Why you can’t out-exercise a bad diet

By Amy McNeel | 2/5/18 1:53am


It’s a common misconception that exercise is all you need to stay healthy and reach fitness goals. People think going to the gym is going to instantaneously change their health, but this mindset needs to change. Yes, going to the gym is a great step to getting fit, but there is much more to consider. 

We’ve all heard “freshman 15” horror stories, and we’ve all thought to ourselves, "I’ll just burn it off tomorrow," while indulging in greasy pizza and soda. The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to burn off all the empty calories we eat. You can go to the gym frequently and still not see results if you aren’t eating right. Unfortunately, you can’t out-train a bad diet.

A lot of people say weight loss is 20 percent what you do (exercise) and 80 percent what you eat (diet). This is because unhealthy food is almost impossible to burn off entirely. In a 2017 interview with HuffPost, dietitian Jessica Spendlove explained this by saying, “For example, a person could eat a 1,000-calorie meal in 5-10 minutes, but it would take them much longer than 60 minutes to burn off (probably closer to 90-120 minutes).” Exercise can only burn off so many of the calories you eat. If you eat a lot of unhealthy food, exercise will do little to nothing. 

According to Albert Matheny, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and PROMIX Nutrition, in an interview with Women’s Health Magazine, “The key to weight loss is achieving a negative energy balance or taking in less calories than you burn.” However, taking in less than you burn is nearly impossible and extremely unhealthy. This is why diet is so important. If you eat the right foods, taking in more calories than you burn isn’t a bad thing. 

The key to eating healthfully is to stay away from empty calories, or calories that are consumed in foods with no nutritional value. Eating foods with high nutritional value and lower calories will make you feel more full while also providing you with the energy and nutrients you need. There will be fewer calories to burn from these foods, and they will also aid in metabolism and recovery after workouts.

If you are serious about living a healthy lifestyle, you need to understand the food you are eating. I’ll be the first to say that it can be difficult to eat healthfully at college. In comparison to junk food, healthy meals are more expensive and time consuming. However, they are also worth both your money and time. When you’re buying groceries, look at the nutrition facts. Educate yourself on macronutrients and the number of calories you personally need in order to reach your fitness goals.

You can also download apps that allow you to scan barcodes and tell you the positives and negatives of the food you scanned. Apps like this include Lifesum and MyPlate, both of which I have used and would personally recommend. 

Becoming aware of the food you eat is so important when you're trying to live a healthy lifestyle. I promise that if you start eating more wholesome foods, you will see results.  

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