This week’s series of posts chronicles how I lost 40 lbs. Each day is dedicated to a different aspect of that process. Today’s post is part 4 of 5, and it covers the essential uselessness of exercise in terms of weight loss, but why you should do it anyway.
I like to exercise. I feel better when I exercise regularly, and I advocate for its many benefits enthusiastically. But as it pertains to weight loss, it’s essentially useless. I linked to Drew Magary’s “Public Humiliation Diet: A How To” earlier this week (and here again), which I took a lot of inspiration from as I began my own weight loss journey, and in explaining the steps he took to lose 60 lbs. he says,
“I exercised, but that hardly mattered. I did 45 minutes of cardio five days a week. But I’ve been doing that for 14 years now. I also started doing hundredpushups.com around the 220-pound mark. But really, the only thing that mattered was that I ate less, and within a daily routine that I could get used to. (NOTE: But by all means, exercise anyway. It helps you not feel like crap.)
That’s true for me too. I go in spurts when it comes to getting my lard ass to the gym, and when I go regularly, I feel better, but my body never really changed. It wasn’t until I ate less, and, as Drew says above and I said earlier this week, within a daily routine I could get used to.
And I have real contempt for programs like P90X and Insanity because they’re making promises to people who are not equipped to have them realized. To paraphrase the great Joe Cooper of BASEketball, “If I had a nickel for every Facebook friend I had that dropped out of P90X after less than two weeks, I’d have a shitload of nickels.”
Chances are excellent you won’t lose a ton of weight on P90X because weight loss and health improvement are roughly a 200 step process, and these programs ask you to jump at step 175. When I started losing weight in earnest, I’d gas out on the elliptical after roughly 25 minutes and be huffing and puffing like an asthmatic grandpa. And you want me to do 100 burpees? Fuck you in your fucking face, blockhead.
These programs demand that you keep up with them when you have no foundation to allow you to do so. You haven’t built it. And it’s discouraging not to be able to keep up with the shouting steakhead on the TV because you’re still comprised of cheese fries and butter fat, and then you give up. The vicious cycle of shame and disappointment continues. If you’re in decent shape and want to become some Crossfit maniac incapable of talking about anything else, by all means, GET SHREDDED BRO, and do Insanity until you’ve done enough incline pushups to carve yourself an identity. I don’t care. I won’t be paying attention when you talk about how long you jiggled a big rope.
But the sad truth is that, at least in my experience (and the vast majority of what I’ve heard from people who have lost weight successfully), diet is the only thing that matters when it comes to dropping substantial poundage. Including professional-fat-person-doing-exercise-on-television-shouter-atter Bob Harper. Sorry.
Again, exercise is a good thing to do. I love exercise. But I’m guessing you’re a professional who has a multitude of obligations tugging at your sleeve (possibly at this very moment while you steal away to read my stupid little blog on the can, which is your only moment of solitude each day), so if you’re making a lifestyle change, it’s going to be substantially harder to do so in the direction of doing enough exercise to fundamentally shift what you weigh and how you look.
The other dangerous thing about exercise is the risk of overcompensation. I used to do this all the time. “Oh well, at least I went to the gym four days ago. I can totally eat this pizza tonight again.” I’d weight exercise disproportionally to the benefit gained from it. If I took the stairs at work once, I’d act like I could fucking carbo-load before the Tour de France to compensate. More cheese fries! I did two sets of preacher curls three days ago!
Once I stopped doing this, I realized that even as I worked out harder, the benefit wasn’t nearly as good as just continuing to eat better. I suspect there comes a point when you turn the corner and become an ATHLETE again and exercise makes a ton of difference, but if you’re there, you’re probably not terribly personally interested in applying the learnings of a series of posts regarding how to lose weight in the first place. So before any of you crazy runners chime in to refute me, remember that we’re talking about going from fat to either less fat or not fat.
If you actually want to lose weight, focus on your diet. That’s 90% of the battle. Again, sorry.
Tomorrow: The weird shit you learn along the way…