The Weekly Vlog

Why You Can’t “Burn Off” Calories

Dec 13, 2023

*Applications for a Boot Camp 2.0 scholarship are now closed.

We don’t talk about exercise a lot on the vlog, because Bright Line Eating is mostly about what and how you eat. But many people think they need to be more active when they’re trying to lose weight. The science indicates otherwise.

Consider the phrase “calories in, calories out.” There are flaws to this idea: your body is not just a step counter that totals up your activities to determine weight loss. It’s a very responsive, intelligent machine, and it accommodates and morphs based on what you do.

There’s a whole body of research funded by large food corporations that says that it’s not the sugar or ultra-processed foods we’re eating that are making us gain weight, it’s the lack of movement. But exercise won’t make you thin.

There was a study where they took hundreds of sedentary, overweight women and separated them into groups: one stayed sedentary (that was the control group), and the other groups did varying levels of exercise, supervised by a trainer. At the end of this long study, everyone weighed the same, regardless of how much they exercised.

And let’s look at the research of a man named Herman Pontzer. He’s an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University. He wondered about activity levels and caloric output in hunter-gatherer tribes vs. sedentary individuals in the Western world.

When Pontzer went to the Hadza people in northern Tanzania, one of the last true hunter-gatherer societies, he measured their metabolisms very accurately, at a molecular level, using so-called “heavy water.” What he found was that they weren’t expending any more calories than those sitting at desk jobs in the U.S.

What the body does when we’re extra active is that it compensates by burning less for the rest of the time. It shifts you into low gear so that you don’t burn more calories than you would if you were at a desk job. People around the world burn 2,000-3,000 calories a day, no matter what they do.

This makes sense. If you think about the times when food is most scarce, the body is trying to keep us alive, so it makes sense that it would downshift and steal calories from other systems to survive. So you might think you could exercise and add the number of calories burned to your baseline, but it doesn’t work that way.

This is built into Bright Line Eating. Our take on exercise is nuanced. The diet bashers think we’re against exercise. Tell that to my personal trainer! We’re not against exercise.

Here’s where we stand: The science is clear that exercise is one of the best ways to improve your longevity, your health, your cardiovascular fitness, your bone density, your sex drive, your self-esteem. It’s good for just about everything but losing weight.

We’ve learned from hard data that people who insist on exercising at the beginning of their Bright Line experience are the least successful. Exercise makes you hungrier, and causes a compensation effect where you justify eating more. And weight loss causes a dip in energy, making exercise at the beginning extra willpower depleting.

If you don’t have a standard exercise regimen, it’s not in your best interests to start one in the first few months of your Bright Transformation. Go easy on the exercise, and make sure you’ve got enough in your tank to get the food right. Getting the food right is what will ensure the success of your whole Bright transformation. Food is the driver, not exercise.

The beauty of divorcing exercise from food consumption is that when you get to maintenance, if your weight creeps up, your first thought isn’t to hit the gym, it’s to look at your food intake and see if you’re continuing to make Bright choices there.

Exercise is in a separate category altogether. You do it for your health, for joy, for flexibility, and for strength, and it’s not part of your weight management plan.

So if you have an exercise regimen, and it’s not addictive, keep it up. But easy does it for about the first four months or so of your Bright Line transformation. Once your food is truly automatic, if you still have weight to lose, or if you’ve already transitioned to maintenance, then start exercising.

You’ve got to handle your food first, then find out what brings you joy in terms of movement.

Before I sign off, I want to let you know that we have a scholarship opportunity for Boot Camp coming. As of today, December 13, 2023, scholarship applications are open, and they close on December 17. Then Boot Camp registration begins on December 31, and the Boot Camp begins on January 6, 2024. So if you’d like a scholarship, we have ten full ones available. Now’s the time to apply.

Click here to listen to this episode on Bright Line Living™ - The Official Bright Line Eating Podcast.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is a New York Times bestselling author and an expert in the psychology and neuroscience of eating.  Susan is the Founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating®, a scientifically grounded program that teaches you a simple process for getting your brain on board so you can finally find freedom from food.

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