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  • Writer's pictureLewis Graham

Is Exercising The Best Way To Approach Fat Loss?


When most people have the goal of losing weight, losing body fat or getting slimmer, their immediate attention goes to exercise and how much they should be doing in order to achieve that goal. They may start going to the gym, trying new exercise classes and doing hours and hours of cardio in order to get into the shape they’ve always dreamed of, yet for some reason after a little while they get frustrated with the lack of progress they’ve made despite their best efforts.

This may sound familiar to you, and I hope that by the end of your time reading this that you not only have a better understanding of exercise and the role it plays when it comes to your goals, but you’re also able to look at it as more than just a tool to help you lose weight.

Does Exercise Burn That Many Calories?

So you may be wondering what I mean when I ask the question, ‘is exercising the best way to approach fat loss?’

It seems obvious that exercise should be one of the first things you should start to think about if you want to lose weight, but this may not always work out the way in which we want it to.

I want to bring your attention to this graph to the right, which represents our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), and I want to focus mainly on the pink section labelled ‘EAT’ which stands for, ‘Exercise Activity Thermogenesis’ which is a fancy way of saying how many calories (energy) we burn during exercise. As you can see from the graph the amount of energy we burn through exercise is relatively small compared to the other segments like ‘NEAT’, ‘BMR’ and ‘TEF’.

Now of course you can manipulate this by doing more and more exercise to increase your EAT. For example, if someone is training for a marathon and they’re running upwards of 30+miles per week then their EAT will be much greater than someone who’s training at the gym 2x per week in order to lose a little bit of weight.

This doesn’t mean we should all go out and start running marathons in order to lose weight. For one thing this just isn’t sustainable for the large majority of us but we also have to take into consideration the increased hunger levels and the effect that will have on our fat loss goals.

So you can see from the relatively small amount that we actually burn during exercise and the fact that it may cause our hunger levels to spike up that we may not actually achieve the desired weight loss that we initially wanted when starting out.

So What Should I Be Focusing On?

Of course I’m not saying that you shouldn’t bother exercising, far from it. In fact, I think it’s very important to do some form of exercise that you enjoy in order to improve both your physical and mental health. What I also think is important, is having an understanding that when it comes specifically to fat loss, that more exercise does not always equal more or better results.

So what is it that you should be focusing on then if it’s not exercise? Well, like many questions in the fitness industry, the answer is…it depends! This may seem like a cop out answer but it’s true, it’s going to depend on what you as an individual are struggling with the most. For some people, adding in a couple of training sessions a week is going to yield great results, for others that just may not be the case, it really is all about you.

For example, we all know that one person who goes to the gym and spends an hour in the cardio section. The person that spends 20 minutes on the bike followed by 20 minutes on the rower then a final 20 minutes on the StairMaster, this may be you and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but if the goal is fat loss and this your training routine 2-3x per week, then you could potentially achieve some great results by simply switching the focus of those sessions from cardio to weights.

For some individuals it may be far more helpful to improve their diet than it is to exercise or perhaps it would be more beneficial to improve their quality of sleep in order to achieve the best possible results. If you’d like to find out more about what the best approach for you is then click the link below to fill in a short form and I’ll be in touch to give you some advice.

You Can’t Out Train A Bad Diet!

You may have heard this phrase before, perhaps you’re wondering whether or not there’s some truth to it. Well I can confirm to you now that this is very much true, you can’t out train a bad diet, it just doesn’t work. No amount of exercise that you can do will ever make up for poor food choices.

As we explored earlier, we know that we don’t burn a great deal of calories when we’re exercising so it should come as no surprise that if your diet contains lots of ultra processed high calorie foods then you’re going to struggle to lose weight regardless of how much you exercise. Remember that the more exercise you do will potentially increase your hunger levels as well, so if you already have poor habits, routines and behaviours around food then more exercise isn’t necessarily the answer.

Diet vs Exercise

As I’ve said before, the approach that you take may be different person to person and what works for you may not work the same as someone else. That’s okay! The key is to find the approach that you enjoy, and can stick to long enough to see the desired result, and hopefully beyond that.

Now despite what approach you choose, when it comes to losing body fat your diet is going to be very key. As we know already, you can’t out train a bad diet, so no matter how hard or how often you train, if you’re not eating in line with your goals then you won’t succeed.

In order to lose fat you need to be in an energy (calorie) deficit. I want to bring you back to our TDEE picture we saw earlier. This represents the amount of energy we burn on a daily basis, in order to create this deficit we need to be consuming less food than is being expended in order to lose body fat.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need to exercise at all to create an energy deficit. Remember that the amount of energy we burn through exercise is relatively small, it’s far easier to remove 100 calories from your diet than it is to burn 100 calories through exercising.

Exercising Isn’t About Losing Weight

This is going to be a really short but important paragraph and one that I want you to pay close attention to.

STOP EXERCISING TO BURN CALORIES! You’re not a hamster on a wheel, so stop exercising with the sole purpose of burning as many calories as possible, that’s not what it’s for.

Exercising isn’t about losing weight, it’s there to challenge you physically and mentally in order for you to grow and improve. It helps you get stronger both in the physical sense and the mental, it’s character building, it makes you feel good, it relieves stress, it’s so much more than a tool to help you lose weight.

Exercising because you enjoy it and it challenges you, not because you feel you have to in order to lose weight, because remember what I said earlier: “You don’t need to exercise at all to create an energy deficit”. In other words, you don’t need to exercise in order to lose weight.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve found this article useful and you’re able to take some lessons from it and apply it to your life and I hope it brings you great success.

I just want to recap a few things so that you have a clear understanding of what exercise is and how it’s useful as well as how to approach your fat loss goals.

The main thing I want you to remember is that exercising isn’t about burning calories, so stop doing endless amounts of cardio. Firstly, lots of cardio is going to increase your hunger levels which will make it very hard to stick to an energy deficit, secondly, exercise should be about having fun and challenging yourself to be better. I highly recommend trying a basic weight lifting programme 2-3x per week and see how you get on. Click the button below to download my free full body training programme template.

Remember if fat loss is the goal then your diet is the most important thing to achieving that, you can’t out train a bad diet so don’t bother trying. I’d recommend starting a food diary and make some small positive changes from there.

Improving your routines and habits around sleep is also going to make life a lot easier for you, it’s so hard to stay in an energy deficit if you’re consistently sleeping less than 6 hours per night.

Finally, get some accountability and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Most people think they know it all or they’re scared to ask for help as they feel it’s a sign of weakness. Don’t be that person, you can learn a lot from a great coach and they’ll take you further than you ever thought was possible.

If you don’t believe me check out some of the results (below) that I’ve achieved with my clients over the years, and if you think that could be you or you’d like to find out how I can help you then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Take care.


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