Exercise & Weight Loss: Is There A Connection
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

Exercise & Weight Loss: Is There A Connection

by DK Kara MD on Feb 02, 2022

What is some practical advice for weight loss based on this new data?


Researchers recently published new data which suggests that exercise may not be as significant for weight loss as many originally thought (1). 

The misconception that exercise is the primary way to lose weight as been around for decades.

Through my many years of practice treating patients and the development of my own health and wellness brand I’ve tried to stress one important aspect of weight loss—exercising to lose weight should be secondary to making good dietary choices. 

If we look at our health, the first, second, and third, most important question that we should ask ourselves is “what are we eating?”

Why Do Dietary Choices Matter

Good dietary choices include eating in a calorie deficit, fueling our body with nutrient-dense foods and avoiding nutrient-deficient foods, avoiding junk or processed foods, and shopping organic or locally-sourced whenever possible to avoid toxins.

For years, anyone that has come to me about weight loss has been asked one simple question “who do you think would lose more weight: a couch potato that eats like a rabbit or an exercise fiend that eats without regard for what they are eating?”.

The original school of thought has always regarded exercise as something that burns calories in a linear fashion (i.e. 30 minutes at the gym burns 100 calories so therefore 60 minutes will burn 200 calories) and so on. 

However, the recent research published has brought to light a new understanding of what actually happens in our bodies during exercise.

What Happens When We Exercise

Rather than burning more calories the longer you exercise, our bodies actually start to compensate for what was burned during periods of physical activity.

This “compensation” highlights the idea that more exercise does not necessarily mean more calories burned and in turn more weight and/or body fat lost as people typically think. 

Instead, biological processes like the breakdown of food, blood sugar regulation, hormone production, cellular processes, and other activities might be reduced or “shut off” to compensate for exercise. 

These biological processes, which are important for overall weight loss and metabolic activities, being neglected could eventually lead to exercise being less “metabolically effective”. 

This is where our dietary choices come into play. 

Looking At Food As Fuel

Food is fuel. Ultimately, the type of food you are fueling your body with matters regardless of exercise.

If you are constantly eating refined carbohydrates, junk food, or foods that are high in sugar then you will find yourself fatigued during exercise and lacking in significant results because you did not fuel your body properly.

When we expand that idea into this new research regarding energy compensation, the foods we eat could make matters even worse.

If biological activities are reduced during exercise and on top of that the little biological processes that actually do occur also have to focus on high-energy expenditures, such as stabilizing blood sugar levels after eating sugar-filled foods, then we are certainly not doing our body any favors.

Think of your metabolism as a complicated process that needs to be as efficient as possible. The less efficient it is, the less able you are to burn calories. Some of the “compensation” mechanisms mentioned above create inefficiencies that make the process of burning calories less effective.

Research has also confirmed that ultimately, regardless of energy expenditure, “to drop pounds, we also will have to eat less” which is again where our dietary choices come into play first and foremost. 

If you are not eating in a calorie deficit (i.e. consuming less calories than you burn throughout the day) you will not see significant results regardless of how much you engage in physical exercise.

Think about it like this. If you spend 30 minutes doing light to moderate exercise at the gym and then go home to eat a small brownie, you’ve essentially taken in more calories than you’ve burned regardless of how or even if your body compensates for that exercise.

These are all important considerations to keep in mind when embarking on your weight loss journey.

References & Disclaimers

(1) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982221011209

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author