Is Exercise Necessary For Weight Loss?


Whenever anyone asks me about exercise and weight loss, I always hesitate to answer because my answer is not “politically correct.” The short answer to the question, “Is exercise necessary for weight loss?” is…


Before you hit that button to leave, though, hear me out: I’m not saying exercise isn’t important – it is important for a number of reasons like quality of life, healthy bones and muscles, and heart and lung health, among others.

BUT, the way to lose weight is to eat less. Period. I should add that this is assuming you lead a normal life. If you are sedentary and are not moving daily -running errands, working in the yard, walking, cleaning, etc. – the amount you would be able to eat would be minimal. In that case, you need to add movement to your day in order to eat even normal small portions.

Exercise and movement are things you should be doing to feel better and enable you to lead a full life, but eating less (and choosing quality foods) is what you do to lose weight.

This, of course, goes against all the media outlets that tell us that we have to exercise X number of times each week, plus eat a lot of “diet” foods to lose weight. My experience and observations tells me this isn’t true:

  • I’ve already shared how eating whole milk, bacon, butter, and eggs (nutrient-dense, whole foods) in addition to vegetables and fruits and just a few grains has helped me to be at a weight that I thought my body wasn’t “made” for. The key? Eat Less.
  • In college I took an aerobics class from a woman who weighed 180-200 pounds – working out three times a day, four days a week.
  • When my sister ran a marathon one year, I was surprised to see there were lots of heavy people (though not my sister!) and that even with the training it requires, the weight didn’t automatically come off.
  • I’ve found that exercising makes me even more hungry.
  • Exercising often makes me think I can eat more – after all, I deserve it, don’t I?

Exercising alone won’t help you lose weight…but guess what?

Eating less, even without exercise, will.

So, my point is – lets not use the excuse of no time to exercise to put off attempting to lose those pounds. Because the truth is, a large number of people just don’t have the time. Start eating less – of the right foods – and the weight will come off.

And, if you’re like me, a curious thing will happen: you’ll want to exercise more. Because you’re feeling better. You’re motivated. You’re excited. But the motivation will now be to get in better shape, health-wise, and not weight loss.

What exercise do I do?

Really, it depends on the season – I’m more active outside in the summer and less so in the winter, so that’s when I use the treadmill more. I try to do an official “workout” 2 to 3 times a week. Though during this last year when I lost the weight, it was only 2 times a week – or 1…or even none. However, I don’t have a job where I sit for hours a day – I move throughout the day teaching, gardening, or completing projects in-between working on the computer.

If your life is more sedentary – eight hours sitting at a desk, then home to watch TV – you’ll want to think about ways to add more movement to your days.

But an exercise routine doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take a lot of time (though a goal of moving often should be a part of our whole day). As an example, tomorrow I will share my simple and easy 30 to 40 minute routine. Make sure you don’t miss it by subscribing to get free email updates or by RSS feed.

In the meantime, I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this!


Read the entire series on Losing Weight with Real Foods:


  1. says

    I couldn’t agree more! I exercised 5 days a week and just stayed were I was. It wasn’t until I decided to eat healthier (and what you have blogged about sounds a lot like what I’ve been doing) did I lose 40 lbs. Over that time I did not do “organized” or planned exercise. However, like you mentioned, I did have the energy and wanted to do things like play soccer with my girls, take a walk with friends, etc.

    By the way, you look awesome! Keep it up!

  2. says

    No, you don’t have to exercise to loose weight, I am speaking from the experience in my own family: my husband lost 40 pounds just by watching how much he eats. The formula is easy: to loose weight calories, that go in have to be less than calories that go out. :)

  3. says

    I agree. If you lead an active lifestyle, you can burn lots of calories chasing your two year old, sweeping and dusting and gardening. After I lost weight, I literally felt lighter and it was easier to move around. I notice that I’m more inclined to do physical activities because I’m not dragging around a lot of extra weight.

  4. Kari says

    I agree too. I have always tried to eat healthy and have weighed about 110 pound for 30 years. I have always been very active in my home life and I worked at Mayo Clinic and walked a lot at work! Then about 6 years ago I “retired” at the ripe old age of 43 and I didn’t gain weight but I became flabbier. Now I added walking my dogs about 3 miles a day, I do simple stretching and such and I am back to where I like to be!

  5. says

    Awesome post! I’ve been watching what I eat and exercising regularly, not so much to lose weight, but just to be healthy. I’ve found now that when I eat junk and not so healthy dishes I feel really crappy, so changing how I eat has changed my body’s reactions. Now I’m more inclined to not eat junk food or fast food because it makes me feel terrible.

  6. says

    I have written several articles promoting a website relating to diet and exercise and always like to mention relating to exercise that volunteering is one of the best exercises that you can do, not only to get a good workout but to boost your ego. Try picking trash along the roads as you walk or for a super workout join the crews at Habitat for Humanity. Being a mentor for a lonely child can also keep you going and at 0 cost. I cannot see wasting this energy in a gym when something very valuable can be gained by the exercise you do as a volunteer. Visit me at this site!

  7. says

    I have come to this same conclusion over the years, and in fact I’ve now had a couple friends who are doctors confirm it from their own patient experiences. I’ve never lost a pound during marathon training or in my periods where I was playing a lot of sports, and I was always hungrier. My recent 40-lb weight loss had almost zero exercise (not by choice, but because I was in grad school and didn’t have lots of extra time), and was following the same basic diet and less eating you followed to success. I get huge push-back when I tell people that exercise isn’t the key to weight loss, but my own experiences would tell me that it’s true (curiously, I do seem to lose weight when I’m in periods of more intense weight lifting/training though).

    Love your site, keep it up!

    • says

      Thanks, Paul, it’s so good to have your experience with this, too. Very interesting about the weight training-losing weight…I think I’ve read this about building muscles = using more calories on a constant basis, not just when you’re doing the exercise (unlike cardio)?

  8. Anonymous says

    Yes…I would agree about the losing weight part, but as someone who lost 80 + pounds several years back, I have to say that it wasn’t until I started exercising (walking on the treadmill 4 to 5 days a week for 30 minutes each)that I really started toning up the “flab” that was left behind after losing my first 30 to 40 pounds (You can tell I don’t like to exercise: that’s why it took me 30 lbs before I could make myself exercise. :) At that point, I started losing clothing size much more quickly even though the weight loss continued to be at the same pace as before. I think it would depend upon how much weight one had to lose as well as if the weight lost was focused in one particular spot or well proportioned across the body. I held the majority of my weight in my tummy and back-end. I needed to tighten that area up before I could really “see” the fat loss on my body.

  9. Katie says

    Hi, I just stumbled upon your site and Love it! It’s so real.
    I’m almost 30 and need to lose a good 25 lbs. I never had a problem with weight before and ate whatever I pleased. I had my first child almost 4 years ago and then my second (and final) child 1 year ago and cannot get the weight off. I joined the gym, consistently went for 1.5 hrs a day at least 5 times a week. Guess how much weight I lost in 4 months time? Zero! Because I did not change how I was eating.
    Number 1 problem for me: portion control. I used to eat very small portions. I met my husband who eats HUGE portions and slowly over 10 years my portions can rival his (not cute for a lady).
    Second problem: Sweets. I used to hate sweets, maybe a few gummy bears here and there. And I’m Southern, so sweet tea is a must. When I was pregnant with my first son, I began to love Chocolate. Peanut Butter cups every day. I remember mindlessly eating an entire bag (there’s a problem right there) of Reese’s while watching a Lunar eclipse.
    Third problem: I’m a stay at home mom. I snack all day long. While I usually have cut up fruit and veggies because my intentions are good, I still find myself saying “next time” and find some chocolate (and not dark chocolate). And usually I snack so much that I’m not hungry for a good meal.
    I recently tried to diet for the first time and lasted ONE day! while I ate enough and didn’t physically feel hungry, mentally I wanted more because I didn’t eat what I wanted. I found myself feeling restricted and wanting to eat more unhealthy. So a Dieter I am not.
    But Just wanted to say Thank You for such a real post. and a post that just confirms what I know in the back of my mind but need to act on. From here on out I am watching my portions. And I know my body will adjust to wanting smaller portions.

    • Jami says

      Well, you already know I agree, Katie – your body will adjust to smaller portions like it did before! The key is to really concentrate on high-protein, quality fat foods (like nuts and nut butters, seafood, etc.) while you’re adjusting to curb the hunger. Just having half as much salad won’t cut it, I’m afraid. :)

      And your issues are real – I know and feel for you. So here’s another tip I didn’t write about: get the junk and temptations out of the house – don’t use the kids as an excuse, they don’t need that and you can get them out of craving it while they’re young – they won’t even expect it. :) I only keep dark chocolate in the house as it’s harder for me to mindlessly eat that. Since doing that I find that when I do have a milk chocolate pb cup, they are so blah now to me and are easier to pass up.

      You can do it – 25 lbs is totally do-able and I’ll be rooting for you!

  10. Nicola says

    I agree that adding more activity rather than specific cardio sessions is less intimidating and more manageable for weight loss, and that while cardio has a lot of health benefits you can’t out-exercise a poor diet.

    That being said, I would argue that strength training is important for healthy weight loss. If you don’t strength train, up to a quarter of the weight you lose is muscle mass. This means that not only are you losing less fat over a given period of time, but that as you lose muscle mass, which consumes energy at rest, your BMR will lower and your body will require fewer calories, thus meaning the fat takes even longer to come off and you have to eat increasingly smaller portions to avoid weight gain.

    The nice thing about strength training is that it only takes about an hour a week, split into two or more sessions. It’s much more manageable than the 150-250 minutes recommended for cardio.

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