I was just talking with a friend of mine who is trying to lose weight and doesn’t have the time to work out. She has family, cleans up, feeds kids, drives them around, and has what we call a full-time career on top of that. Not an easy life.
Of course, with all that stress and the temptation that comes with feeding teenagers and with power lunches, she is not losing an ounce. She complained to me and she asked me the simplest question:
Can’t I just lose weight by eating less? Why do I have to work out?
Well, I had to think about it for a moment. Eating less is great if you can manage to do that, and despite the benefits of a workout, it shouldn’t be mandatory. I mean, I know plenty skinny people that never work out – why shouldn’t she be able to, as well?
Well, it’s not that easy. You see, working out does very important things to your diet and weight management:
- There is the caloric benefit from the workout itself. You can burn 500 calories an hour quite easily, which is as much as a full lunch. Imagine, after a spinning class, you can eat a second lunch with no downside!
- Your body reacts to a workout with added burning throughout the day. Part of it is that you are building more muscle mass, and your muscle is hungry. Much hungrier than your other body parts!
- The cardiovascular stimulus that comes with a good workout stabilizes your metabolism. You are less likely to feel sluggish, especially in the afternoon, when a lot of us overeat to compensate for lack of energy. I realized how important this effect is when a colleague of mine told me she always fights jet lag by working hour in the early morning – the workout resets her internal clock.
- There is a definite effect coming from the beautiful people in your environment. Being surrounded by fit people that are working out makes you want to be more like them, makes you compare yourself to them, makes you watch out more. It’s the reverse effect of posting a picture of yourself when you weighed 100 lbs more on the fridge.
- Your workout will frequently come with social interaction. You might meet new friends, and they come with the built-in advantage of having (at least one) healthy habit. You have something in common with them, which is: trying to be a better, fitter you.
- If you go and look at the math of it, you realize just how much the workout allows you to eat more: if you burn 500 calories in a workout, that’s a full quarter of your daily intake (for a woman, one fifth for a man). Imagine the food you eat, now imagine a quarter more – that’s what an hour of cardio does to you!
- Last but not least – as long as you are working out, you are not eating! That makes a huge difference, especially if you end up working out at precisely the time you would dig into that gallon of Haagen Dazs!!