Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

Exercise makes you GAIN weight!

By: Dr. David Friedman

It’s that time again: “New Year, New You!”  Over two hundred million people in the U.S have made a 2017 New Year’s resolution and 80% of those include losing weight and exercising.  There are more gym memberships started in January than all the other 11 months of the year combined!  However, if weight loss is on the top on your list, going to the gym might not  be the answer.  In fact, exercising can cause you to GAIN weight!  Say What?!   I’ve been a member of a gym for most of my adult life. I am not anti-exercise! I am, however, against working out as being the weight loss solution. Most exercise gurus will tell you to exercise and burn burn burn the calories you eat, if you want to lose weight! That is not true.

If you are a member at the gym, I’m sure you’ve seen Hank (I never asked his name but he looks like a Hank). He’s that overweight guy running on the treadmill or stationary bike who sweats so profusely it ends up all over the machine and sometimes splatters on the person next to him. (I stopped running on the empty treadmill next to Hank). Hank is always at the gym.  He’s so dedicated! Week after week, month after month, I would see sweaty Hank painfully running on the treadmill.  Unfortunately, he still weighs the same.  Maybe you’re like Hank?  You exercise and lose a pound or two but it comes right back. So you increase the minutes you spend on the treadmill, or increase the incline, thinking that might help. Have you noticed, the more you exercise, the hungrier you get?  That’s because exercise actually stimulates hunger! This causes you to crave more food and eat more, which in turn, negates the weight-loss benefits of exercise. The truth is, exercise makes losing weight more difficult!

In 2009, the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, the nonprofit Public Library of Science, published a study of 464 overweight women who didn’t exercise regularly. Women were placed into four groups. Three of the groups were asked to work out with a personal trainer for 72 minutes, 136 minutes, and 194 minutes per week, respectively, for six months. Women in the fourth group were the controls—they maintained their normal daily activity routines. None of the women in any of the groups changed their dietary habits. The women in all four groups, including the control group, lost weight! Those that exercised with a trainer several days a week for six months did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. The study found that most of the women who exercised ate more than they did before they started the experiment. Those that exercised intensively with a trainer did not lose more weight than those that didn’t because none of the four groups changed their eating habits.[i]

The Journal of Obesity Research published a study conducted by a Columbia University team, which showed a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared to two calories that a pound of fat burns. [ii] This means if you worked out enough to burn off ten pounds of fat, you would be able to eat only an extra forty calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain the weight back. So if after a vigorous workout you drank a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade (130 calories), your hard workout would be futile because the caloric expenditure from the workout and your caloric intake becomes a wash. As you can see, because your body is starving after a workout, a vicious cycle ensues. That old wives’ tale “lose weight by burning more calories than you eat” is wrong. No matter how many jumping jacks you do or how long you ride that stationary bike, exercise alone simply will not work! That’s why exercise is not on my top three ways to lose weight. 

If you want to lose weight, changing your diet is far more effective. It takes 500 jumping jacks to burn off 100 calories. However, eliminating one soda subtracts 150 calories. Which has a greater impact? Considering the average person consumes three to five sodas every day, it seems pretty obvious that you can’t spend every day doing 4,000 jumping jacks to erase your lousy dietary choices. No matter how much you exercise if you are eating the wrong foods or in abundance, it’s like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring gasoline on it.  While exercise is important for good health, keep in mind, you lose weight in the kitchen and get toned in the gym. Now comes that four letter word, DIET!  There are so many diets available on the market today, ranging from counting calories, mixing and matching certain foods, plant based, paleo, Mediterranean, etc. etc.  Some are so confusing they require an eating journal and some also require weekly weigh in meetings and a support group.    Below is a very simple to follow  and affective diet that I recommend to my patients.  It will help you balance your sugar levels, increase your energy and even help you attain a deeper and restorative sleep. 


A proper diet is crucial if you want to not waist  (spelling emphasized) your time in the gym. If you want to lose weight, stay clear of white foods. Doing so will help your blood sugar balance, increase in your energy, help you sleep better, and lose those unwanted pounds! White food refers to foods that are white in color and that have been processed and refined, and include milk, flour, rice, pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, and anything sweetened with table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Natural, unprocessed white foods are good, including: Cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, parsnips, onions, potatoes, bananas, turnips, white beans, white fish, and white poultry meat. All the other white foods contain a high concentration of simple carbohydrates that will make your blood sugar spike, then drop, causing you to overeat and gain weight.

Think of white foods as the “bad carbs,” loaded with public enemy number one—sugar! The average person consumes 150-170 pounds of refined sugar every year![iii] That is a lot of sugar – especially when you compare it to how much we used to consume in the past. Less than 100 years ago, the average intake of sugar was only about four pounds per person per year. That’s a 4,000 percent increase in sugar consumption today. Sugar is a major cause of our obesity epidemic. If you are not one to add table sugar to your food or beverages, you’re still consuming too much sugar. This sweetener can be hidden in foods like tomato sauce (15 grams of sugar per half-cup serving,) granola bars (12 grams of sugar), Greek yogurt (17 to 33 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving), and Vitamin Water (one 20-ounce bottle has about 32 grams of added sugar)! Also stay clear of processed grains like pasta because, even though you won’t see a lot of “sugar” listed on the label, it increases your blood sugar and triggers a release of insulin.

Eating less-processed “good carbs” are more satisfying to the cells of your body and are therefore more filling than refined carbs. The bad white foods make portion control very difficult because they do not satiate well. The more you eat, the more you gain. By eating more whole grains like brown rice, oats, barley, rye, and quinoa, you are getting a great source of fiber, which creates a slower absorption rate and keeps you feeling full longer. For people suffering from celiac disease, or a gluten allergy, the whole grain of choice is buckwheat. You can use buckwheat in place of flour to make pancakes and pasta. In fact, buckwheat noodles are a popular cuisine in Japan.

Exercising for good health is crucial but when it comes to losing weight, stay clear of the white foods, and watch those pounds come off at the gym. 

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[i] Church, T.S., and C.K. Martin, et al.  “Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference and Compensatory Responses with Different Doses of Exercise among Sedentary, Overweight Postmenopausal Women.” PLoS ONE 4(2) (2009): e4515. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004515

[ii] Wang, Z., et al. “Resting Energy Expenditure: Systematic Organization and Critique of Prediction Methods.” Obesity Research (May 2001);9(5):331–6.

[iii]     How much Sugar Are Americans Eating?”  Forbes. 8/30/2012 
About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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