The beginning of the year means waitlists for exercise classes and a lot more people at the gym. New Year’s resolutions and the guilt of extra holiday weight will equal increased interest in fitness. When you look around the gym there will be more people on the cardio machines and more at the weights, building muscle. If these people are there just to lose pounds they might as well go home before they even sign up for that membership. They are going to stop going in a month or two. That’s when they get frustrated that they didn’t lose weight. They learned exercising doesn’t mean weight loss.

Now, I’m not saying exercise is bad. Some of us don’t like doing it but it’s not bad. It’s important for your overall function of your body. Some of the great benefits of exercise for your body are:

Improves stress response and mental health
Good for bones and muscle
Helps with sleep
Builds endurance
Great for your brain
Increases overall wellbeing

There are so many benefits to exercising, but weight loss isn’t guaranteed.

Weight Loss Isn’t Just Burning Calories

People have been told the myth of counting calories for so long they believe that if they just ate less and exercised more, they would lose the weight. Exercise isn’t what’s holding them back and neither is the number of calories they eat. The body is a dynamic system and there are a lot of variables that impact the function of that system. Some people will heavily restrict calories and see an initial weight loss when they have a calorie deficit. That won’t last. The body is like a Swiss watch and can’t operate at a deficit for the long term. The body will adapt and will find ways to survive on fewer calories.

Not all calories are the same and not all diets work for every individual. That’s why counting calories just doesn’t work for long term weight loss. A system that treats 100 calories of cookies and 100 calories of kale the same way just isn’t going to work. You didn’t think you could get out of eating your vegetables to eat fewer calories, did you? Of course not, but many people do. Your body requires nutrients and if it’s not getting them, it won’t function properly. You can’t exercise and still eat garbage food. Your body will still crave more food because it needs nutrients. See, it’s not just about the number of calories eaten or burned.

Sugar and Weight Gain

There are a number of factors that can impact why an individual can’t lose weight. Sometimes it’s their diet but that doesn’t mean calories. One of the biggest culprits in our modern-day culture is too much sugar and processed foods. It’s not fat. It’s sugar that is the culprit. It is hiding in the majority of processed foods and the average American eats 146 pounds of it per year. Sugar causes major weight gain, inflammation and damage to the body. If you’re trying to eat a low-fat diet you might not notice all the added sugar sneaking into you diet.

The thing about sugar is it’s addicting. Studies have shown that sugar can be more neurologically rewarding than cocaine and that’s why many people have a hard time giving it up. (1) Of course it’s hard when people are exposed to this addicting substance regularly. Go to your pantry or cupboard. Check the bottle of ketchup, can of spaghetti sauce or box of cereal. How much added sugar is in there? For most of us it’s too much.

Hormones and Weight Loss

That sugar you ate could have impacted your hormones. It caused inflammation in your stomach where neurotransmitters like serotonin are made. Too much sugar can also overwork your liver and pancreas which help with conversion and creation of hormones. But it’s not just sugar that impacts your hormones.

Foods that are phytoestrogens like soy can mess with your hormones. Our modern lifestyles mean we encounter a lot of chemicals that are known as endocrine disruptors that alter your hormones. Chemicals in beauty products, household cleaners, pesticides and even chemicals in our water are some of the ways we are exposed to endocrine disruptors.

Stress is one of the biggest killers of hormonal health in women. If your body is under a lot of stress it will convert hormones into cortisol which will throw off your hormonal balance. If you are under constant stress, your body will find ways to adapt and sometimes that is holding on to fat because estrogen can be made in fatty tissue. It’s important to find ways to reduce your stress.

Your hormones might be the thing that is holding you back from weight loss and more exercise might just be messing those hormones up even more. Why? Exercise can add more stress to your body than it can handle.

Learn more about when women should exercise in this video:

Inflammation adds Inches

If I stomp on your toe, what happens to it? It swells up from inflammation. If I keep stomping on that toe, it keeps swelling up. But what if you exercise? Will that stop the swelling? No, of course it won’t. Exercise can’t change your weight if your increased weight is because of inflammation. This is a great example of why exercising doesn’t mean weight loss. In fact, exercise can actually cause more inflammation.

If your body has lots of inflammation from inflammatory foods, traumas, chemicals, allergies or illness that can add inches and water retention to your body. You might not need to lose weight. You might need to lose inflammation and exercise can’t help with that.

Exercising Doesn’t Mean Weight Loss

It happens every year. The gyms get flooded with people who are going to get into shape and lose weight in the new year. If it was that easy, then the gym wouldn’t seem so empty a few months later. They find out that exercising doesn’t mean weight loss. It’s an important part of a healthy lifestyle but if you are also looking for weight loss, you need to find out what caused your weight gain. Working with a proficient provider can help you find out what’s keeping you from losing weight.

Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn