Stop Exercising, Lose More Weight?

Unfortunately, the secret to successful weight loss can't be explained by a simple calories in/calories out formula, especially when your workout routine causes you to be hungrier than usual. A new study highlights that in some, exercising without changing your diet won't help you lose weight — in some, it actually causes weight gain.

The study, published late last month in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and reported in The New York Times, followed 81 overweight but healthy women for 12 weeks, during which they walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes three days a week. The women were told to eat as they normally would. After the exercise period, the researchers found that over two-thirds of the group (55 women) gained weight and fat mass. Some had gained as much as 10 pounds in fat — not muscle, which is a common cause of initial weight gain when starting a regular workout routine. The probable culprit: exercising made the women hungrier, so they may have eaten more calories without realizing it, and they also may have moved around less when they weren't at the gym.

Because a few of the women did lose or maintain their weight from merely changing their exercise habits, the researchers wanted to know why working out alone was the answer for some, while not for others. While they have yet to pinpoint the reason, they did find that those who lost weight at the beginning of the study were the ones who continued to lose weight as the weeks progressed. Those who hadn't lost weight within a month of starting exercise did not lose weight later on in the study.

So how do you test your own habits to see if you're on the right track? The study's researchers recommend weighing yourself a month into your new exercise routine; if you haven't seen results yet or have gained weight, chances are you should focus on your dietary choices and how much you move around during the day, in addition to the minutes logged at the gym. And remember, cardio may be great for calorie burn, but adding strength training to the mix — which the women in this study did not do — will help build fat-burning muscle.