If you’re a workout junkie, you’ll want to read this: according to Vox, exercise isn’t the most efficient way to lose weight—monitoring what you eat is.
According to research, weight loss is much more than “calories in, calories out,” and exercise is more beneficial for improving your health overall than slimming your waistline. What most people don’t realize is that you are constantly burning calories. Between the calories your body burns keeping you alive and digesting your food, exercise only makes up between 10 and 30 percent of daily calories burned. What’s called your “resting metabolism” actually accounts for the majority of the calories you burn… and you have very little control over that number.
Conversely, you control 100 percent of the calories you consume, and you only control around 30 percent of the calories you expend (remember that 10 to 30 percent from before?). On top of that, when you exercise, you’re more likely to not only eat more but move less. After a rough workout, you’re much hungrier than you would be normally—cue doubled portion sizes and increased snacking throughout the day. Plus, you’re less likely to do other physical activity throughout the day, such as taking the stairs or driving instead of walking. These are called compensatory behaviors—essentially, you’re compensating for previous energy expenditures but not taking into account future calorie intake.
Another fun aspect of weight loss is that your body’s metabolism slows as you begin to slim down (this is why so many contestants on The Biggest Loser gain back all the weight they lost on the show, and sometimes more). Your resting metabolism goes down, meaning you’re burning fewer calories overall, but perhaps still exercising—and eating—vigorously.
A study of a hunter-gatherer group in Tanzania found that they burn the same number of calories as an adult in America or Europe, despite the group’s extremely active lifestyle. So how did the hunter-gatherers stay so slim? They eat modest portions, unlike us in the U.S., where a staggering 40 percent of the adult population is obese.
The takeaway? It takes far more exercise than you’d think to burn off that midday donut or that bottle of wine you split at dinner. If you’re actively trying to lose weight, take a hard look at your diet first—then hit the gym.