You work out, you keep track of your calories, but you can’t seem to lose weight.
Just how much exercise do you have to do to burn off excess fat?!
You might be shocked by my answer, but what if I told you this is your problem:
Rode bike to work. Calories burned: 0
Lifted weights for 30 minutes. Calories burned: 0
Did a few sprints on the track. Calories burned: 0
Ran a 50 mile ultra marathon today. Calories burned: 0
If your numbers don’t add up like this, maybe they should. Here are a few reasons why.
Your Estimates Are Probably Off…Way Off
Most people have no idea how many calories they burn on a given exercise, and the machines you’re using for guidance are often big, stupid liars!
I recently heard someone say, “I burned 1,200 calories on the treadmill today.” That person jogged for about an hour. Guaranteed, they didn’t hit half that number.
That’s an extreme example, but it’s not uncommon for machines/technology to grossly overestimate total calories burned.
But why try to track it all anyway? By trying to count every calorie you burn working out, you’re making things far more complicated than necessary.
If you can trim fat without having to calculate how many calories you burn every time you workout, why add the extra step?
Your Body Will Work Against You
“Seth,” you say, “I have the Super-Fit-Sexy-Maker-3000-Watch, and it gives me very accurate estimates of how many calories I burn.”
Even with accurate estimates, in the long run, it’s not as clear cut as it seems.
Your body does not want to change.
Let’s say you burn 400 calories working out. Your body will then do everything in its power to hang onto an additional 400 calories at the end of the day.
Your body is very good at it’s job, and it’s very stealthy. It will find ways to achieve this without you even knowing it. (Here’s a very science-y study proving my point...)
Bottom line, those 400 calories you think you burned working out might not count for jack-diddly.
You Will Offset Your Progress
Answer quickly: A friend offers you an adult beverage (or a slice of cake or whatever your vice) – you’re watching your calories, but you already sweat off 500 at the gym today – should you accept?
You could say yes, but then was your workout for nothing?
Or you could say no, but saying no over and over wears on you. Eventually you’ll cave, kick your friend out, and have an entire bottle of wine and quart of ice cream all by yourself, blowing your calories for the whole week.
You have a faulty system that threatens your progress.
The problem is not the cake or the drinks. I’m not saying you can’t ever indulge. The problem is the mindset.
Your Diet and Exercise Shouldn’t Be Enemies
The battle against calories takes a lot of willpower.
If you constantly view your workouts as a means to burn calories, every time you eat or drink you’ll have to decide how many of those burned calories you can consume again.
Or every time you have some kind of treat, you’ll have to think about how much extra exercise you have to do to burn it off.
Every single workout becomes more of a fight. Every single meal becomes a battle.
In the long term it’s not sustainable. Best case scenario is you break even and don’t make any progress. More likely is you lose the battle completely and gain more weight.
You may win some battles, but you’re losing the war.
Now Let Me Contradict Myself
Knowing how many calories exercise burns is not inherently bad. Imagine if Michael Phelps did all his training and then only ate a little salad afterward? He would waste away to nothing.
But you’re not Michael Phelps (unless you are, and then “Hey, what’s up, Michael!”).
While it is important to have an idea of your everyday activity level (including exercise) and the calories you burn, it should be for the sake of having a well thought out nutrition plan that works for you.
And while I don’t believe you should pick the type of exercise you do based solely on the calories burned, it can still be a helpful guide.
For instance, you might hate running yet still do it every day because you think that’s what you have to do to lose weight. The truth is resistance training (lifting weights) burns more calories in the long run. You might even like it more, you just didn’t know how effective it is for reaching your goals.
So having an idea about how to burn calories most efficiently, and knowing roughly how many you burn each day can be very helpful. I’m not “anti-calorie tracking.”
But if you aren’t an Olympic athlete, there’s a good chance you don’t have to focus on it quite so much.
In the meantime, figure out how to eat in a way that is healthy, but allows some wiggle room. Then stop worrying about how many calories you burned working out and just enjoy your exercise. If you don’t enjoy it, find something you like better and do that instead.
Check out our free ebooks that will help you get fit, lose weight, and stay that way: Home Workout for Beginners and Forever Fat Loss.