Can You Out-Exercise a Bad Diet?

My high school cross country team had a funny saying.

One of the girl’s moms made AMAZING chocolate chip cookies. Like, unreal. I’ve never tasted anything like them since.

When this teammate brought the cookies to our races, we’d all practically foam at the mouth.

So our team’s saying used to go, “The faster you run, the faster you’re done…and get cookies!”

Having this treat after a race was pure bliss. And it was a bonding moment for our team, bringing some fun to what most of us considered a really stressful event.

This treat was harmless.

But what if I told you a had a cookie nowadays after every single workout. Better yet, what if I had a hamburger, fries, and a cookie after every single workout?

Still harmless?

Nutrition may be extremely important, but it sure isn’t simple. That’s why this question is asked so frequently: can you out-exercise a bad diet?

What makes this post different is that I’m going to lay it all out for you – and you’re going to decide the answer! (Because the answer will be pretty clear by the end).

Can You Out-Exercise the Calories?

When most people ask about how to out-exercise a bad diet, they’re talking about weight.

For example, Suzie needs to eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain her weight. But today, Suzie decides to eat an extra really big, delicious chocolate chip cookie that’s 300 calories, pushing her total calorie intake to 2,300. If Suzie eats the cookie but wants to maintain her weight, she needs to burn off those extra calories. She decides to go on a 30 minute run, where she’ll burn approximately 300 calories (according to her height, weight, and fitness level).

I’d first like to point out that exercising as punishment for eating certain foods can lead to some harmful behaviors. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line. It’s an easy path to feelings of guilt and shame.

But if Suzie wants to maintain her weight, or even wants to lose weight, it is possible to do it that way, right?

While there are a lot of factors involved in losing weight, that’s the basic principle. To lose weight, calories spent must be greater than calories taken in.

Calories Spent > Calories Consumed = Weight Loss

So going back to our main question, what if you eat a lot of junk food? If your diet mainly consists of taco bell, frozen pizzas, and cherry coke, are you able to out-exercise all of that?

Every Time of Day Will be Gym Time

One of my favorite YouTubers, Keltie O’Connor, recently made a YouTube video on this very topic.

She ate out for a whole day, indulging in all the tasty eats, and worked out a ton to try to burn it all off in the same day.

The results?

She was successful! She exercised like 7 times in one day and was able to burn off all the calories of junk food she ate (which was like 3,500 calories or something).

The moral of her story was that yes, it IS possible to out-exercise a bad diet and prevent weight gain. But it was gonna take up pretty much all of your time!

She also said she definitely didn’t feel her best from eating that way. One of the consequences was some decent bloating the next day from the sodium-laden processed foods.

Okay, so as far as weight goes, you can out exercise a bad diet if you have lots of free time and strong ambition to do so. But for the average person, you simply won’t have enough time or energy to do it every day.

The Health Factor

What most people don’t consider are the other ways that junk food affects your health.

We’re moving on from weight gain here.


I had a patient in cardiac rehab who was a young and fit guy. He had several young children, worked out regularly, and had the muscles to show for it.

He’d also had a heart attack.

With no history of smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or family history – and with living an active lifestyle – why in the world did this guy have a heart attack?

You guessed it. It was what he was eating.

He thought that because he exercised a lot, he could eat whatever he wanted.

But sugar, trans fats, low fiber, low vitamins and minerals – all of these can contribute to loads of health problems.

While you may be able to work off the aesthetic effects of that meat lovers pizza, you may not be able to work off the internal effects.

In his article, “Eggs Don’t Cause Heart Attacks – Sugar Does,” world-renowned Dr. Mark Hyman makes the comment, “As it turns out, sugar calories are deadly calories. Sugar causes heart attacks, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia, and is the leading cause of liver failure in America.”

Weight gain is just one piece of the health puzzle. We pay more attention to it because it’s visible.

But when you eat unhealthy foods, your body still has to take them in and process them. And that can have detrimental effects on your health.

It all has to do with how frequently you eat these junk food items and how much of them you have. For example, when you have too much sugar at once, your body can’t process all of it effectively. It’s like when you drink too much alcohol and get intoxicated. Just like how liver cirrhosis can develop over time, health scares like heart attacks and strokes can happen over time as plaque builds up in your arteries. And they do happen.

So have you drawn your conclusion?

If you eat junk food all day, can you exercise enough to undo the damage done by those greasy fries and pizza? Do you see how this question doesn’t even make sense now?

It’s so much more than just weight gain from eating unhealthy.

It’s up to us to fight back against what society has said it’s okay to eat. While it may feel unfair, considering that we’re shown ads of delicious foods day in and day out, a mindset shift needs to be made.

Junk food should be a treat, to be enjoyed on a rare occasion. Whole, natural, unprocessed food needs to become the norm.

If this is a scary post to read, I’m right there with ya! This information is scary. And as I’m becoming an adult, it’s scary to think that adults have let our society’s food norms get so out of control.

What’s next?

Keep learning! Implement a plan to get your eating back on track. DON’T just try to out-exercise a bad diet.

Figure out what balance really is. It doesn’t mean eating junk food every other meal. It means mostly eating the whole, unprocessed stuff and every once in a while throwing in a treat. I can’t tell you exactly how often. Some people will be able to eat out only once a week, while others may only be able to make it a few days.

But start making healthy swaps for your junk food, and you’ll find you miss it less and less.

RELATED: Reducing Sugar? Here’s How to Easily Modify a Day of Eating

Can you out exercise a bad diet?