Working Out Isn’t a Magic Bullet for Weight Loss

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How many times have you read that eating less and moving more is the formula for weight loss? Calories in versus calories out is how people have simplified the concept of energy expenditure. But now, Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., M.S., argues on the New York Times’ Upshot blog that Americans have placed an outsize importance on the “moving more” part.

Dr. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and assistant dean for research mentoring at Indiana University School of Medicine, explains that even though Americans are spending more time in the gym, they’re getting fatter. He argues that people shouldn’t rely on exercise alone to help them slim down since meta-analyses have found that physical activity not only makes you hungrier, but it also doesn’t prevent weight gain. Nor can it explain the difference in obesity rates between industrialized and developing countries. Plus, he says, people are notorious for underestimating how many calories they burn and rewarding themselves with more than that amount of food and booze post-workout.

But, “unfortunately, exercise seems to excite us much more than eating less does,” Dr. Carroll writes. (Important note: “Eating less” doesn’t necessarily mean consuming a smaller amount of food, but rather choosing nutrient-dense foods that are relatively low in calories.)

This theory isn’t a reason to stop exercising altogether (after all, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week for overall cardiovascular health), but maybe it’s just another reason not to worry too much if you can’t make it to the gym after work.

Working Out Isn’t a Magic Bullet for Weight Loss