Q: I have been sticking with my exercise program for three months and haven’t lost a pound of my excess weight. What am I doing wrong?
A: First, congratulations on starting and, most important, continuing to get regular physical activity. Even if it doesn’t lead to weight loss, regular physical activity improves virtually every aspect of health, reducing risk of cancer and other major chronic diseases.
Lack of weight loss is frustrating, if that was your goal for exercising. To lose weight, most research shows that making a few changes in your food and drink choices will provide greater weight loss than exercise alone. Don’t push for huge calorie cuts you can’t sustain. Keep a record of everything you eat and drink for three to five days and look for changes that could cut about 500 calories a day, depending on your current calorie level. Some ideas are to take smaller portions, reduce sugar-sweetened drinks and swap a bigger portion of vegetables (not deep-fried!) for some of your meat or starchy foods.
Often, people unintentionally compensate for calories burned during exercise with extra calorie consumption or reduced activity the rest of the day. Watch out for “rewarding” yourself for your exercise, since a 350-calorie treat could completely overshadow the energy expended in an hour of exercise. It doesn’t take a very large portion of high calorie foods to get to hundreds of calories.
But don’t underestimate the value of adding at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day if that stops weight gain, because most U.S. adults gradually gain weight each year. It’s possible that, as your health allows, weight loss will improve if you boost exercise time, intensity (for example, amping up your walk from a moderate to a brisk pace) or both. Talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for help evaluating your weight loss efforts, or whether perhaps you are at a weight that is healthy for you. If it’s the latter, don’t give up your new physical activity habits, because the benefits are vital to so many aspects of health, energy and well being.