Diet + Exercise = Weight Loss? Not So Fast!

A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine claims those battle-tested ways to lose weight usually work and allow people to meet their goals.

You know the drill: eat less, watch your calories, exercise more, and reduce your fat intake… that sort of thing.

Researchers here gathered information from over 4,000 obese individuals based on the 2001-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. One year prior to completing this survey, these adults had a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30.

Many participants reportedly did lose weight in that year’s time. More specifically, about 40% lost 5% or their weight or more, and another 20% lost 10% or more.

Impressive, huh?

Researchers tidily summarized their results. “Those who exercised more and ate less fat were significantly more likely to lose weight,” they said. Structured programs – weight loss meetings, for instance – also helped some people meet their goals.

I find these kinds of studies frustrating. For one, surveys aren’t the most accurate or consistent way to learn how people lose weight.  They usually provide very generalized, quantitative, sometimes-biased or confusing questions.

I could go on, but here’s the deal. Some people lose weight just fine cutting their calories and stepping up gym time.

These are the same people who brag they can eat anything they want in moderation and burn off that pancake and mimosa breakfast at the gym.

Their underlying message is that if you can’t do those things, you must be eating too much or not exercising enough or just being lazy.

You may be one of those people who tried reduced-calorie or low-fat diets on countless programs and spent hours on useless exercise equipment to burn fat.

Hopefully, you eventually conclude it’s not your fault you keep regaining weight or can’t lose it to begin with. At some point you probably decide these are lousy ways to lose weight.

Listen, I’m a huge fan of exercise for its zillion benefits, but unfortunately weight loss is probably not going to be one of those benefits.

As experts like Gary Taubes point out, people who exercise often eat more because, well, exercise makes you hungry.

People who exercise for weight loss are also more likely to overestimate how many calories they burn. You see these people at the gym huffing away on an elliptical machine while watching The View and keeping one eye on the calorie counter.

So you’ve done an hour on the treadmill, which promises you’ve burned 500 calories, and you’re famished. You feel like you deserve a reward for your hard work. And there’s a Starbucks around the corner.

I’ll let you predict that outcome.

Exercise and counting calories do matter to a degree, but they’re hardly the whole story for fat loss.

When you eat what nature intended – lean protein, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds – your body recognizes these foods. Your hormones send your body the right messages.

Your hormone CCK, for instance, tells your brain when it’s full. You also don’t raise your blood sugar, which means you keep steady insulin levels so your body uses, not stores, fat.

Combine these foods with the right kind of exercise (High Intensity Interval Training which takes minutes, not hours, a day)…


… and you’ll burn fat, maintain muscle, and boost your metabolism.

You don’t need to count anything or spend hours exercising. You’re getting optimal nutrients. And you’re never hungry. It’s a win-win for weight loss.




  1. Janean Lillie

    I totally agree with with you here all iam foucesed on eating is the ‘neolithic’ diet of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds & the weight is slowly dropping off. Granted i felt like crap whilst comeing off the sugar but it was worth it.

  2. Martin

    Well, excercise might have a different, positive, impact on weight loss. In my case it’s the best mood enhancer I know. Many/most people who struggle with excess weight/fat are emotional eaters. Even if they get the diet right (e.g. no sugar, no processed foods, good fats, good proteins, low carb, etc.) they may still overeat when under stress. Exercise can help here a lot. In my case, it’s running, but not threadmill running or chronic-cardio-marathon training-type of, but rather slow and easy trail runing in the woods. It works better for serotonine and endorphines release than any supplements. Finally short intesive workouts, e.g. sprints promote growth hormone release and improve insulin resistance.

  3. Captain Logic

    I don’t think we should be so quick to assume about people going to Starbucks.

    I think that diet and exercise together work for some people because they starve their system enough for it to work. This is by no means healthy or efficient.

    Furthermore, depending on the person and how they’ve been eating, that system starving could cause negative effects on FAT loss.

    And it’s fat loss that’s important, not weight loss. Weight loss is irrelevant, as your total weight comes from a lot of different kinds of tissue (some of which you KIND OF might want to keep).

  4. Jeff

    Hey Johnny – or anyone who wants to answer. I’m doing the following program: one day of moderate cardio, one day of intervals, one day of weights, rinse and repeat. I’m doing it for general health and my blood sugar. Should I bag the cardio, or keep it the way it is?

  5. Heather Maggart

    I totally agree with your philosophy that diet + exercise does not always yield the desired results, however I feel that the answer you gave was the same one you were refuting in the first place….diet + exercise = weight loss. I know it’s a specific diet and exercise but I am wondering how much does hormones play a role in weight loss? It just seems that no matter how well we eat and exercise the way you are suggesting we (my husband and I) can’t seem to achieve our weightloss goals. Any advice?

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