The First 20 Minutes on Weight Loss

In my first summary of The First 20 Minutes, I deliberately left out the section on weight loss because I felt it deserved its own set of notes. There were also a few misconceived notions and myths that had to be busted.

  1. The body does not continue to burn calories after a workout.
  2. Working out at a lower intensity does not burn more fat.
  3. Exercise is useless for weight loss.

Weight loss is plain and simple – it is about achieving a caloric deficit. In other words, eat less calories than you expend. It doesn’t matter how you create the deficit – you can exercise more or eat less or do both – what matters is that your net result is a caloric deficit. Unfortunately, theory and practice rarely go hand in hand. What is simple in theory is extremely challenging in practice – just ask anyone who has ever tried to lose weight.

Now, why is that?


The body likes things to stay the same – including our body mass. The caloric deficit we are trying so hard to achieve is perceived by our body as a threat to homeostasis – it could be a sign of famine which requires our body to do everything possible to conserve energy for the long haul. So when we start to exercise, the body tries to recover the energy lost during the exercise by:

  1. Decreasing our activity during the rest of the day. After a hard workout, we usually move less during the day than we would ordinarily without the workout. This is the body’s way of compensating for the energy we lost during the workout. Maybe we notice it, maybe we don’t, but it affects the net caloric deficit that we seek to help us lose weight.
  2. Increasing food consumption – exercise drives the desire to eat. After a hard workout, we’re more likely to allow ourselves that extra biscuit for a snack or an extra teaspoon of sugar. After all, we’ve worked out so hard, we deserve it. Except that the energy expended during the workout is probably equivalent to a cookie. That’s not much at all when you consider this (how many kilometers you need to run to burn off each food item shown):
Source: 9gag

The “Afterburn”

The afterburn (also known as EPOC – Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) refers to the excess energy that your body continues to burn after a workout. It is said that the afterburn effect can even continue for up to 14 hours after a workout. Unfortunately, the afterburn is not a given after every workout – there are specific workout conditions that must be generated in order to achieve the afterburn. We’re talking strenuous exercise – the kind that burns 800 calories in 60 minutes, or 75% of endurance capacity. That’s a pretty uncomfortable workout, although it is something most people can achieve with a bit of dedication.

In a study, the energy expenditure of 10 healthy males was examined under two conditions:

  1. Participants were mostly inactive but they stood and stretched for two minutes every hour.
  2. Participants followed the same routine but then cycled vigorously for 45 minutes.

After the vigorous exercise, participants burned 190 additional calories while at rest throughout the day. Vigorous exercise was defined as a 73% max heart rate.

– Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise

See also: The Truth about the Afterburn Effect – Fitness Under Oath

The key to the afterburn is intensity. If your workout isn’t intense enough (at a level where you find it difficult to talk), you won’t get the afterburn. Unfortunately, the downside of such an intense workout is that it usually leaves you hungrier than ever – and we all know how easy it is to replace all the calories we’ve just burnt and then some. It also means we’re usually too spent to move much for the rest of the day and may even require an afternoon nap we wouldn’t normally have.

The “Fat Burning Zone”

The general understanding that conceived the “fat burning zone” was this:

  • Low intensity workouts burn more calories from fat
  • High intensity workouts burn more calories from carbohydrates

Therefore, if we want to lose weight, we should work out at the lower intensity (a.k.a. the “fat burning zone”). Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that. Remember that the ultimate goal for weight loss is caloric deficit and you’ll definitely get there faster with a higher intensity workout.

If you dilly-dally your way through 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise, you’ll burn 60 calories from fat and 60 from carbs. On the flip side, if you crank out 10 minutes of high-intensity exercise, you’ll burn 80 calories from fat and 120 from carbs. While that’s a lower ratio of fat to carbs, it’s still more fat—and calories—burned, which is the bottom line when it comes to weight loss. – Fox News Health

Exercise Doesn’t Help Weight Loss

Yes. You read that right. Why not? As we mentioned earlier, our body compensates for it because it is trying to maintain homeostasis. The problem with exercise is that it makes you hungry – so hungry that you may even end up eating more than you burned.

Even though exercise helps us burn more calories, our body has tricky ways to get it back. Not only does it make us want to eat more and move less during the day, our bodies also adjust to the workout so we don’t have to burn as many calories as we did when we first started working out. You may be familiar with this one – it’s called the “exercise plateau”. It occurs when your body learns how to perform the same moves by using less energy. The only way to break it is to start a new exercise regime.

See also: Exercise – the News You Don’t Want to Hear

Exercise Helps Weight Maintenance

Does that mean we should skip the exercise altogether? Not quite. Exercise might not help with the weight loss, but it certainly does help us keep the weight off. It helps us slow down the age-related battle of the bulge and it can help keep the weight off once we’ve lost it. However, in order to achieve that, we need a workout regime that incorporates an hour a day of moderate exercise – that’s still no mean feat.

The Bottom Line

  • Track everything – food diaries to make sure you’re not filling up on extra calories and a pedometer to make sure you’re still moving enough after your workout. Don’t estimate because we have a tendency to underestimate how much we eat and overestimate how much we move.
  • Forget the fat-burning zone – work out to burn calories and stop worrying about whether they’re from your fat or carbohydrate stores.
  • Throw in the high-intensity workout now and then – it’s good for the afterburn and increasing more calories burned overall.
  • Workout first thing in the morning before breakfast – you’ll burn more fat.
  • Have some protein for breakfast – like a couple of eggs. This helps to reduce the number of calories consumed during the day compared to a high-carb breakfast.
  • Stand whenever you can – this is the only way to increase energy expenditure without your body attempting to recover it. You can burn 30 more calories standing than you do sitting. While this might not sound like much, it equates to 240 calories extra in an 8 hour day – that’s the equivalent of a workout!

Simply by standing and walking for five minutes in every 30 of an eight-hour working day – an hour and 20 minutes a day – Dr Biddle say an average adult could burn over 2,500 calories over one month. That’s a third of a stone. – Daily Mail

Finally, let me leave you with the advice from the HuffPost Healthy Living:

One: Revamp your diet, concentrating on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates — particularly sugar, soft drinks and starches like potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, cereals and crackers — drive levels of insulin, your “fat storage” hormone, through the roof, which makes it brutally hard to lose body fat. Eat more protein and fat, get your carbs from vegetables and fruits, and eat less of everything.

Two: Exercise regularly, but exercise smart. Increase the intensity and shorten the time. Circuit and interval training are the modalities that have trainers and exercise physiologists the most excited these days when it comes to both health benefits and fat burning. Pay attention — they’re right!

Three: Recognize that fitness and six-pack abs aren’t the same thing. Exercise for fitness and for health, and to maintain your gains. But don’t expect your morning walk to transform your body, especially if you don’t take serious aim at your diet.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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