For Fat Loss, Does Exercise Really Matter?

 Fact: I like to believe I gave a pretty nerdtastic, bomb-ass, helpful nutrition lecture the other week.  You probably saw me talking about about it here and here.

Another fact: in hindsight, I left a lot to be desired.  And, frankly, that sucks.

Why?  Well, I forgot to mention a critical point that guides any well-run diet/lifestyle change: eating alone is responsible for 90% of the fat you'll lose.  And unfortunately, exercise rarely helps.

Surprised?  Well, this is my surprised face. (Sidenote: Home Alone came out 24 years ago..and that makes me feel old.)

Surprised?  Well, this is my surprised face.
(Sidenote: Home Alone came out 24 years ago..and that makes me feel old.)

Yes, you read that correctly. 

Now, don't get me wrong, exercise CAN help with fat loss under the right conditions.  Terms like "afterburn" or "Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption" do exist.  BUT, the effects are negligible when we're not focusing on our diet, and the handful of extra calories we burn is not enough to warrant any type of reward or rationalizing of a meal.   

Anecdotally, I've found that the more you try to rationalize your eating habits on your exercise, the farther you drift away from your actual goals.

I realize that what I've just said probably turns the whole exercise/eating right balance on its head.  No longer is the name of the game, "go hard or go home" when you hit the gym.  Instead, the same motto should be taken to the amount of plants you eat each day.

Perhaps the best post-Father's Day question?

Perhaps the best post-Father's Day question?

However, what I mentioned above begs the following question: If fat loss is completely diet related, why even exercise at all?  It's a good question, and my best answer is simple, "exercise creates your buffer."

Creating a buffer is really meant in several different ways.  First, creating a buffer applies to general life experiences and avoiding injuries.  When you're strong, you can easily go for a run, play a game of football, or do some manual labor in your house without really worrying about it.  It's funny, but deadlifting 400 pounds in the gym makes that 85 pound awkward box a lot more manageable.  

The next buffer is for when you finally have your nutrition plan dialed in, and aren't sabotaging yourself day after day with poor eating habits.  You really can't out train a bad diet, and by being strong, you allow yourself a buffer to have something special every now and then.  The heavier I lift, the less guilt I feel by having a few beers or a couple extra cookies once in a while.  The human body is a lot smarter than we tend to give it credit for, and not everything you put in your mouth is going to dictate your body fat.

I love this mug.

I love this mug.

The last buffer has to do with self-confidence and general perspective.  Maybe it's due to lifting weights being an "outlet," or maybe it's more to do the definite, concrete progress you see as your weights increase, but one's self-confidence tends to skyrocket as you hit your strength goals.  It's hard to bring someone down mentally that is just coming off a week's worth of personal records.  The same people tend to no longer sweat the small stuff in their personal lives.  Whatever the reason, strength helps.  

Of course, there are a ton of other reasons to lift heavy things such as increasing bone density, insulin sensitivity, etc., but I've seen the above buffers help many of my clients.  Of course, if you disagree with everything I just said (and you can!), just takeaway this one simple message:

Don't use exercise to justify your meals.  Sentences like. "I need to workout, I ate so poorly this weekend," are simply a losing proposition.