Weight loss doesn’t begin in the gym with a dumbbell; it starts in your head with a decision.

Toni Sorenson

Today I stepped on the scales for the first time in… about two days. This is part of my normal morning routine and I do it somewhere in the order of five times a week, sometimes everyday.

And today I found that I had gained roughly 300 grams since last time I weighed myself. And this is despite going on a run yesterday, and eating decent for the most part.

But this seems to be the cycle I’m on at the moment – lose a few hundred grams a day, maybe 1 kilogram over a week, then make it up the next week, and pretty much just hover around the same weight. Completely in spite of gaining fitness over the weeks and months and ostensibly doing everything right.

But am I really being honest with myself here?

I’ve been wondering for a while what the optimum amount of exercise is required for weight loss and, as it turns out, it’s actually quite a lot.

There’s been a ton of studies done about this, so naturally the university student in me looked at peer-reviewed material to get a better understanding. One of the best sources I’ve found so far is a meta-study that looks at exercise and weight loss both in the absence of, and the addition to, dietary changes.

What this meta-study found was that in almost all cases, exercise alone is insufficient for meaningful weight loss in overweight and obese populations. Where exercise shows some weight loss benefit, the amount is huge. Over 1 hour per day is required for any meaningful results, and those results vary wildly depending on the type of exercise performed and it’s intensity. Far above the generally accepted target of 150 mins of ‘intense’ exercise per week.

Interestingly, resistance exercise does not seem to provide any benefits compared to aerobic exercise when done in isolation, and even combining the two, whilst providing some increased benefit, is in many cases insignificant.

What becomes quickly apparent is that relying on exercise alone for weight loss is unlikely to yield any significant results.

What does become apparent is that in order to make meaningful change in one’s weight, you must look at all sources of weight gain and where to make changes – active vs sedentary, high vs moderate alcohol consumption, and diet. That is to say – the entire lifestyle comes into play.

And this is where I think I’m currently falling down.

Firstly, my current activity levels is still only basic. My running is about 25-30 kilometers per week, which might sound high for now, but is going to need to increase a fair amount as I get into my season in a few weeks time.

Alcohol consumption has improved markedly, even if I did have a blip on the weekend (a whole range of personal reasons go into why I decided to have a few beers and some wine, but suffice to say I’m not happy with myself). That blip were my only drinks in 2024 and if I get my way, they will remain the only drinks for the rest of the year.

Finally, my diet. I think I’ve been paying lip service to having a good diet all year. I’ve not been fueling correctly for my runs, and living in a caloric deficit for most of the year that has pushed my metabolism down and essentially meant that my body is in survival mode when I should be doing more.

Being in caloric deficit is great, but there’s a sweet spot between eating too much, and not eating enough, especially when you’re also engaging in an otherwise energetic lifestyle. And in my case, I’m missing the mark.

Most days I haven’t been eating breakfast, because, well that’s calories and I’m trying to lose weight. But what I’ve found is that has lead to snacking a lot, and not well. Small bags of chips that are normally in the kids school lunch box is a favourite, simply because they’re there, plus the peanut M&Ms I can scoff by the handful…. quickly followed by another handful…. then another…. it all adds up.

So missing 500 calories at 7am makes little sense if I’m making it up throughout the day, and with calorie dense foods to boot. Which means there’s two things to change here – have the damn breakfast, and learn how to snack right.

I think my aim needs to be somewhere around 1700-1800 calories per day, spread across five meals – three ‘main’ meals and two ‘snacks’. Dinner needs to get super simple, less about sauces and more about ‘sources’ of fuel. It sounds horrible on some levels, but I also know how to do it.

It’s also time to kick the training into gear. Four days per week, a couple of easy sessions, one trail run (generally of a ‘longer’ distance) and one mixed session that could be hill sprints, tempo work, a dedicated speed session, whatever.

None of this, of course, is really that new. I’ve been here before. I’ve consulted dieticians before, I’ve had coaches before, and I’ve been able to lose weight as a by-product of running before. So let’s get to it.

* The meta-study referred to in this post is Role of Physical Activity for Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance, by Carla E. Cox, in Diabetes Spectrum 2017 Aug; 30(3): 157–160.

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