Your Calories Count

New Year resolutionsIt’s a new year. A new month. A new week. A new day.

Whatever your motivation – a New Year’s resolution or a too-tight waistline – to kick start your health and wellness plan, good for you!

In an effort to be healthy, exercise should definitely be part of your routine. Exercise can helpful in preventing obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It can help us maintain muscle mass and balance later in life. But if you’re in the game purely for weight loss, you can’t neglect what we’re putting into our body.

A study done in 2006 by the National Weight Control Registry looked at people who were able to reduce body fat and keep the weight off for a year. They found a 1% success rate among those who used exercise alone and a 10% success rate among those who used diet alone. Those who used both diet and exercise to reduce body fat and lose weight, had far more promising results. The success rate for them jumped to 89%.

exercise nutrition eating right healthyAs a fitness professional, I would love to say exercise is all we need to be healthy and lose weight. Sadly, that’s not the whole truth. To lose weight, we also need to look at the “calories in” portion of the equation. To be healthy, we need a well-rounded diet.

Jim Fixx was a sad reminder that exercise alone isn’t enough to keep us fit. Doctors agree that Fixx likely prolonged his life with all the running he did, but it was not enough to erase a genetic link to heart disease. In Fixx’s case, he couldn’t outrun a bad diet.

We can probably identify bad diets. But what’s in a good diet? To lose or maintain weight, it requires us to eat fewer calories. To be healthy, it means eating a greater variety of foods. “Eat the rainbow,” I like to say. Quit focusing on nutrients. It’s not about consuming “power foods.” A healthy diet consists of eating a variety of whole foods, in a variety of (real) colors. (Lucky Charms does not count!)

A huge trend in the fitness world these days is counting. FitBit is just one “functional” accessory keeping track. Everything from an iPhone to an Apple Watch is counting steps and calculating calories burned. But, beware! Your metabolism is much more complicated than those devices account for. Unless you’ve had your metabolic rate tested, the numbers those devices generate are only a little better than a thumb in the wind.

caloriesAnd if you’re working out on a machine that calculates calorie burn, forget it! You can easily take the number that appears on the machine when you’re finished working out and cut it in half. Those numbers are designed to make you feel good, not to indicate how much extra dessert you’ve earned. Because the truth is, you probably haven’t “earned” any dessert. (Sorry, the truth hurts.)

In fact, when it comes to exercise, there’s a new theory of a sort of diminishing returns when it comes to calorie burn in exercise, recently discussed in Bloomberg Business:

“Scientists are beginning to understand that there are limits to how much weight people can lose with exercise alone. What people eat—and in what quantity—appears to influence body weight more than how active they are, according to an increasing body of evidence. Exercise remains critical to other aspects of health, such as preventing heart disease. But some scientists say the role it plays in weight loss has been misunderstood for years.”

Groundhog Day Bill MurrayThis new theory builds on old information:

“Scientists have known for years that the body can adjust how much energy it uses for normal maintenance. In extreme circumstances, such as starvation or very low calorie diets, metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Something similar might be at work in the metabolism of highly active people.”


Basically, “the bodies of highly active people may do those jobs more efficiently, thereby using less energy.” A co-author of the study’s takeaway on the research is, “If you want to lose weight, ‘eat fewer calories.’” The lead author of the study clarified: “We’re not saying that exercise isn’t important. Of course it is.” When it comes to losing or managing weight, however, “diet is going to be your best tool.”

So, when it comes to losing weight, keeping track of your calories consumed can provide you with the most crucial piece of information you need. This is why, when a person tells me they want to lose weight, the first thing I have them do is keep a food diary. Heck, the risk of having to write it down can scare away some unhealthy habits. At the end of a week, a food log can offer great insight on areas a diet can improve, whether it’s in quantity, quality or both.

Higher Gear Wilmette CompuTrainer CompuTraining Indoor CyclingThis all isn’t to say to give up on riding every day, if that’s part of your goal. If you have been committed to an exercise plan, you’ll know that no food (or lack of food) can give you the rush of endorphins that exercise does. And exercise does boost your metabolism, perhaps just not as much as previously thought.

As the author of the item in Bloomberg Business points out: “The caveat can’t be repeated too often: Being active is crucial to many aspects of health, from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease to improving mental health. The new findings aren’t an excuse to lie on the couch and cancel your gym membership.”

Instead, what the new findings confirm, is that you cannot outrun – or out-pedal – your fork.



Hungry for more?




Exercise Cyclists Kettlebell Joy Sherrick


Years spent working in health clubs, our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick, shares with us the wisdom of her years of experience working with people to meet their fitness goals.




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