I can spot her a mile away. I used to be her, the one who has seized upon the belief  that only exercise will help her lose weight. Only she’s not losing weight. If she’s like I was, she’s still slowly gaining weight.M&Ms

I practically made a career out of exercising more and more with the elusive dream of releasing my fat cells to the atmosphere in a vapor trail of carbon dioxide and water.  

The reality never panned out for me. I knew why, but I didn’t want to face the answer. I preferred believing that exercise earned me the extra calories I wanted and often hallucinated imagined I saw less fat on my body for all that effort. But the scale completely disagreed. And I knew it wasn’t muscle. That is a tantalizing  rationalization, but don’t fall for it. (I would be happy to explain why, just e-mail me if you are curious.)

But there is this pesky little reality called calories. Yes, people want to tell you they don’t count, and “not all calories are created equal” but these folks are either lying, trying to sell you something, or they have never heard of the Law of Conservation of Energy.  

Consider these 2 questions:

  1. How fast can you eat a 1.7 oz bag of plain M&Ms?  5 Minutes?  Maybe 10?
  2. How long would you have to walk to burn off this bag of M&Ms?   

A 160 pound person would need to walk for nearly an hour at 3.5 mph to burn off the 240 Calories in this bag of candy.

Yes, you could run, cross country ski, or sumo wrestle and burn it off faster. That’s not really the point.

This is the point: The speed at which we can eat our calories and the speed at which our bodies can burn them off are hopelessly mismatched. A “minute on the lips, forever on the hips” conveys the truth that is not only devastating but scientifically verifiable.

The more calories a food has (per serving), the more dismal is the ratio of eaten calories to the time/sweat continuum needed to burn off those eaten calories.

Translation: Exercising without managing the calories you eat is like chasing a train on a skateboard.  Why? Because when calories go in your mouth and you don’t burn them off, they take up residence in your fat cells. Get this: they do that even when you don’t log them in your food tracking app. 

An article in Scientific American explains this common dilemma.

“Increasing physical activity—if people control caloric intake [emphasis added] —will lead to weight loss,” says William Haskell of Stanford University who helped craft the HHS, ACSM and AHA guidelines. But he cautions that exercise alone is unlikely to lead to the instant results most people want, leading them to become frustrated and give up.  (Read the full article here: scientificamerican.com/article/Exercise

Should you give up on exercise? Please don’t. Your body needs to exercise for the many health benefits that it gives. Yes, it might nudge your weight loss along, but the emancipation of fat from the cells around our hips, thighs and muffin tops comes only by creating a calorie deficit – by eating fewer calories than you burn.  Only when you do this, will your body use the extra calories it has stored in your fat cells.

There is no escaping this truth: you must eat fewer calories  than your body burns in a day. If you aren’t sure how many calories you eat or burn – you are at an unnecessary disadvantage. There are easy solutions:

  • Use MyFitnessPal to estimate and manage your calorie needs. I love this app because it makes it as easy as it has ever been to manage this critical part of losing weight.

I am a big fan of exercise for its life giving health benefits. Regardless of your need or intention to lose weight, your body needs to move. As we age, the implications of not moving enough come home to roost in very unpleasant ways.

So, keep moving and keep an eye on your calories. Why?  

1 Corinthians 10:31:  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Ultimately, the Lord invites us to detach from the world’s way of thinking and to align ourselves with His design and His purpose for us.  That’s the best reason of all.