You can’t outrun a poor diet.
You may have heard this saying before, or some form of it, but its message is too often underestimated. Many people, when they decide to make a change in their health, immediately look to exercise for the solution. Yes, Habits of Healthy Motion are incredibly important, but if you bet on the treadmill to carry you to your goals, you will likely find yourself incredibly frustrated and disappointed.
Healthy Fat vs. Unhealthy Fat
The amount of exercise you need to burn a pound of fat is astronomical. Let’s look at the math:
Example 1: Healthy male. Weighs 167 lbs and has a BMI (body mass index) of 24.
This man is at a healthy weight, and his body is storing the appropriate amount of energy as fat. Our bodies will always have some form of fat storage, and at a healthy BMI, this healthy male has 135,000 calories stored in fat.
Example 2: Obese male. Weighs 209 lbs and has a BMI of 30.
If the man from the first example gained 42 lbs of unhealthy fat–each pound containing the energy equivalent of 3,500 calories–his fat storage has an excess of 147,000 calories. In other words, he more than doubled his fat stores for a whopping total of 282,000 calories of fat.
The Neverending Marathon
The challenge of talking about calories like this is that the idea is abstract. Is 3,500 calories a lot? Well, in modern foods, calories are easy to come by. A single “Bacon King” from Burger King has 2,102 calories, and that’s before sides or sodas. When you can eat an entire burger in just a few minutes, 2,102 calories doesn’t feel like a lot.
Burning that burger off with exercise, however, is much more difficult than eating it.
On average, a marathon race consumes 2,600 calories. That’s running 26.2 miles to just barely burn off the calories of one greasy fast food burger.
If our obese male from example 2 wanted to outrun his obesity, he would need to run 56 marathons. The difficulty of that exercise aside, at one marathon a week, he would need a full year to burn all of his fat. It’s not a very effective strategy, but countless obese people are out in the summer heat, trying to out-jog their BMI.
The Healthy Eating Strategy
What if we could help this same unhealthy man reach his healthy weight and offload those 147,000 calories of fat in a relatively short period of time, and do it safely? We can.
By inducing a natural fat-burning state through Habits of Healthy Fuelings (coupled with other lifestyle changes, which does include motion), we can burn that fat efficiently and without risking other aspects of our health.
The science of this process is laid out in more detail on page 311 of Dr. A’s Habits of Health, but the summary is that lowering your daily energy intake allows us to use our regular activities to burn fat. Instead of doing extra work to burn off extra calories, we use our fueling choices to tell our bodies to start using up the calories we have stored as fat.
You will learn more about how this works as you build your Habits of Health, but remember this: You can’t outrun your fueling choices. Instead, use your fueling choices to reach your goals.