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Why You Can't Out Exercise an Unhealthy Diet

Why It’s Hard to Out-Exercise Unhealthy Eating Habits Even With Weight Loss Medications and Bariatric Surgery

By Dr. Michael Fastiggi | July 11, 2023

Every year my wife and I challenge ourselves to run a 5 mile race. We train, we run and we look forward to how much we can eat for our celebratory dinner after crossing the finish line. I decided to check the scale a week afterwards to see how much weight I lost with all the training, as I didn’t feel like I was making much progress. Despite all that running, eating extra calories undermined all the hard work - I had gained weight. My body fat percentage increased, and my muscle mass hadn’t changed. Even with exercise, the scale still went up and I realized that it’s hard to out-exercise unhealthy eating habits. Here’s why.

Healthy eating and exercise are the pillars to maximizing weight loss. This remains true whether you’re taking prescription weight loss medications or after having the gastric sleeve, bypass or revision surgery.

Calories In vs. Calories Out

Our body burns a set amount of calories each day as part of your baseline metabolism (BMR). Our BMR, or the amount of calories we burn in our regular, day-to-day life, is dependent on our weight, height, age and general physical activity level. Any additional physical activity we do throughout the day increases the total amount of calories burned in a day. To lose weight, we need to burn more calories than we are consuming. Any calories that we take in through eating and drinking counteract the calories burned. 

Relating it to my example, if I burn 150 calories per mile and I run 5 miles, then that is 750 calories burned. What I didn’t realize until I took the time to learn about healthy eating, was how fast calories can add up.  If I have a bag of potato chips, a can of Coke, and a slice of cake, I’ve now eaten more calories than I burned on my entire run.

If you rely only on exercise to counteract the calories taken in without changing your eating habits, it’s very easy to gain weight because the calories in can still be much higher than what exercise burns.  That’s why our team of registered dietitians at New Jersey Bariatric Center stress the importance of reading food labels and sticking to their meal plans. Some foods can be misleading and higher in calories than we think. 

Benefits of Exercise

It’s still important to know that exercising is beneficial for your body and mind. It can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, strengthen muscles and bones, and even reduce anxiety and depression. An exercise goal to shoot for is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercising per week. This can be as simple as going for a 30 minute walk 5x per week or three to four 45 minute strength training sessions, yoga, pilates and swimming. If you have questions about exercise and/or how intense you should be going, please consult with your surgical team.

For more information on exercises you can do after having weight loss surgery, check out our blog.

For more questions, call us at 908-481-1270.

Dr. Michael Thomas Fastiggi is board certified in general surgery, with advanced fellowship training in bariatric surgery, foregut surgery, and minimally invasive surgery. He attended medical school at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and was elected into both the Alpha Omega Alpha and Gold Humanism honors societies. Dr. Fastiggi then completed his general surgery residency training at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY. After graduating residency, he went on to do a fellowship at Cleveland University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. He performed bariatric surgical procedures, as well as diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopic procedures.
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