Does Exercise Actually Make You Fatter?

Years ago, a friend of mine told me that exercise wouldn’t help me lose weight. I thought that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard – exercise burns calories, right? So of course it would help me lose weight.

Now there are some studies that have shown that my friend is right. Exercise may not help you lose weight after all.

The studies have shown that people over estimate the number of calories they are burning through exercise and under-estimate the number of calories they are eating, meaning that there is no deficit and therefore no loss on the scales.

To lose a kilo, you have to burn approximately 7000 calories. It can take an hour to burn off 400 or 500 calories but only 2 minutes to eat that same amount.

  • 1 sausage and egg mcmuffin = 40 minutes running at 9 km/hr
  • 1 medium banana = 30 minutes walking at 7 km/hr
  • 2 pieces toast with peanut butter = 36 minutes on the elliptical at setting 8

Exercise makes you hungry

Apparently back in the 1880s, it was regarded as ridiculous that fat people should try to exercise to drop pounds. The thought was that exercise would stress the system and do more harm than good. It’s true that exercise does stimulate hunger – we all know that. So should overweight people just stay in bed and take appetite suppressants?

Professor John Blundell and a team of bio-psychologists at the University of Leeds looked at the dietary responses of a group of larger woman and men who were given an exercise routine to burn around 500 cals per session. When not working out, they could eat as much as they wanted, of any type of food. After 12 weeks, almost 2 out of 3 of the subjects lost weight, but the last third did not lose any weight at all.

Laura Clark is a dietician from the British Deictic Association and she says, “It is possible to lose weight with dietary changes alone, but to lose weight just through exercising is very difficult. You would have to exercise at high intensity for three to four hours or more a week, and not many people can fit that in.”

Anyone who has tried to exercise regularly knows how hard it is to fit in. Planning a 40 minute run, five times a week takes discipline, planning, cost and organisation. Simply avoiding the same amount of calories could be an easier way to go.

We all respond differently to exercise

“The degree to which you respond (to exercising) is probably dependent on genetics. Researchers have found 20 specific genes related to this, and how you score across those genes impacts your responsiveness.” This is according to the weight-loss researcher Timothy Church, M.D., Ph.D., who is a professor of preventive medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana.

He goes further to say that a lot of data shows that leading a physically active life is “critical for not putting on weight.”

There are many other benefits to exercise, such as a better quality of life and being more in tune with your body.

Is insulin to blame?

There are other reports that show that how our body processes the food may be to blame. Is when you eat as significant as what you eat, or how many calories?

Everything we eat releases insulin. Insulin is another hormone that can stunt your body’s fat burning capabilities, so if you eat right before or after exercising, this can limit how many calories your body burns.


This is something that body builders have been doing for a long time. It involves fasting over night then exercising in the morning to burn off more calories than you would by exercising after lunch.

The theory is that by temporarily avoiding food, in particular simple sugars and refined carbs, you can prime your body to use fat as a fuel, which will really help weight loss.

If you google cardio-fasting you’ll see lots of advocates for and against. It seems that people can’t agree on how the body processes food. Could it be that we all process differently? Or that the same body can process food and calories differently at different times of day, year or under different circumstances?

The studies show – exercise doesn’t help long term

A few years ago, the American journal called PLoS ONE ran a surprising study. The study showed that even holding back on the unhealthy snacks of fat and sugar and ignoring post-exercise hunger pangs will still have very little effect on weight loss.

The study put 464 overweight women who did not exercise regularly into four groups. Three of these groups exercised for different lengths of time, working out with a fitness trainer. The control group did no exercise. All of the women in the four groups were old to stick to their usual diets and not eat anything different.

Every group lost weight, however some people in the study gained more than five kilos (10 pounds). The real shock was that those who exercised did not lose any extra weight. They did manage to reduce their waist measurements, but lost no more body fat than the overall group.

My Body got Better

For me, I found that I was just happier when I was exercising. I felt better in my body, more connected and calm. I began to gain a respect for my body. A kilo I ran off felt better than a kilo I starved off. These days I will happily walk around in a small pair of shorts, something I wouldn’t do when I was simply restricting my eating heavily.

It does take work, though.

Making exercise a part of daily life is hard. It’s difficult. We need to learn to do it naturally and it’s easier for some of us than others.

What has your experience with exercise for weight loss been? Do you think it helps or hinders?


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  1. March 4, 2013

    I enjoyed reading this article~!! fascinating about exercise and weight loss. I feel that in order for a person to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF they must exercise AND watch what they eat. If someone eats horrible but exercises regularly they are just burning off some of those extra calories from the unhealthy food . I could understand why they were not losing weight !

  2. March 4, 2013

    I used to think restricting was the only way to go. Now I understand that my body functions better with planned exercise. Thanks for your comment!

  3. March 4, 2013

    You are an enthralling writer! You have presented the facts, in this post, with research and supported with experience. Excellent read in deed. Thanks

    I don’t understand why eat more, just to create additional need to burn it. I understand the need for regular exercise to build strength, and maintain flexibility. In addition, exercise also facilitates lymphatic fluids circulation in our body. Our heart circulates blood, but lymphatic fluids circulation is mostly done by body movements. And lymphatic fluids circulation and elimination is very important for health and wellbeing. Best Wishes

    1. March 4, 2013

      Thanks so much for your comment. I think that this theory will gain popularity. People eat too much these days. Portion control really works, but so many people are concerned only with “diet” and “exercise” not “amount” of food.

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