The Myth of “Burning it Off”

You know what I’m talking about. You hear it all the time…

“It’s okay that I had a whole pizza for lunch. I’ll just hit the gym extra hard after work and burn it off.”

“Oh what the hell…order me another pint of Triple Flip-Hop Zippity-Doo-Dah IPA, I’ll just get on the treadmill tomorrow morning and burn off the extra calories.”

“You can pretty much eat whatever you want as long as you’re burning off the calories by excercising.”

Wrong. Wrong. And…um…let me consult my manual…WRONG.

“Burn it off” is one of the biggest and most insidious fitness myths known to man. While it is definitely true that excercise burns calories, increases your metabolism, and contributes to weight loss, you cannot possibly hope to excercise long enough or hard enough to “burn off” the caloric surplus you build up when you make repeated lapses in discipline. It just doesn’t work like that. And anyone who thinks it does work like that is destined for a lot of huffing and puffing on the treadmill and not a lot of results. This is why a lot of people end up getting frustrated on their fitness journey and give up. They do not understand one simple and immutable law:

You cannot out-run a bad diet. 

What does this mean? Let’s do some math.

You burn 100 calories running or walking a mile. Yes. That’s all. What does 100 calories look like?

100 calories = 1 Coor’s Light (one of the lightest of the light beers)

100 calories = 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

100 calories = 1 small glass of red wine

100 calories = almost 2 Oreo cookies

100 calories = 1 medium sized apple

Are you beginning to understand? What this means is, 100 calories is not much food, but it takes a good deal of work to burn it off. A whole mile’s worth of work. That’s at least 10 minutes of running on the treadmill, and that’s if you’re already in decent shape. And that’s assuming you’ve only over-eaten by 100 calories! If you’ve been naughty and you’re hoping to “burn off” the effects of eating half a pizza and a six pack of beer the night before…forget about it. You’d have to have to excercise for such a long time, it’s not even worth it.

The point is — and I will repeat this time and time again — the most efficient way to lose weight (BY FAR the most efficient way to lose weight) is to cut down your calorie intake so that you’re in a caloric deficit. You can lose weight sitting on your couch reading magazines if you’re eating at a caloric deficit. Is it fun? No. But ask yourself if its fun to pound-away on the treadmill or jogging track month after month, year after year, and not see any results.

“So you’re saying it’s useless to excercise??”

No, no. That is not even remotely what I’m saying! Excercise increases your metabolism, releases endorphins, strengthens your heart and vascular system, strengthens your ligaments and muscles, and a host of other amazing benefits. You should do it every day! I’m saying that if you’re relying on excercise alone in order to lose weight and “correct” for a bad diet, you’re fooling yourself and setting yourself up for frustration and failure. If you want to lose weight, start by watching what you eat.

“So what should I do if I pigged-out and feel guilty? How do I atone??”

You may want to get on the treadmill or the jogging track, or get your butt-kicked in Insanity class, just so that you feel better mentally. However, the best thing you can do if you over-indulged and want to correct for that, is excercise discipline the next day.

Feeling guilty about the reuben sandwich, cheese fries, and two milkshakes you ate last night? Try punishing yourself by skipping breakfast and eating only some plain yogurt and a handful of nuts for lunch, followed by a healthy dinner and no booze. The body, just like the universe, or The Force from Star Wars, favors balance. Therefore, you do not correct the effects of over-eating by running like a hamster on a wheel; you correct the effects of over-eating by under-eating. You over-ate or over-drank and experienced pleasure? Well…put yourself through some pain by remembering what it feels like to be hungry, not killing yourself through excercise just so you can over-eat or over-drink again that night.

If you practice this philosophy, what you’ll find is that you naturally even out. You will resist the urge to over-indulge, because you know how much it hurts when you punish yourself the following day.

 

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