Exercising but not losing weight? You might be stuck in one of these four common workout pitfalls.

Exercise is an important factor in human health. It makes our heart more efficient, keeps our bones strong and keeps our muscles from withering away. But with few exceptions, if you ask people why they workout they will tell you they are trying to lose or maintain their weight. I can tell you from personal experience (and the science agrees) that working out alone will not take or keep the weight off. That was one of my complaints to my doctor before I switched to the Whole Food Muscle way of eating. I was working out hard five days a week, bike riding upwards of 100 miles a week and still my weight was creeping up. Not fair!

Being at a healthy weight is 20% about exercise and 80% about what you eat.We talk a lot here about what to eat. Today I’d like to share four reasons why exercise alone isn’t making as big a difference in your weight loss journey as you wish it would.

The human body is an efficient machine. You would think that people living a hunter/gatherer lifestyle would burn 1000s of more calories a day than those of us who sit in front of a computer all day. But it turns out that’s not the case. When you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. Paleo-humans didn’t have access to 10,000 calories a day. The plants they were eating where tough and fibrous and high calorie foods were rare. Humans would not have survived if searching for food (exercise) burned more calories than they could find.

I explain all of that to say this – unless you are a professional or Olympic level athlete changing up your workout on an almost daily basis and pushing body to the point of exhaustion, your workout isn’t burning 1000s of calories. Even if the cardio machine says differently.

Working out makes you hungry. Well yeah. That makes sense. When you burn calories, your body is going to want to refuel. However, if you over-refuel you’re not burning fat. Why would your body bother when there are ready calories being pumped into the digestion system? I experience this when I swim. Swimming is supposed to be one of the best exercises you can do. It’s not hard on your joints and it works the whole body at once. But after I swim, I am ravenous!

It doesn’t do any good to burn a bunch of calories if you refuel with the same amount or more. But you also can’t use willpower to force yourself to eat less than your body demands. Portion control is trying to tell 2.5 million years of evolution to eat less. It’s not going to work. You have to eat nutrient dense foods that aren’t high in calories.

The belief that you have to feed your muscles. We see it every day. Men and women walking out of the gym chugging their protein drink or noshing on a protein bar. The myth runs deep that that moment you stop working out you HAVE to intake protein or your body will eat its own muscle. But that’s not how it works. If our bodies digested our muscle first we would never have made it off the Paleo-grasslands because we wouldn’t have had the strength to search for food. Yes, you need to feed your body. That is true. But not with calorie dense, fake processed food.

Someone asked me just today if we eat before we workout. No, we don’t. And on fasting days we don’t eat until eight-ish hours after we workout. On non-fasting days we eat our oatmeal with fruit and seeds right after our daily Facebook like (if you aren’t watching those you totally should. Like our page here: RnR Journey to Healthand make sure to change notifications to all so Facebook will tell you when we are live at 9:15am Eastern).

Again, you need to eat nutrient dense foods. Not loads of processed protein.

The “I deserve…” monster. This might be the biggest enemy of working out. The belief that spending time in the gym or running or riding your bike or taking x-number of steps give you the right to eat whatever you want. That’s not how it works. If you are caught in the mindset that you can “reward” yourself with something unhealthy because you worked out, or on the flipside that you can eat/drink empty calories and just spend an extra fifteen minutes on the treadmill to make up for it, your weight is likely not heading in the direction you want it to.

What to do next. You can’t outwork a bad diet. That is particularly true if you are no longer in your twenties. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t workout at all. Like I said at the top, exercise is an important part of your health. Drop us an email at Health@RnRJourney.com to schedule a chat with Russ to create your custom workout plan.

Bonus for members of the Whole Food Muscle Club: sign in and check out the example beginner workouts Russ created.

Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.