This week’s series of posts chronicles how I lost 40 lbs. Each day is dedicated to a different aspect of that process. Today’s post is part 4 of 5, and it covers the essential uselessness of exercise in terms of weight loss, but why you should do it anyway.


I like to exercise. I feel better when I exercise regularly, and I advocate for its many benefits enthusiastically. But as it pertains to weight loss, it’s essentially useless. I linked to Drew Magary’s “Public Humiliation Diet: A How To” earlier this week (and here again), which I took a lot of inspiration from as I began my own weight loss journey, and in explaining the steps he took to lose 60 lbs. he says,

I exercised, but that hardly mattered. I did 45 minutes of cardio five days a week. But I’ve been doing that for 14 years now. I also started doing hundredpushups.com around the 220-pound mark. But really, the only thing that mattered was that I ate less, and within a daily routine that I could get used to. (NOTE: But by all means, exercise anyway. It helps you not feel like crap.)

That’s true for me too. I go in spurts when it comes to getting my lard ass to the gym, and when I go regularly, I feel better, but my body never really changed. It wasn’t until I ate less, and, as Drew says above and I said earlier this week, within a daily routine I could get used to.

And I have real contempt for programs like P90X and Insanity because they’re making promises to people who are not equipped to have them realized. To paraphrase the great Joe Cooper of BASEketball, “If I had a nickel for every Facebook friend I had that dropped out of P90X after less than two weeks, I’d have a shitload of nickels.”

Chances are excellent you won’t lose a ton of weight on P90X because weight loss and health improvement are roughly a 200 step process, and these programs ask you to jump at step 175. When I started losing weight in earnest, I’d gas out on the elliptical after roughly 25 minutes and be huffing and puffing like an asthmatic grandpa. And you want me to do 100 burpees? Fuck you in your fucking face, blockhead.

These programs demand that you keep up with them when you have no foundation to allow you to do so. You haven’t built it. And it’s discouraging not to be able to keep up with the shouting steakhead on the TV because you’re still comprised of cheese fries and butter fat, and then you give up. The vicious cycle of shame and disappointment continues. If you’re in decent shape and want to become some Crossfit maniac incapable of talking about anything else, by all means, GET SHREDDED BRO, and do Insanity until you’ve done enough incline pushups to carve yourself an identity. I don’t care. I won’t be paying attention when you talk about how long you jiggled a big rope.

But the sad truth is that, at least in my experience (and the vast majority of what I’ve heard from people who have lost weight successfully), diet is the only thing that matters when it comes to dropping substantial poundage. Including professional-fat-person-doing-exercise-on-television-shouter-atter Bob Harper. Sorry.

Again, exercise is a good thing to do. I love exercise. But I’m guessing you’re a professional who has a multitude of obligations tugging at your sleeve (possibly at this very moment while you steal away to read my stupid little blog on the can, which is your only moment of solitude each day), so if you’re making a lifestyle change, it’s going to be substantially harder to do so in the direction of doing enough exercise to fundamentally shift what you weigh and how you look.

The other dangerous thing about exercise is the risk of overcompensation. I used to do this all the time. “Oh well, at least I went to the gym four days ago. I can totally eat this pizza tonight again.” I’d weight exercise disproportionally to the benefit gained from it. If I took the stairs at work once, I’d act like I could fucking carbo-load before the Tour de France to compensate.  More cheese fries! I did two sets of preacher curls three days ago!

Once I stopped doing this, I realized that even as I worked out harder, the benefit wasn’t nearly as good as just continuing to eat better. I suspect there comes a point when you turn the corner and become an ATHLETE again and exercise makes a ton of difference, but if you’re there, you’re probably not terribly personally interested in applying the learnings of a series of posts regarding how to lose weight in the first place. So before any of you crazy runners chime in to refute me, remember that we’re talking about going from fat to either less fat or not fat.

If you actually want to lose weight, focus on your diet. That’s 90% of the battle. Again, sorry.

Tomorrow: The weird shit you learn along the way…

7 comments on “Exercise

  1. Keithage says:

    Exercise does work but with a caveat. You have to do it a fuck ton. Have you ever seen a fat construction worker or logger or farmer? I am talking the guy who actually lifts stuff not the guy in the rig sitting on his ass all day.
    I know exercise works because it has worked for me in the past. I have always hovered around 160-165lbs with occasionaly spats up to 170lbs and down to 155lbs. Pre girlfriend and grad school life I had nothing to do after work and really enjoyed my exercise routine of strength traning and a crap load of cardio in the form of jiujitsu. Now I started my routine at 3 days of jiujitsu and one day of strength traning. Weight change from that was maybe two lbs. When I upped my regime to 6 days a week jiujitsu and one day of strength training, I dropped to 145lbs. At this point in time I ate anything and everything I wanted including protein shakes as a snack and could not gain weight.

    On a side note my dad works construction 5 days a week and has been at about 160 his entire life. He eats small portions and relatively healthy. At one point he was working 7 days a week and only then did he loose 15lbs and was able to each pretty much anything as much as he wants.
    My conclusion is that exercise can compensate for diet, but it is very time consuming and usually takes more effort than an appropriate diet/exercise balance.

    1. keithage says:

      And the jiujitsu cardio was aprox. 1-2 hrs per day 6 days a week. I found that 45 min just maintains, it doesn’t improve.

    2. Jon Eks says:

      That’s exactly my point. As most of us are sedentary humps, rarely does anyone have the time to exercise the amount necessary to make a dent in their weight loss.

      For substantial progress, it’s got to be done through diet given the schedule and logistical limitations.

  2. Gutter says:

    I’ve discovered that doing most things in moderation can make life a lot easier overall. People who haven’t seen me in a while usually say I look thinner and what have I been doing? The answer, nothing, small changes here and there I guess, not eating out as much, knowing that if I have a cup of coffee in the morning I shouldn’t have a pop with lunch, drink water with most meals. When it comes down to it the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in, so whether that is due to working out or from not eating as much the results are basically the same.

    Enjoying the posts, really liked the weight watchers one, the program is really genius and makes me want to download the app even though I am not looking to lose much weight. Just seems like a good way to make sure I don’t look back and wonder how the hell did I get fat or even more fat.

  3. Lee S. Hart says:

    One word: Jazzercise!

  4. Deuce says:

    I think you’re spot on Jon, diet is the more effective part of weight loss and Adam hit the nail on the head when he said, use more calories than you consume. If you eat in moderation, you’ll be in negative calorie range by just doing your normal daily activities.

    Also, Bob Harper is 48??

  5. Ferris says:

    I agree that diet is the most important in weight loss for me its the harder one to stick to. For me it is easier to stick to eating better when I am working out consistantly. If I eat a bunch of junk and the the nexy day try to go for a run I feel it , my legs feel like concrete and I feel super sluggish. Remebering that feeling helps me to make better choices.
    I’m sort of a crazy gym rat but I don’t think I’m quite to the level of White Goodman. I can say that when I incorporated resistance training with cardio the results were faster and better than just cardio alone.
    PS. If I haven’t told you before, awesome job!

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