Diet and exercise. DIET AND EXERCISE. It’s something drilled into you from a very young age, and it’s the mantra you will hear repeatedly after bariatric surgery. Of course, while we understand that bariatric surgery is a fantastic tool, ultimately, it is up to us to maximize our results and improve our lives by eating well, moving, and stressing our muscles. The combination of proper diet and exercise is a lifestyle change. This lifestyle change is more than just a fleeting whim, it is the new normal for our patients going forward, and it is what gets them to maintain the fantastic results they may have achieved in the months and years so far after bariatric surgery.
But is diet and exercise like love and marriage? Can you have one without the other? Today we will discuss whether you can lose significant weight through diet alone, without exercising.
Before we get deeper into this, the reality is that a lack of exercise the years before your surgery was likely one of the critical reasons for gaining weight. It’s also important to remember that while restrictive diets avoid calories, exercise burns calories. Many athletes consume thousands more calories than expected but never gain weight because their exercise regimens burn them right off. Michael Phelps famously told the world that he ate 12,000 calories daily to maintain the muscle mass needed to be an elite, Olympic-level swimmer.
Of course, we aren’t all high-caliber athletes and can’t be expected to burn thousands of calories daily. Instead, we can avoid caloric intake in the first place to keep our weight in check. So, to answer the question in short, yes, it is possible to lose a significant amount of weight, even all your excess pounds, through diet alone. By the way, while the opposite may also be true, it’s far harder – avoiding caloric intake is far easier than burning those calories off later.
There is a problem, however. As we lose weight, we require fewer and fewer calories to lose more or maintain that new lower weight. At a certain point, we reach a calorie restriction that does not give our bodies sufficient nutrition to function at full capacity. As such, the body begins to find other energy sources, including muscle mass. This is why we hear so much about muscle mass loss in patients taking semaglutides like Wegovy and Ozempic to lose weight. Their hunger is suppressed, they eat less, and they lose weight, but some of that weight is muscle mass and skeletal tissue.
What’s So Bad About Losing Some Muscle Mass?
Muscle is critical to keeping our bodies aligned and our joints in good shape. If we do not have appropriate musculature or our connective tissue is misaligned, we typically end up in pain. As you lose weight without exercising, this can become a reality. For many, osteoarthritis, or joint degradation due to excess weight, was a significant problem before surgery. Weak, brittle bones caused by osteoporosis and its precursor, osteopenia, can be a considerable problem later in life if proper muscle mass is not maintained. This is particularly concerning for post-menopausal women. By the way, osteoarthritis could also occur in patients at a relatively average weight if their musculature does not support their bones.
Building Solid Musculature Also Provides Two Distinct Benefits
First, good musculature can create a shapelier body. This is true for bariatric patients and those who haven’t had surgery. Muscle also does wonders for excess or hanging skin. By growing muscle tissue, the excess skin becomes less noticeable. Your body will also take on a more athletic shape.
Second, building muscle is an investment in your future. Muscle burns calories, and the more muscle you have, the more you will burn at rest. As such, this takes some of the pressure off your diet later. This is not to say that muscular or strong people should eat anything and everything without worrying about the consequences. But, they can indulge more than those who have not been successful in building muscle.
So there you have it; while it is technically possible to lose weight with diet alone, it’s not advisable. Ignoring your exercise routine will not lead to good outcomes. Remember, though, that not all exercise has to be performed at the gym. Yardwork and housework also help build muscle and burn calories. Take opportunities outside to walk (while staying well-hydrated) Ultimately, you will be the best judge of whether you’re doing enough exercise, reflected in your progress after surgery.
We always encourage you to speak to us about any questions regarding nutrition and exercise and how to stay on an excellent track to improve your health.