Can I Eat Anything I Want with Exercise? A Closer Look at the Calories In vs. Calories Out Equation

Many people falsely believe that because they exercise that they can eat anything that they want and they will meet their weight loss goals or will be able to maintain their weight.  This is simply not the case because it is very easy to “undo” the hard work that you put in at the gym with a poor food choice or two.  Nutrition and exercise go hand and hand for overall health and weight management. 

The following is a list of a few high-calorie foods and how much exercise it would take for a 150 pound person to burn off the calories.

Food Calories Consumed Exercise required to burn calories
Glazed Donut from Dunkin Donuts 260 Run (or walk) 2 ½ Miles
Grande (16 oz) Caffé Mocha w/ whipped cream from Starbucks 330 1 ½ hours of weight lifting (moderate intensity)
Bagel w/ Cream Cheese from average deli 500 1 hour of swimming laps (moderate intensity)
Medium French Fries from Wendy’s 428 45 minutes on elliptical (moderate intensity)
1 Cup Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream 460 1 hour of doubles tennis
Blueberry Muffin (Average Coffee Shop Size) 430 45 Minutes of biking 12-14 mph (moderate intensity)
20 oz Bottle of Soda 240 50 Minutes of Water Aerobics

The amount of calories burned does vary based on body weight.  For example, if someone weighs more than 150 pounds, they will burn more calories when they complete the same exercise.  If someone weighs less, their calorie burn with exercise will be lower.

In my opinion, there are two healthy ways to view this information, you can think:

1. “I didn’t just work that hard to eat something so small that lasts only for 1 minute.  It’s just not worth it.”


2. “If I eat this donut and I know I have to walk 2 ½ miles to burn it off, is it still worth it?”

I know based on this information, some people may be tempted to say that exercise isn’t worth it if you only burn such a small amount of calories.  However, it is important to note that 90% of people who are able to maintain a weight loss do it through a combination of both diet and exercise. So, if you want to be successful at weight management, the odds are that you will need to watch what you eat and exercise.  A popular saying states that diet is 80% of the weight management equation and exercise is 20%.  Based on the above numbers, that actually may be true.  However, no matter which way you look at it, they are both essential for good health and weight management.