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The Fallacy Of Thinking You Can Out Exercise A Bad Diet

With all my years as a fitness professional and coach one of the biggest misconceptions I see some people clinging onto is the idea that exercise can make up for poor diet choices.

The reality is with the exception of about 5-10% of the population blessed with an ultra-fast metabolism, trying to use workouts to make up for that slice of cheesecake isn’t going to cut it.

Granted, I’m all about moderation and don’t go around preaching to people that they should NEVER eat outside of a Primal Blueprint diet.

In the big picture of things the occasional “break” from your supportive nutrition diet isn’t going to move the scale that far one way or the other anyways. It comes down to what you’re doing the majority of the time.

The only exception to this rule, and yes there is an exception, is when you’re trying to break a sugar addiction. In this situation, I recommend to my Charleston personal training clients that they’re better off taking a hard line approach with improving insulin sensitivity.

Yes, this means waging all-out war on sugar and getting it completely out of your diet (except for a small amount of glucose and fructose from a little bit of fruit and plenty of veggies of course).

This just seems to work much better than trying to “wean” your body off sugar and looking for compromises. Suck it up for thirty days and you can make some significant improvements while completely breaking a sugar addiction.

Back to this whole idea of using exercise as a way to make up for diet slip up’s. If you find yourself doing this, you’ll want to consider how well it’s working. Chances are you’ll find this contributes to more of a “yo-yo” approach to managing your weight. It’s not fun, certainly isn’t effective, and it takes away from the enjoyment you should be allowing yourself to have when you do take a diet “break.”

Who wants to feel guilty all the time after eating something you know falls into the “cheat” category? This just leads to the cascade of negative emotions that sabotages your long-term success.

I want you ponder for a second on the practicality of thinking you can out exercise a bad diet. Since most people are fixated on calories let’s put things in that perspective. Say you slipped up on your diet and consumed an extra 1,000 calories from some junk food or whatever. How long do you think you’d have to exercise to burn that off?

If you’re going off what the treadmill or some other piece of cardio equipment is telling you, you’re probably way off base. Don’t buy into these kinds of things being accurate. It’s nothing more than a “guess” based off your height and weight. There’s no friggin way it can determine YOUR individual rate of metabolism.

A lot of my clients are completely shocked when they learn just how many calories they burn with exercise during a resting metabolic rate test. This is where you get hooked up to a Korr Metcheck analyzer and have your respiration captured to determine rate of metabolism. By looking at oxygen consumption you get an accurate reflection of your individual metabolism.

Readings that come back showing 200-300 calories burned in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise is not that uncommon. When you compare that to the 1,000-3,000 calories burned at REST, it’s easy to see exercise is not all that it’s cracked up to be from a calorie burning perspective.

Unless you plan on exercising for several hours (certainly not recommended) there’s just no way you should expect to burn off that piece of cheesecake or whatever with your workout.

Even if you could exercise for hours the next day, this whole way of thinking defies the physiology of your body.  The whole purpose of lifting all those weights, doing burst training, cardio, and everything else is to get you to become efficient at burning fat.

You just want to be good at using fat for fuel and not stockpiling away excess sugars and dietary fat as “body fat” all the time.

The idea is that if you have better insulin sensitivity, more lean muscle to store way excess glycogen, and stable hormonal balances, you can handle the occasional “excesses” better while ALSO being more efficient at burning fat in times of momentary restriction or heightened energy demands.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You train hard and eat clean as a way of life (80% of the time) so you can live like most other people can’t the other 20% of the time.

That’s my twist on the Dave Ramsey saying of (“if you live like no one else now, you can live like no one else later”) regarding the benefits of following his zero balance financial budget.

I like to have a few beers on the weekend just like the next guy. The difference is I’m not sweating over it when I do because I’ve been disciplined with my diet and trained hard during the week.

The thing is you really couldn’t expect to burn off extra calories the next day or days to come anyways. Your body doesn’t just open up doors for fat loss on demand because you’ve decided to exercise more. Oh wouldn’t that be nice? If this were the case you could eat like crap and always just make up for it later.

The reality is the damage is done at the TIME when most people have the diet slip up. Excess sugars or fatty acids are dealt with on the spot. If there’s no need for the energy at that moment in time and the reserves are full (muscle and liver), then it’s getting stored as fat. No if’s, and’s, but’s, or maybe’s.

It’s not like your body puts that cheesecake in a little holding area in case you decide to go do an hour of cardio the next day. If you don’t need the energy it’s going to a fat depot storage area most likely housed around your waist, legs, or rear end.

Like I eluded to early there are lots of factors that make the impact of “excesses” different for each person due to something called bioindividuality. The bottom line is you’re not going to make up for it the next day from a true physiological standpoint.

Get away from being overly concerned with the amount of calories burned with exercise anyways. It’s way over-rated. Heck there are even fitness franchises out now that hype up how many calories you can burn during their workouts.  Don’t fall into the whole calorie trap.

Fat loss is so much more than some simple mathematical equation of calories in versus calories out. If this were the case then everyone could starve themselves WITHOUT exercise and automatically tap into endless fat reserves.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, your body is smarter than you are and regulates metabolic functions. If it thinks you’re starving, metabolic rate is slowed down due to a series of hormonal changes. As you can guess, it’s much harder to lose fat than to gain it. The survival of the human race has depended on these primal response mechanisms for thousands of years.

A better way to look at fat loss is setting the optimal hormonal conditions in your body for fat stores to be released and used for energy periodically when needed. Everything happens in short windows of time. The idea is to use exercise and diet to support this, not facilitate it like these were the only two pieces of the puzzle.

In order to get your body to be a fat burning machine (so yes you can cheat more on your diet) you need to focus on building muscle, detoxifying the organs, glands, and digestive system, cut out excess sugar, do occasional vigorous exercise, and frequent low-intensity aerobic activity like walking.

Oh yeah, and make smart lifestyle choices like not over-consuming alcohol and other toxins, getting plenty of rest and recovery, manage stress, and generally just living healthy.

Do this and win. It’s either that or keep flopping back and forth between the next quick-fix, feeling guilty all the time about what you eat, struggling to be perfect (when it’s never been about being perfect), and the list goes on.

Don’t use exercise as an excuse to cheat on your diet. Use exercise as a tool to help you become a fat burning machine so you don’t have to worry about that occasional piece of cheesecake. Think big picture and come to grips with the fact that a price must be paid to have the body you want.

Yes, you’ll need to sacrifice time for exercise, yes you’ll have to be disciplined with your diet, etc. Nobody ever said it would be easy (at least those telling you the truth), only that it would be WORTH IT!

If you could use some assistance with getting your diet and exercise on track, I’m always here to help. It’s what we do every day at my Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. Often times it’s not just knowing what to do, but also having the accountability and support to help you build habits and routines.

I hope you found this post to be informative and if nothing else it got you to think about the whole idea of using exercise to make up for poor diet choices.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness coaching in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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