Can Pilates Help You Lose Weight?

Can Pilates Help You Lose Weight?

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Many ‘fitness gurus’ claim that Pilates, Yoga and other low impact forms of exercise are not good for weight loss because they do not burn enough calories.

These so called fitness guru’s obviously do not follow the science.

Current research has concluded that the average person can only burn about 10-30% of calorie intake during exercise.

However, researchers have found that exercise sets off a cascade of compensatory mechanisms to offset that calorie burn.  Including: 

  • Reduction in NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
  •  Increase in appetite
  • Reduction how many calories the body burns the rest of the day
  • Lower body temperature
  • Reduced heart rate

In fact, most people have a calorie budget needed each day to maintain their weight, this calorie budget according to researchers does not change very much whether you workout or not.

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A researcher from Hunter College in New York named Herman Pontzer went to study a very active hunter-gatherer population of people in Tanzania. He expected to find that their highly active lifestyle would result in a higher overall calorie burn than office workers in an industrialized nation.

He used a technique to measure the amount of carbon dioxide expelled as energy is burned, the method is called doubly labeled water.  Researchers controlled for body size and other factors when comparing the results with the average American or European individual. What he found was shocking, the physically active, lean Hadza did not burn any more calories than a typical American or European.

Pontzer hypothesized that the Hadza may have been expending more energy throughout the day during activity but their bodies were compensating in other ways.  Bringing the overall calorie expenditure down to the same as it would be without the high level of activity.  


Researchers have been finding that the body is very good at compensating for energy expenditure during exercise.

Exercise is good for overall health, it is wonderful for cardiovascular health, reduction in type II diabetes, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides among many others..  However, it is NOT good for weight loss. 

In Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise a review of studies looking at exercise and weight loss concluded: “ weight loss was less than expected, and that "the amount of exercise energy expenditure had no correlation with weight loss in these longer studies."

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Another study in the International Journal of Sports medicine. 

looking at individuals training for marathons and another looking at identical twins  The individuals in these studies did not lose near the amount of weight in relation to the addition of exercise. The math didn’t add up...burning X amount of calories during exercise

3500 calories per pound = weight loss at the end of the study 

Weight loss was far less than calculated.

One 2009 study shows that people seemed to increase their food intake after exercise — either because they thought they burned off a lot of calories or because they were hungrier. Another review of studies from 2012 found people generally overestimated how much energy exercise burned and ate more when they worked out.


In some studies they found that people simply slow down after a workout, using less energy on their non-gym activities. They might decide to lie down for a rest, fidget less because they're tired, they may take a nap, go to bed earlier, or take the elevator instead of the stairs.

These changes are usually called "compensatory behaviors," and they simply refer to adjustments we may unconsciously make after working out to offset the calories burned.


Researchers have found a mechanism called metabolic compensation

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 Obesity in May 2016, Kevin Hall's group again looked at 14 of the Biggest Loser reality show participants. They took a number of measurements — bodyweight, fat, metabolism, hormones — at the end of the 30-week competition in 2009, and again six years later, in 2015.

Though all the contestants lost dozens of pounds through extreme diets and hours of exercise at the end of the show, by the six-year mark their waistlines had largely rebounded. But the most remarkable finding was that the participants' metabolisms had vastly slowed down through the study period. They were essentially burning about 500 fewer calories (about a meal's worth) each day than would be expected given their weight.


There is an upper limit of calorie expenditure through exercise

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In the study in Current Biology, he and his colleagues found evidence of an upper limit.

They cast a wide geographic net,

recruiting 332 adults from Ghana, South Africa, Seychelles, Jamaica, and the United States. Tracking the study participants for eight days, they gathered data on physical activity and energy burned using accelerometers. They classified people into three types: the sedentary folks, the moderately active (who exercised two or three times per week), and the super active (who exercised about every day). Importantly, these were people who were already doing a certain amount of activity, not people who were randomized to working out at various levels.

Here, physical activity accounted for only 7 to 9 percent of the variation in calories burned among the groups. Moderately active people burned more energy than people who were sedentary (about 200 calories more each day), but above that, the energy used up seemed to hit a wall.

"After adjusting for body size and composition," the researchers concluded in the study, "total energy expenditure was positively correlated with physical activity, but the relationship was markedly stronger over the lower range of physical activity."

In other words, after a certain amount of exercise, you don't keep burning calories at the same rate: Total energy expenditure may eventually plateau.


How does this relate to Pilates?

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  1. Despite what people “think” Pilates is, it is actually strength based exercise.  It can get your heart rate elevated but for the most part it is a strength based exercise that does not put an excessive amount of stress on the body.    This allows you to build strength without triggering excess cortisol response and water retention.  
  2. Pilates is not based on ‘cardio’ and therefore does not trigger as powerful compensatory mechanisms and allows you to lose weight.
  3. It utilizes mind-body connection which helps reduce stress and stress induced eating.

#1 Key to weight loss is Diet

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If your diet is not on point you won't lose weight no matter what form of exercise you do!

Fitness is 80% Diet and 20% Exercise!

Pilates is an EXCELLENT whole body practice that strengthens and lengthens muscles while incorporating breath work and a mind body connection.

In closing, weight loss is not just as simple as taking a Pilates class, Spin Class or any other fitness program.

YES Pilates can be a part of your weight loss strategy!  Weight loss is NOT just about the calorie burn your app or watch says you burned!

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