Some people think that eating late at night means there’s less time to burn off calories, but research doesn’t support this. Why? Because people who eat late are also likely to eat more anyway and exercise less — both of which are linked to weight gain.
A 2022 review of 47 studies found that once other factors were taken into account, there was no link between eating close to bedtime and weight. In fact the most important indicator of weight is the total amount of calories eaten over a 24-hour period.
There are hundreds of articles offering ballpark figures of how much energy is burned during a particular workout. But this can vary depending on a person’s size and how much physical effort they put in.
It has been suggested that hitting the gym on an empty stomach will burn more fat because carbohydrates are the body’s supply of fuel. The theory is that, without carbohydrates, fat will be used up instead. But there is almost no difference in the amount of calories burnt whether you exercise on an empty stomach or a full one.
In fact, exercising after eating is more effective because people have less energy and stamina when they haven’t eaten.
One group of diet experts argue that our ever-more sedentary lifestyles is to blame for our spiralling obesity rates. For instance, inactivity is hugely damaging to health, not just because it inevitably leads to weight gain, but because it increases the risk of everything from heart disease and diabetes. Government figures estimate physical inactivity is linked to one in every six deaths in Britain.
Other equally influential and respected experts insist that exercise has virtually nothing to do with it and it’s only what we eat that matters.
Many scientists believe that improving the quality of the British diet is the answer to the obesity crisis. In fact, exercise may have nothing to do with our weight! The truth is that your weight is NOT governed by the simple equation of how many calories you consume against how many you burn through exercise.
According to Dr. Chris Van Tulleken, the idea that you can burn off calories with exercise emanates almost entirely from research funded by the soft drink industry! In fact it is far more likely that our weight issues are caused by the widespread availability of ultraprocessed foods — especially ready-made meals, snacks and drinks made to modify our hunger-control systems, making us over-eat.
In other words, obesity is caused by increased food intake rather than inactivity.
So what happened to the theory that we gain weight by eating more calories than we burn off? After all, some of the world’s best athletes, such as competitors in the Tour de France, reportedly consume up to 8,000 calories per day, but still lose weight.
In 2015, US anthropologist Herman Pontzer studied the Hadza tribe in Tanzania, who live a unique hunter-gatherer lifestyle, spending hours each day hiking for miles and carrying heavy equipment to forage for food. He measured the energy expenditure of 30 of the tribe 1 of 3
members and found it to be very similar to the average Briton who spends most of their day sitting at a desk: around 2,500 calories a day for men and 2,000 for women.
Pontzer explains his theory of compensation saying that the body adapts to high levels of activity by scaling back on energy spent in other areas – such as the immune and reproductive systems.
So are Pontzer’s findings proof we don’t burn calories through exercise? Energy balance is not something we can consciously alter. But can we really burn around 2,500 calories a day sitting behind a desk — the same number of calories as if we were walking a long distance? There are a number of problems with this research. First, there may be many other reasons why members of the Hadza tribe use up little energy.
Researcher in Exercise Biochemistry at Loughborough University, Professor Mike Gleeson, claims that the amount of calories you expend is dependent on your body mass, because it requires more energy to move a bigger body around. The Hazda are slim because of their genetic make-up and their diet. In short, the smaller you are the less energy you use.
Data from the UK military whose personnel have very high levels of activity, shows they burn far more calories than the average person and, if they don’t eat enough to counter that, they lose weight. A 2005 study of 424 male members of the US military in combat and non-combat training found that calories burned ranged from 3,109 to just over 7,000 per day.
However, most experts agree that Pontzer’s compensation theory is at least partly true.
Over time, your muscles adapt to certain positions and stresses, which means that they need less energy to complete movement. Or… it could just be that people who do a lot of exercise sit behind a desk the rest of the day.
What is true is that exercise alone is less effective for losing weight, compared to dietary restraint.
A 2011 Canadian review of 14 trials looking at the effect of intense aerobic exercise regimes (running, cycling and rowing) on overweight and obese individuals found, after a year, participants lost an average of just 1.7 kg, which is about three and a half pounds.
Another major analysis involving 3,400 participants by the medical research charity Cochrane concluded that exercise alone results in only marginal weight loss.
But — and here’s the big but — this isn’t because exercise isn’t burning calories, it’s because people are eating too much. The human survival strategy has evolved to store calories, so it takes more effort to burn them off than it does to store them! Doing a lot of exercise makes you eat more than usual, cancelling out the calorie deficit.
People don’t struggle to lose weight when they do a lot of exercise because of some magical entity, it’s simply because they are eating more than they need to.
During exercise, signals are sent between the muscles and the brain, telling us we’ve run out of energy stores, which triggers the release of a flood of hunger hormones.
Doing hard exercise isn’t going to make you lose any weight if you’re consuming 3,000 calories a day. True… elite athletes consume a ridiculous amount of calories and still lose weight — but that’s because it’s almost impossible to replenish the calories they’re burning.
The average person won’t burn the amount of calories an athlete does! But that doesn’t 2 of 3 mean to say that in conjunction with a calorie-reduced diet, exercise won’t help you lose weight.
A study, involving 1,488 participants, found that those who took part in a diet and exercise plan were ten times more likely to lose weight than those who just dieted.
Exercise is also useful for helping maintain weight in the long term simply because the more we use our muscles, the bigger they get. Muscles use up more energy than fat — even when you’re not exercising — so the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn in general.
Studies show that just 15 minutes of muscle-building exercise a week, for example weight lifting or cycling, is enough to speed up your metabolic rate — the amount of energy your body burns when it’s at rest. In short, increased muscle mass means you need more calories than usual to maintain larger muscles.
The benefits of exercise go far beyond simple weight loss.
Regular physical activity leads to a reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol and can also stabilise blood sugars which reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Exercise allows a steadier flow of blood to the muscles, the heart and lungs.
A 2021 analysis of 200 studies by researchers at the University of Virginia (US) found that sedentary, obese people who start regular exercise programmes reduce their risk of early death by a third — regardless of whether or not they lose weight.
But… the influence of genetics should not be underestimated. Genetic variations mean that people have different metabolisms and this affects how many calories their bodies need to survive. Some people will feel they need more calories after exercise and feel hungrier than others.
Almost all the genes involved in determining our weight do so by affecting how hungry or full we feel. So is ultra-processed food a bigger problem than our lazy lifestyles? Certainly, poor quality, ultra-processed foods contribute to chronic inflammation that decreases our energy levels and makes us more likely to gain weight. If we ate more foods that support the bacteria in our gut, high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates we’d reap more benefits from exercise.
Ultra-processed foods are typically high in calories and it’s easy to eat a lot of them in one go because they taste good. It’s also possible to offset the extra energy from these foods with physical activity.
But what if there was an effortless way to cut down on the amount you eat in the first place without feeling hungry?
Hypnosis can provide an easy way of feeling full quicker. In hypnosis, clients are taken through the whole gastric band operation as if it were real. The result is the same as having the operation for real, and the weight starts to fall away slowly over a period of time. The procedure also sets achievable goals so that the weight stays off. It’s painless, and it works just like the real thing!