The gym seems like the obvious first choice plan for someone who feels the need to lose weight.
It’s a sanctuary for sweat, a bastion for biceps and a harbor for hard bodies.
I spend about 40 hours a week in a gym, and I get a close-up view of everything in the world people do wrong when it comes to trying to lose weight.
Here are six common mistakes of trying to lose weight at the gym:
1. The biggest mistake? Relying too much on the gym.
By the second week of January, roughly half the people who signed up for New Year's resolutions gym memberships have stopped going.
Within three months, 90 percent have bombed out and given up on the gym.
That means nine out of 10 people who want to lose weight don’t make it more than 12 weeks.
The dirty truth is the gym is the last place you should turn when you want to lose weight because it hardly makes a difference.
The majority of the population eats too many calories and those calories usually come cheaply, highly processed and absurdly delicious.
When calorie intake is chronically high, you store fat. It doesn’t matter whether those calories come from fast food, steak or broccoli.
Still, getting too many calories from steak or broccoli would be difficult because they are so satiating.
There’s lots of debate about whether or not all calories are created equally.
All diets are designed to lower calories and focus on nutritionally-dense foods. That’s an old message packaged into a new, fad diet
Calories are also important because they’re a unit of energy and because they’re so easy to track.
2. Caloric intake is more important than caloric burning.
I used to be obsessed with how many calories my heart rate monitor told me I burned.
It became a bit unhealthy because I was disappointed if I didn’t hit the 800 calories burned in a workout mark. It didn’t even dawn on me how off that number could be.
Thanks to wearable devices, like heart rate monitors and smart watches, we’ve been fooled into thinking we have a great idea of how many calories we burn on a daily basis.
In reality, caloric expenditure is a complicated process that relies on quite a few variables.
Some of those variables include:
1. Current body composition (i.e. body fat levels)
2. Current caloric intake
3. Current metabolic rate
7. Type of exercise
That’s a lot to manage with caloric expenditure — and a lot to get wrong.
Add in the fact that the wearables we use to track calorie expenditure could be drastically off (by 50 percent, in some cases) and this method becomes a lot less appealing.
That’s the difference from thinking you burned 700 calories in your SoulCycle class when you really only burned 350. Or, about three glazed donuts from Krispy Kreme.
Fat loss is a job of managing variables: intake, expenditure and progress. Manage two of these three variables properly, and you drop fat.
It would make sense then to manage the two easiest variables, which happens to be intake and progress.
3. Make your metabolism your friend.
Things like having more muscle impact your metabolism and how many calories you burn per day are where exercise becomes pretty damn important.
Weight training is vastly superior when it comes to building muscle.
More muscle equals more calories burned per day just to keep you alive. More calories burned per day equal a much stronger metabolism.
A slight caveat on this weight-training thing: You actually have to challenge yourself.
Using 3-pound dumbbells for four straight months won’t do you any good, despite what Tracy Anderson says.
Exercise by itself makes a very small dent in the entire equation of caloric intake versus caloric expenditure.
This is made even worse when someone’s primary form of exercise is cardio.
Exercise by itself sucks even more for people who only do cardio for three main reasons:
1. Excess cardio causes muscle tissue to atrophy, meaning your metabolism slowly declines and you might get skinny, but you’ll stay skinny fat.
2. The body adapts to excess cardio quickly. In as little as five to 10 cardio sessions, what may have burned 300 calories might only burn 100 now, because your body is more efficient. When trying to lose fat, efficiency isn’t always a good thing.
3. When you exercise more, you eat more. It’s just the nature of the game. You’ve expended energy, and your body wants to replenish that energy.
4. Losing fat is a full-time job.
Losing fat is downright difficult. Given enough time, the fat loss will happen, but what is “enough time?"
One study showed 35 hours to lose one measly pound of fat, or close to the amount of time you spend at work in a given week.
We’re not talking 35 hours straight of exercising, but 35 total hours of exercise while keeping calories equal, which is a task all by itself.
Put that way, managing calorie intake instead of expenditure is an obvious choice. Losing 1 pound of fat requires as much time as your job, and you’re not even getting paid to lose fat.
5. Is managing calorie intake really that difficult?
Aside from the fact that we are absolutely terrible judges of calories based off intuition alone, managing the intake isn’t actually difficult.
Especially since we live in the day of carrying super computers around in our pockets.
There’s a number of apps out there designed to help people count calories, and entire companies, like Weight Watchers, are set up to help people by logging their food intake.
Calorie counting may be tedious in the beginning, but it isn’t difficult. It takes time, and is a skill that has to be developed.
6. Exercise is grossly overhyped.
I’m not an exercise hater. I love to lift, have recently gotten back into running and have multiple lofty fitness goals for the rest of 2015.
I exercise because I love it (I know, I question my sanity), not because it keeps my calories in balance.
Everyone needs to exercise and move around more.
We’re a sedentary population, and that heavily contributes to the obesity epidemic.
Exercise alone isn’t the answer, and never will be. Diet will always be the number-one factor in the success of any weight loss program.