Doing Pilates: will it help me lose weight?

I have been asked this many times over the years.  Finally I will attempt an answer to the question rather than side step it.

So, does it?

In my opinion, probably not.   This is not 100% fact but there is no evidence base to prove or even suggest that Pilates will promote weight loss.

There is no firm evidence that any particular kind of exercise will help weight loss.  The current evidence base is that diet based intervention is what really shifts weight.   I am not going to get involved in the science and evidence regarding what type of dieting is best for weight loss.  However I would like to highlight the latest trend: fasting for weight loss, which is extremely interesting.  Fasting has great potential to help people if done safely and properly and needs little financial intervention which makes it very democratic.

One of the famous proponents of fasting is Dr Michael Mosley and here is a really interesting read regarding the assumptions made about fasting.  For example, the myth that breakfast is somehow essential for health and wellbeing.

Why have exercise as part of a weight loss regime?

The evidence is that it may help to preserve muscle mass.    After all, you don’t want to lose muscle, you want to lose fat.    Regular exercise will also reduce your risk factors for diseases such as Heart Attack and Stroke.   With exercise in your mix of good habits, regardless of the success of weight loss there would still be benefits of the combo regime.

Why chose Pilates?

It actively encourages muscle mass development.  This is always important but around the age of 40 muscle mass will reduce by virtue of ageing alone, if we don’t actively set out to sustain it.   Pilates will assist with the maintenance and development of bone density.  In particular with load bearing exercises for the upper body, for example, being on All Fours, which loads the shoulders.

Pilates isn’t a cardio type exercise though.

No, it isn’t….However, simply making your muscles work during a Pilates class is a pulse raising activity.  It  is weight bearing even though it isn’t pounding the floor.  Crucially, you are weight bearing your upper body and spine as well as your hips, pelvis and legs.  Consider how much warmer you are after a class compared to before and positively red in the face after a couple of side planks or single leg stretch.

What about Pilates to prevent Weight Gain?

This is where exercise can be more influential but even here the evidence isn’t clear.  It is easier to maintain weight than to lose weight and so you are already on an easier regime.   It seems that exercise can help with that but, crucially, only provided you make the necessary dietary changes to prevent you returning to your old eating habits.  Again, diet is key

Placebo Effect

Don’t knock it.   If you believe that your Pilates class is going to benefit your health, and/or your weight loss regime then it will.

Pilates must help to make you thinner because everyone that does Pilates is slim

Correlation is not causation.

You may have come across this phrase in relation to some of the Covid 19 data analysis and it definitely applies in this context

Just because everyone who does Pilates is slim, doesn’t mean that doing Pilates makes you slim.   If only.  However, there is an apparent correlation

What is more likely?  I’ll stick my neck out here (because I don’t actually know for certain).  What is more probable is that fat people are put off from doing Pilates because they perceive it to be a thing that thin people do.    I have never investigated this but I worry that fat people feel unwelcome in Pilates, that they won’t be able to do the exercises or will simply feel out of place or that it simply isn’t for them

It is even more marked when you look at instructors isn’t it?   Is Pilates making us all slim, or, is there social pressure on us to look thin and fabulous?   I am normal body weight and so I don’t particularly worry about it,  but I’m very aware of my less glamorous bits.  Now you might say that everyone does that sometimes.  Perhaps we all focus on what we think are negative attributes, but I worry that I might be judged to be a less legitimate Pilates Instructor as a result.  Or not the real deal.   It is sad to say, but young, pretty, thin Pilates Instructors might be the most popular ones.

I discovered recently,  that training as a Pilates instructor is a career option for models who have a good social media following and who then use their body and their looks as a basis of their marketing.   How depressing is that?

Images to represent this blog post

You have no idea how much I struggled to get an image for this post.

Well maybe you wouldn’t be surprised.    Fat people are seriously under-represented in the fitness industry.    People who are overweight or obese are over 60% of the UK population but try finding pictures of them doing exercise, let alone Pilates?

If you pay quite a lot of money you can buy specialist images of models doing exercises and whilst I don’t mind paying, they are pretty much always of Yoga which is not what I am looking for

I tried all sorts of search criteria for an image to represent diet vs exercise and, well, if I see another picture of an apple and a tape measure I will scream

I’ll finish with this though.  This is Anula Maiberg – not thin. Very good at Pilates, and in fact she is an internationally renowned Teacher.  Marvellously glamourous which in my book is a big plus

lady with glamorous clothing doing pilates

International Pilates instructor Anula Maiberg doing Pilates

6 thoughts on “Doing Pilates: will it help me lose weight?

  1. I think because pilates tones your muscles and gives you better posture, that you look slimmer for doing it, plus it is exercise so is going to burn more calories than not doing it. Also because you have stronger muscles they also burn more calories just normally working, so it would probably help you lose weight alongside a diet.

    • I’m glad you mentioned that thing about burning more calories if you have more muscle mass Chris. I put that in the article and then removed it. That should keep us warmer as well: burning more calories so a tiny bit more heat is generated.

  2. Excellent well-balanced article as usual. Thanks, Alison.

    Not sure about some of the messages in the Fast800 link as this is not Michael Moseley’s site. For example, I think some of his more recent findings on his tv programmes show different types of diets suit different people so the blanket statement that more small meals is worse than two large ones is not true for everyone. Michael says the diet needs to be tailored to the individual.

    • Christine, I think I need to check my sources a bit more closely. I will check that myself. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I did look at the website and it was monetised: diet books etc, but I thought it was his own.

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