benefits that make it worthwhile, but, at least according to Time, losing weight isn’t necessarily among them.

Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin [Time Magazine]


  • Typical alarmist journalism. To lose weight you need to have energy input < energy output. One way to do that is to eat less calories (and a better macro-nutrient balance), and increase your energy output by exercising.

    Comparing the “at rest” calorie expenditure of muscle vs fat is ridiculous. It’s the actual activity done in generating the muscle that has an impact.

    Resistance training with compound lifts + high intensity interval training = the fastest way to fat loss.

  • So exercise won’t make you thin? Ahhh, so that explains why you see so many fat cyclists then…

    I heard a stat that most people lose 5kg+ in their first year of cycling regularly (I’m not a ‘hobby’ cyclist – it’s my main form of transport – why drive to the gym to exercise, when you can do your exercise and get home *at the same time* ?). In my case, I’m slim, I’m healthy, and I eat well. And because I’m fit from cycling, and generally being active, I don’t actually need to eat as much energy in order to do activity x as a less fit person would.

  • @Cyclist – if cycling was a way to lose weight then you would actually see fat cyclists – those starting out. As you mention you don’t though which means people take up cycling once they have lost the weight.

    Losing weight is 90% diet, 10% exercise. Putting on muscle is 90% exercise and 10% diet.

  • I’d be willing to put money on my guess that the time author is overweight and has been harassed to exercise.

    As always, you don’t HAVE to eat just because your stomach isn’t packed with junk. If you eat a well portioned meal and fill it out with “hollow” foods(celery, lettuce, leafy greens with very high water contents) you will gain the metabolism boost from the exercise, and not pack on the pounds from eating a second meal.

  • Just read the article through. I think the reality is people don’t have a good understanding of the energy they burn during excercise or what they take in by eating.

    Most people also don’t understand the impact of the foods they consume on their body. Eg, you eat hot chips (basically starch), your body releases a heap of insulin to deal with the blood sugar spike and you feel great, for about an hour until your blood sugar falls rapidly, leaving you feeling crap and craving more sugar, which most people readily consume. If the hot chips were replaced with a better food, like fresh fruit and veggies possibly with some meat, they would refuel their bodies without creating the insulin spike, which would lead to reduced consumption of crap food.

    It needs to go beyond just calories in vs calories out and take into consideration the bodies response to differant foods.

  • how this article got through to the time magazine is amazing. you’d think they’d have a duty of care to their readers that all of a sudden decided to give up because a magazine article told them to.

    The guys on The FitCast podcast disected it a little if you want a better understanding on the article.
    (Ie how he rewarded himself with the wrong foods after his workouts that would counteract everything he’d acheived that session…)

  • Horrible article.. ideally, exercise helps create a slight caloric deficit. You don’t burn fat by doing exercise, you create a caloric deficit. Diet is far more important than exercise for fat loss.. for the most part, exercise is optional.

    I concur with several of the posts above, but this is my formula, tried and true.

    Eating 10-15% below maintenance calories + heavy compound lifting routine + HIIT routine + 40/40/20 macro nutrient ratios (40% protein; 40% carbs (mostly low GI); 20% fats (unsaturated)) + adequate sleep + adequate hydration (diet soft-drinks are FINE) + one cheat meal once per week (keep it sensible).

  • Actually Kato, I lied a little bit – you do see a few fat cyclists here and there. They just get slimmer rapidly. Although yes, very obese people probably don’t start cycling, because it’s too uncomfortable.

    In my case, I definitely lost weight once I started cycling a lot. I wasn’t fat to start with though, so I’m possibly not a good case study…

  • From the ABC health report: 1 potato chip (12 calories) per day for 20 years in excess of requirement = 10 kg weight gain.

    A quiet stroll, even if lengthy will burn minimal calories. To see real effects, 300 cals per day (which is a lot) is necessary.

    Buy a pulse monitor with calorie calculator, do 300 cals per day times 5 times per week and see the results.

Log in to comment on this story!