Why your ‘weight loss journey’ is more like a weight loss traffic jam

You go to workout classes, work hard in the gym and even make time to nip out for a run on a weekly basis — but you still see no change on the scales, or in how you look, or how your clothes feel. One of the reasons for this is because exercise alone is an inefficient way of losing weight and changing how your body looks.

According to an exercise list from Harvard Medical School, a general 30-minute strength training session burns an average of 90 calories (180 calories per hour) for a 125-pound person and 133 calories (266 calories per hour) for a 185-pound person, while a 30 minute run at 10kmph will burn an average of 240 calories for a 125-pound person and 255 calories for a 185-pound person. As you can see a 125-pound person will burn far fewer calories than a 185-pound person, so remember a workout for one person is not the same 'calorie burn' as it is for another.


Keep these numbers in mind, as it is quite common among gym-goers to overestimate the number of calories burnt in a session. This is where goals of weight loss and changes in body composition start to fall flat. Remember if you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on the treadmill or how many squats you complete. 

Now onto behaviours you might recognise: on your break from the office you decide to nip to Pret and pick up a coffee - flat white (80kcal) or skinny (54kcal) - and a bar from the range they have (Love Bar: 470kcal: Choc Bar: 380kcal: Popcorn Bar: 173kcal: Fudge Bar: 100kcal). On this trip, you will consume a minimum of 154kcal to a maximum of 550kcals on your ‘quick snack’. Looking back at the number of calories we burn during the average 30-minute workout you start to see that you’d consume more than the upper limit without really noticing it and begin an uphill struggle to balance out the figures.

However, I am not here to talk all things calories. There are a number of studies that highlight how important exercise is.  A recent study compared sedentary individuals to those who were physically active. Those participants who were active significantly reduced ‘all-cause mortality rates over their sedentary counterparts’ and the study even highlighted the sports that were classed as the healthiest (cycling, aerobics, swimming, racquet sports) and for cardiovascular disease (aerobic sports, swimming, racquet sports). One point to note is that the majority of participants maintained their BMI — showing that as much as exercise has all kinds of health benefits, body composition does not seem to be one of them when calories in and calories out are maintained and equal. Ultimately weight loss will not occur without a calorie deficit, exercise alone isn’t enough.

This interested me as I like to ensure my clients have goals beyond aesthetics and weight loss. They all say it has helped tremendously with motivation. If it is a sporting goal then the benefits are far-reaching, from reducing stress, creating a good support system, as well as improving mental health.  This makes my job all the easier as adherence is so much higher.

But as we’ve already observed, exercise alone cannot change your body composition, it is what you eat that makes the difference. But what should you eat?  What should you not eat?  Carbs or no carbs?  Keto?  As has become the case in fitness, opinions differ about what you should and should not do when it comes to nutrition; I believe this has come about because the answer ‘it depends’ is actually the correct response when the question is what type of diet you should you follow.

What works for one person may not work for another. However; it is an undeniable truth that if you are in a calorie deficit - no matter how you do it - you will lose weight.  So cut out whatever you like if that is the diet you prefer.  However, go ahead and eat whatever you like in whatever quantities you like but maintain a calorie deficit and you will lose weight.  Eat foods you enjoy, have a glass of wine if you want to, find out what works for you and as long as you have calorie balance or deficit, you will maintain or lose weight.

So there it is.  Understand what you are eating and how much — a great way to do this is to download MyFitnessPal (MFP) and record your food for 2–4 weeks.  I don’t recommend using MFP for long periods as it can become quite addictive for some.  However, try it for a few weeks just to educate yourself on portions and what's in the food you're eating. 

So remember, you do not have to ‘suffer’ to lose weight as long as your total calories are controlled.  Exercise has major positive mental and physical health benefits we all need.  Trying to be active during the day is a great way to keep these mental health benefits ticking over.  It obviously helps to find a sport/activity you enjoy and can focus on.  And don't forget to allow yourself time to rest and recover.  One final tip; if you're finding it's all just a bit too difficult to get to grips with your physical health, perhaps it's time to get some advice from a qualified trainer/coach - all the best athletes have one! 

If you are looking to start your own fitness journey, feel free to email and ask us any questions.