May 26, 2015

"A growing body of scientific evidence shows that exercise alone has almost no effect on weight loss..."

"... [R]esearchers who reviewed surveys of millions of American adults found that physical activity increased between 2001 and 2009, particularly in counties in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. But the rise in exercise was matched by an increase in obesity in almost every county studied. There were even more striking results in a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that people who simply dieted experienced greater weight loss than those who combined diet and exercise. How can this be explained?"

Asks a WaPo article titled "Take off that Fitbit. Exercise alone won’t make you lose weight.The obesity problem has little to do with our sedentary lifestyles."

Do you think it's hard to explain? I think the more interesting question is: Why are we so easily drawn into the theory that exercise is the answer? To my question, I would say: 1. Exercise seems virtuous and we like to call others to virtue, 2. Exercise (unlike not eating so much) can be seen by others and admired and encouraged (you look like you're doing something), 3. We love to eat, the primal urge is so basic and ever-present, and we don't want to give that up, 4. We want to believe we accumulate virtue points for the exercise we do and feel entitled to spend those points on what we really love, eating.

Of course, #4 is the answer to the article's "How can this be explained?"

92 comments:

Balfegor said...

There were even more striking results in a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that people who simply dieted experienced greater weight loss than those who combined diet and exercise.

100% consistent with my experience.

Original Mike said...

"Why are we so easily drawn into the theory that exercise is the answer? "

I don't believe it. Haven't for years. I have successfully maintained my proper weight over the years by the only strategy that works; On average, I don't eat very much. Whenever I stray from this strategy, whether I'm exercising or not, I gain weight. Then the only way to lose it is to double down on not eating.

Also important is weighing myself everyday, so that I'm under no illusions.

Exercise may be good for you, but it doesn't affect your weight. At least, it doesn't for me.

Severin said...

The virtual points theory is interesting but wrong. The problem is expending energy makes the body crave more energy. Running makes you hungry. The body likes stasis.

Gary Taub's book, "why we get fat" is really good on this point.

Tim Gilliland said...

Virtue points.

I lift* at a Y among people I don't know. A lot of people do. How do they acquire merit from that? Strong people live longer than weak people and as I have aged I noticed more problems with handling things like sacks of feed. One thing that really shook me a few years ago was standing in line behind a guy at the convenience store. He was obese, had a walker to help support himself and could barely walk. He announced proudly to the cashier while buying his beer and cigarettes, that he had a right to take it easy now he had reached the age of fifty two! ...about two years younger than me...

We often choose the method of our own demise; whether food, alcohol, snow skiing, whatever. I am not thin. I do plan on them having to shove me down in that box with a broom pole or something cause I'm not climbing in willingly.

* Glen Renyolds turned me on to Mark Rippetoe. You should try it.

tim maguire said...

First, they conflate obesity with weight. Exercise may not help you lose weight (my personal experience says it does), but who cares? It helps you lose fat, which is more important.

Second, exercising creates a desire to eat healthy, which makes it easier to diet, which makes it easier to shed fat (again, more important than losing weight, which you will also do).

Third, exercising helps you feel better about yourself as your body finds it easier to complete the task of dragging you through the day. You enjoy your life more.

O2bnaz said...

Wow, Talk about wanting to believe everything thing you read. Try a little reasoned thinking here. This is all from the "it's not your fault crew". If individual responsibility can't possibly help, then government must step in and regulate what we eat...you know, the national interest and all. The next phase will be; any one who challenges the "consensus" will be othered and called an exercise denier. Typical Pravda, excuse me, Guardian reporting.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Mark Rippetoe has his uses but the average person is better off circuit training at the local Planet Fitness or something.

MadisonMan said...

One summer, I biked to work the long way -- down the Cap City Trail -- rather than the easy 5-minute ride that I do now. I lost 15 pounds that summer. It all came back.

Last Fall I stopped eating a lot. I lost 15 pounds. It's slowly coming back.

BDNYC said...

True, people have more control over the "calories in" side of the equation. The metabolism, on the other hand, is something that can be improved with hard work through exercise and dieting, but exercise alone is not enough for most people, particularly since exercise can make hunger spike and, as you say, lead people to feel as though they have "earned" delicious, calorie-dense foods.

There is no doubt in my mind that exercise, done right, is fantastic for a person's overall health, including weight management. Studies have shown that adding muscle improves a person's metabolic resting rate, resulting in more "calories out" at all times, even when sleeping. And everyone knows about the heart benefits and so on.

I have a fairly high metabolism as it is, but I still exercise because it's fun, it boosts my mood and I like having a little extra muscle. I feel it does give a high metabolism person like me some leeway in diet as well. If I didn't exercise, I might actually have to count calories, but I barely think about it. This isn't true for most people who exercise, of course, for the reasons I mentioned above.

Michael K said...

Also, the government food pyramid is so flawed that it alone probably led to the obesity epidemic because of excess reliance on carbohydrates. Nobody can admit that.

Steve Uhr said...

Agree with Tim. Most weight lifters want to gain weight. This needs to be factored in the analysis

kcom said...

I pretty much weigh the same whether I exercise or not. Not sure why. I don't feel like I eat differently in either case but have never tracked it. I have always been many pounds "underweight" for my height, though less so now than when I was younger. When I do exercise it's not the goal but a side benefit. I go on really long bike rides because it's fun, and the exercise just comes along for the ride.

Ann Althouse said...

"* Glen Renyolds turned me on to Mark Rippetoe. You should try it."

Yes, I saw that picture Glenn put up of the 2 of them. Rippletoe looks significantly overweight to me.

It's fine to want to be strong and to see value in exercise. It's just not an effective way to control your weight.

Michael said...

You can eat more calories in three minutes than you can burn in an hour running. I control my weight by watching what I eat. I exercise purely to maintain overall fitness.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

People assume ceterus parabus conditions when in fact they eat more because of exercise and the body adjusts itself after a routine change from more stasis to more activety.

Henry said...

In the case of people who exercise, is it meaningful to use weight as a metric for health?

As for the article, consuming a dogs breakfast of half-digested factoids and raw policy assertions can't be healthy for the brain.

Ann Althouse said...

"In the case of people who exercise, is it meaningful to use weight as a metric for health?"

That's the "fat and fit" thesis.

Note that you assumed that "health" is the core value. Not everyone does. Many people care about how they look. Including guys who life weights!

Ann Althouse said...

What if you were able to pick your weight and magically become that weight, but the deal would be that your health would remain exactly the same? Would you say what's the point, if my health would remain the same?!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

That's the "fat and fit" thesis.

I think that's more the BMI is crap thesis.

If you replace fat with the same weight in muscle you will be healthier, thinner ( since muscle is denser ), and better proportioned.

You will not have lost any weight.

Ann Althouse said...

lift weights...

exhelodrvr1 said...

I think a bigger issue is people who start exercising less for some reason, but don't adjust their diet to compensate.

HT said...

Severin said...

The virtual points theory is interesting but wrong. The problem is expending energy makes the body crave more energy. Running makes you hungry. The body likes stasis.

Gary Taub's book, "why we get fat" is really good on this point.

5/26/15, 6:12 AM

_______

Not all bodies like stasis. Why We Get Fat was Taubes's answer to those who didn't want to read Good Calories Bad Calories which I think is close to 700 pages In the latter book he says that the thinking "he's thin because he walks so much" is flawed. Rather it should be, "he walks so much because he's thin." In other words, that thin person has a surplus of ENERGY, and so he must expend it. It's a little more complicated than that, but that's a start.

Meade said...

I like to lift the heavy weight of a bite of steak on my fork.

Ann Althouse said...

"If you replace fat with the same weight in muscle you will be healthier, thinner ( since muscle is denser ), and better proportioned."

I agree with that, but many people are carrying around extra fat, beyond the point where they can solve the problem by turning it into muscle. The grasping at solutions other than eat less are pretty absurd.

Meade said...

I do reps of 12 with my right hand and then 12 with my left.

Tibore said...

"Note that you assumed that "health" is the core value. Not everyone does. Many people care about how they look. Including guys who life weights!"

Yeah, that's true. That said, I'd argue that Henry's post is more to the overarching medical mindset than anyone's notion of vanity. Putting aside looks for a minute, the health profession's stance is about preventing disease - such as Type II diabetes, heart ailments, etc. - than vanity. That growing body of evidence the article's author cites may point to weight loss as being an illusionary benefit, but the effects on cardiovascular health are not.

This isn't to say that the Professor here is wrong, though. She's in fact right: Most people do ignore health as a motivating factor for exercise, but appear to always be more than willing to cite appearance. Just the testimonials for exercise programs - or heck, all the damn Instagram selfies at the gym - are testament to that.

Meade said...

I'll eat less when I'm dead.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I agree with that, but many people are carrying around extra fat, beyond the point where they can solve the problem by turning it into muscle. The grasping at solutions other than eat less are pretty absurd.

Agreed. But if people who diet exercise are turning some of the fat into muscle then it is not surprising that they lose less weight than people who just diet.

stan said...

The vast majority of academic studies are flawed.

tim in vermont said...

The worst case in longevity is thin and not fit, the best case in terms of longevity is overweight, though not necessarily piano box overweight, and moderately fit. By moderately, I mean you don't get out of breath climbing a flight of stairs.

It's all in the book "The Obesity Paradox."

MayBee said...

You can't turn fat into muscle.

tim in vermont said...

Adults with a body mass index that qualifies them as overweight but not obese -- between 25 and 29.9 -- were the least likely to die of any group, with a 6 percent reduced risk of all-cause death, compared to normal-weight individuals with BMIs of between 18.5 to 24.9. About 30 percent of the U.S. adult population has a BMI of 25 to 29.9, reported the Wall Street Journal.

So be ready for fat guys in shorts to be dancing on your graves!

Meade said...

May I recommend The Meade Diet™: All you care to eat from the 5 Food Groups:

1. Blueberries, apples, and citrus
2. Eggs, bacon, and steak
3. Cheese and whole milk
4. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, and kale
5. Gin

Tank said...

@Meade

No pulled pork or ribs?

No pizza?

Lyssa said...

Yes, I saw that picture Glenn put up of the 2 of them. Rippletoe looks significantly overweight to me.

That was my first thought on seeing that picture, too - "Guy looks pretty paunchy for a supposed workout god." My second thought was that Prof. Reynolds looks in much better shape than he does.

Sloanasaurus said...

In my experience, weight gain or loss is simple math. You burn x calories per day based on your current weight and normal routine. If you eat that amount of calories, you wont gain or lose any weight. If you eat less calories, you will lose weight over time. Exercise just increases the amount of calories burned per day. Thus, as long as you don't eat any more than burned, you will lose weight with exercise. On average, a pound is 3000 calories. If you burn 1800 calories on average per day based on your normal life style and eat 1800 calories per day, a 500 calorie workout 6 days a week will cause you to lose on average about a pound a week. If you workout and cut 500 calories per day you can lose 2 pounds a week. This is why calorie counting apps such as myfitness pal, with a heart monitor can be very useful for losing weight (if you like data...). Programs like weight watchers are also simpler types of calorie counters. As people get older they burn less calories per day. Therefore, people get fat as they get older because they fail to also adjust their food intake.

The jury is still out as to whether sugar itself is bad. The problem with sugar is a person can get more calories per bite than with a slab of meat. One can eat a lot more calories of sugar/carbs before feeling fat than with a steak.

Of course exercise has lots of other benefits such as muscle building etc.. but weight gain and loss is simple math. Also the metabolism theory is false. It takes years and years to increase metabolism.

Meade said...

@Tank
Yes, but only on your birthday. Next day — back to a rigorous diet of blueberries, steak, and gin (etc.)

Roughcoat said...

When I don't exercise I gain weight. When I do exercise--jogging for an hour six days out of seven--I lose weight very rapidly. I'll lose a pound a day. I eat less, sure, but eating seems to have little to do with it; for me, exercise is key. I had a mild heart attack a couple years back and I do believe I need that intensive cardio exercise to stay healthy. In any case cardio fitness helps me with the work I do in very hot climates and regions. Weightlifting 'is useless for me in this regard. If I only lift weights I don't improve my cardio fitness, I don't lose weight, I don't feel better, and I don't look better either. I think Mark Rippetoe is overrated. And, yes, he looks fat.

Meade said...

MayBee said...
"You can't turn fat into muscle."

Not directly. But by restraining calorie intake you can use stored body fat to fuel muscle fiber hypertrophy.

MayBee said...

Yes, stored body fat is stored fuel for your body. Using it helps you diminish the size of the fat cells. If you are building muscle, some of that energy may be used to build your muscle. But that isn't turning fat into muscle.
I'm saying this because some people don't know it. They think you can literally turn fat to muscle, and I think it's important in a thread about the benefits of exercise to be clear.

Meade said...

@Roughcoat
Running (or walking) is also a form of weight training using the weight of your body and gravity as resistance.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

MayBee said...

You can't turn fat into muscle.

You are of course correct. I phrased that badly. I meant replace fat with muscle, and of course you aren't really replacing it, since the muscle is being added in different places from where the fat is lost.

Roughcoat said...

Meade:

Good point (re walking/running). Very true. I guess what I meant re weightlifting is "pumping iron" in a gym. Lately I've gotten into fast walking (instead of jogging) for the sake of my knees. I walk very fast for about an hour or more. I've found that I can elevate my heart rate plenty high without pounding the pavement. And I'm losing weight again, very fast. The heck with Mark Rippetoe.

Original Mike said...

"I do reps of 12 with my right hand and then 12 with my left."

I'm a fan of 12 ounce curls.

Henry said...

That's the "fat and fit" thesis.

Perhaps, but it's worth linking through to the actual studies linked in the article. From the first:

There was a low correlation between level of physical activity and obesity in US counties. From 2001 to 2009, controlling for changes in poverty, unemployment, number of doctors per 100,000 population, percent rural, and baseline levels of obesity, for every 1 percentage point increase in physical activity prevalence, obesity prevalence was 0.11 percentage points lower.

The statistical measure here is extremely crude. A better measure would define a cut-off for some level of meaningful exercise and then compare. Based on personal observation, the vast majority of people who exercise don't do a meaningful amount of it and that's going to swamp the data.

From the second study, which actually utilized a control group, we find that exercise is very beneficial:

...the score on the Physical Performance Test ... increased more in the diet-exercise group than in the diet group or the exercise group (increases from baseline of 21% vs. 12% and 15%, respectively); the scores in all three of those groups increased more than the scores in the control group (in which the score increased by 1%)

In other words, if you diet OR exercise you're far better off than if you do neither.

Body weight decreased by 10% in the diet group and by 9% in the diet-exercise group, but did not decrease in the exercise group or the control group (P<0.001).

Voila. The group who exercised without dieting did not lose weight, but improved their fitness performance. This is a hugely different outcome than the "no benefit" conclusion by the uncontrolled first study.

Meade said...

Fat cells don't "turn into" muscle fiber cells.
A few more fun facts:
1. the number of muscle fibers in your body is genetically determined and cannot be increased.
2. men and women have an equal number of muscle fibers but only below the waist.
3. like your height and hair color, etc., where you store fat is genetically determined; how much you store is up to you.
4. increasing the size of a muscle fiber requires adaptation to overloading the muscle through resistance ("resistance training") but maintaining the size of a muscle fiber requires only use (1 rep).

themightypuck said...

Obesity is a metabolic disease. Follow the hormones.

Henry said...

The grasping at solutions other than eat less are pretty absurd.

Eating less is hard work. Exercising in any kind of significant way is also hard work. I think most grasping at solutions involves "sort of" dieting compared to "sort of" exercising.

Meade said...

6. exercise is boring — the #1 reason people choose not to do it.

Roughcoat said...

Also I've found that interval training is a very effective means of improving fitness and losing weight. High intensity is best, but any sort of interval training is good, at least for me. I got interested in IT as a result of the research and writing I've done (and am currently doing) on the Mitannian horse trainer named Kikkuli, who trained/conditioned young horses for the Hittite chariotry arm in the 14th century B.C. Kikkuli wrote a detailed manual of his conditioning regimen and copies of it exist in the form of clay tablets. Kikkuli's program lasted about 200 days and employed the methods of interval training, e.g., cycles alternating short bursts of intensive exercise to elevate the heart rate with milder exercise to allow partial heart rate recovery. Fascinating (to me, at any rate)! I figured, if it worked for chariot horses in the Bronze Age it could work for me. So I read up on HIIT and suchlike and gave it try. Conclusion: It works!

Martha said...

I sustained a lumbosacral intervertebral disc tear jogging up and down a levee in the New Orleans area trying to rack up exercise steps on my new Fitbit two months ago. I have never suffered so much anguishing pain in my life. I also have never been so sedentary subsequent to the injury. However, I have been more successful than ever in continuing my weight loss regimen. Clearly restricting calories consumed is most important in weight loss—at least for me.

I gave my Fitbit to my more fit youngest son.

EMD said...

Third, exercising helps you feel better about yourself as your body finds it easier to complete the task of dragging you through the day. You enjoy your life more.

Not too mention the mental satisfaction that exercise provides.

Meade said...

R.I.C.E. : Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

MayBee said...

I think people choose not to exercise because they haven't found the right exercise. The body also seems to have a built in system where, if you aren't exercising regularly, it tells you to conserve your energy and not exercise. Getting started is hard, but once you start exercising, and find the right one for you, you start to crave it. It isn't boring, it is incredibly rewarding.

It is much easier to keep exercising than to start exercising.

Sloanasaurus said...

It seems like "inflammation" is the new area of study. People are abandoning "fat" as the bad food per se and now concentrating on foods that cause inflammation. Apparently some kinds of fat don't.

Of course everything that tastes good causes inflammation. I read an article about Tom Brady; he will only eat blueberries, and argues that all other fruits cause "inflammation."

dbp said...

For muscle growth I think it is not enough to have excess calories stored as fat, I think you need an excess of caloric intake. Pretty much all of last year I ran, restricted my calories and lifted weights. I went about 8 months without weight gain and also without being able to lift more weight either. Early this year due to the NE winter I got in far fewer miles. My weight shot up ten lbs and the amount I could lift also went up by 10 lbs.

I plan to let it ride as long as I am getting stronger. When I plateau again, I'll diet and get rid of the spare tire I am now sporting.

walter said...

"The jury is still out as to whether sugar itself is bad"

Really? What I see is folks keep coming around to the need to lowering sugar/most carbs.which yes, takes discipline. The Feds helping us by concocting the food pyramid has a role in the increase as well as anti-depressants, alcohol, "diet" substances and sleep issues.

But I think the excercise component may vary from person to person. For instance, I know I feel less hungry in the morning if I excercise before breakfast.

I agree with you Meade and #6..can be boring. I prefer a simple regimen I can get out of the way at home 1st thing without making it a trip to the gym. I feel more connected mind and body-wise when I do that before interacting with the oustide world.

dbp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I thought it was kind of brilliant that the beginning of Mad Men was about selling tobacco and the ending was about selling soda.

Well, maybe brilliant isn't the right word.

Let's go with nifty.

Gabriel said...

You can run up and down stairs all day, and you will have expended the caloric equivalent of a doughnut. Controlling what you eat has to come first. Unless you are running marathons daily.

Exercise is no doubt correlated with lower weight. Doesn't mean it's the cause of lower weight.

Freeman Hunt said...

It's too bad that cigarettes are unhealthy.

LYNNDH said...

If they just use the BMI to measure obesity they risk mistaking muscle mass for fat mass.
I exercise to feel better and to be more healthy. I do think that along with fewer carbs I do manage my weight better.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Gabriel said...

You can run up and down stairs all day, and you will have expended the caloric equivalent of a doughnut.

Running stairs burns ~889 calories/hour ( for a 140 pound person )
1 doughnut has ~ 260 calories ( Dunkin, glazed )

So that would be in the neighborhood of 20 minutes of running up stairs. Well under 40 minutes of running up and down stairs. And even less time if you weigh more than 140 lbs.

William said...

I used to be a compulsive jogger. I thought it helped with weight control. Just for one thing, you can't be eating while you're out jogging. Also, if you have two beers after a long run, you soon become drowsy, and the drowsiness helps to mask the urge to eat every donut in existence. Some vices are quite useful in our pursuit of perfection........Just recently I had two front teeth extracted. It was quite painful. But here's the bright side. I can only eat yogurt, oatmeal and gruel. Despite what Oliver Twist would have you believe, it's very hard to overindulge in gruel. Also, the pain killers are an excellent appetite suppressant. Amy Winehouse never had any trouble maintaining her ideal body weight. If, like me, you go for dental implants and bone grafts, this state is not so transient. It wll be 7-8 months before I can eat my next steak. By that time, I should be svelte and trim.......The program is not for everyone, but in some ways it's less radical and traumatic than stomach stapling. People eager to lose weight should think about having their incisors removed.

Jake said...

"the food industry has formed close ties with influential politicians and scientists who give it powerful avenues to quash policies and research that highlight the harms of sugar."

Why is it the NYTimes can recognize this in action on this issue, but not with respect to climate science.

Birches said...

As to the Rippetoe being fat. Yes, he has a lot of girth. But he can outlift anyone. Once you get to a certain point, you have to be big around the middle to deadlift enormous amounts of weight. Rippetoe is at that point. You see it in the Olympic lifters too--I wouldn't call any of them svelte. He kind of admits that in his book, I believe.

After having Baby #4, I tried to weightlift, because I didn't have enough time to run. I lost a little bit of weight. I was doing probably 80% lifting/20% running. Now I've switched the ratios and the weight is melting away. I don't have a great metabolism either.

The problem with most people and exercise is that they don't do enough of it. 30 minutes 3 times a week is not going to help you lose weight. Calorically, it's probably less than half a pound a week. I'm running an hour 3 times a week now, (between 5 and 6 miles at a time) and then a longer run (maybe 10) on Saturday. I find that if my workouts are shorter than an hour, there will be no weight loss. Go up to and over an hour, and I can't eat enough to keep weight on (and trust me, I eat a lot).

Gabriel said...

@Ignorance is Bliss: So that would be in the neighborhood of 20 minutes of running up stairs. Well under 40 minutes of running up and down stairs. And even less time if you weigh more than 140 lbs.

Now try to lose a pound of fat, 3500 calories. 4 hours of stair-running.

You can spread that out over 6 days, if you like, with Sunday off. That's 40 minutes per day--and here you are back to the doughnut you could have not eaten, which is a lot less time and trouble than running up stairs.

Julie C said...

I have a friend who had always struggled with her weight. She was never really fat, just always had an extra 20 pounds hanging around. I saw her recently and she looked fantastic. What did she do? Got those invisible braces. You have to take them out every time you eat or drink, and then you have to brush your teeth right afterwards and put them in again. That alone caused her to stop eating after dinner and between meals. She now weighs what she did in high school (and we are in our mid 50s). She said, "this was the best $5000 weight loss program I ever did!"

walter said...

"it's very hard to overindulge in gruel"
;)
But..I noticed weight gain when I ate oatmeal regularly. Same with bananas.

Gabriel said...

@walter:But..I noticed weight gain when I ate oatmeal regularly. Same with bananas.

Sumo wrestlers eat rice, fish, vegetables, and tofu. But they eat 20,000 calories of it a day, so they have no trouble gaining and maintaining 200 - 400 pounds more than the average Japanese.

n.n said...

The key is "alone" or exclusive. The body/system will compensate for deficiencies.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Gabriel said...

Now try to lose a pound of fat, 3500 calories. 4 hours of stair-running.

I'm not suggesting that people who want to lose weight eat whatever crap they feel like. I was just trying to correct the misinformation that you had posted.

I personally have a pretty serious sweet tooth, and would enjoy eating significant amounts of candy, cookies, cake, and ice cream. However, there is a more modest amount that I can eat, get a lot of the enjoyment, and not really crave more. If I eat this amount, and don't exercise, I will gain about a pound a month. With a steady exercise program, I can eat it and not gain weight. If I skip the exercise and just try to keep my weight steady by watching my diet I find I am always craving something sweet. At that point exercise is much less effort than dieting.

But that's just me.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Gabriel said...

You can spread that out over 6 days, if you like, with Sunday off. That's 40 minutes per day--and here you are back to the doughnut you could have not eaten, which is a lot less time and trouble than running up stairs.

3500 Calories is close to 13.5 doughnuts, or about two a day. Pretty tough to cut back that much if you were only eating one per day.

HT said...

themightypuck said...

Obesity is a metabolic disease. Follow the hormones.

5/26/15, 9:00 AM

_________

This is close to what Taubes thinks, I'd guess. He thinks calories in/calories out is bunk.

lemondog said...

Exercise alone may not cause weight loss but diet without exercise is unwise. Exercise helps promote muscle maintenance/build, stronger bones and tendons as well as cardio health.

Muscle energy burns fats, sugar, cholesterol

GRW3 said...

There is truth in the phrase "Work Up an Appetite"...

All calories are not equal. All that tells you is how much heat energy will be released if you burn it. Fine, if you're powered by a furnace but, if you digest food like most humans, you have to take care. A salad of toadstools and belladonna with a castor oil/formic acid dressing will probably have the same calorie count as a salad of field greens and mushrooms with an olive oil/vinegar dressing but better not eat it.

I think there is a lot of variation among humans in practical diet. You have to take time to determine what works for you. The vegetarian zealots that directed the McGovern commission derived food pyramid probably could live well on a high carb diet and just assumed everyone else could too. Since the knee in the obesity chart corresponds with the drive to reduce fat and up the carb content of the national diet, it strongly suggest they were wrong. It would be like me, a person of northern European descent, assuming everyone could drink milk and eat all dairy products, and designing a 'national diet' that emphasized same.

For me, I have to watch my carbs. Among them I cut out almost all bread and wheat products, not for celiac but just because its such a big source of carbs in the diet these days and they do seem to give me some minor discomfort.

John Scott said...

Rippetoe is a powerlifter who has a philosophy that to maximize strength you must increase calories. Not all powerlifters have bellies, though. Maybe the heavyweights, but there are weight classes in competitions so for a lot of participants there is a balance there. I think I do pretty well for my weight and age; the last time I checked I had less than 8% body fat.

lee said...

I think another issue is how obesity is defined: they consistently use BMI which does not take into consideration fat vs. muscle (which is more dense than fat). Someone 5'-6" can weigh 160 and be extremely muscular, and considered borderline "obese" because their BMI is 28. I know -- I was a shade under 5'-6", weighed 165 lbs. I swam 2000m/day, ran 30 to 60 minutes/day, weight training, and I wore a size six dress size. Borderline obese? Really?

jr565 said...

Cardio doesn't remove fat. Lifting weights though, does.

Crimso said...

The problem with trying to make generalizations about fitness and nutrition is in trying to practically apply them. Each person is an individual, and the factors that bear on these questions are not yet fully understood nor even discovered.

Question: what is the gaping flaw in basing your diet and exercise on the number of calories you eat? (Hint: Sir Denis Burkitt) This alone complicates "one-size-fits-all" statements regarding nutrition.

Once the food actually enters your body, the way it is utilized varies from person to person (and there are many factors determining this variation, and each of those factors is itself variable). On an average over an entire population, you might be able to draw some useful conclusions, which won't necessarily hold for any given person.

There will come a day when a person has a complete metabolic workup (from genomics all the way to metabolomics), and an individualized plan will be formulated. I realize that can be done to a very limited extent now, but I suspect in the next 20-40 years you will see this sort of approach to nutrition become much more comprehensive, much more definitive, and much more common.

jr565 said...

Calorie in calorie out does seem srange. Because not all calories are the same. The real issue is what food you are putting in your body and how is that impacting your insulin levels. Insulin, it seems, drives fat.

Gabriel said...

Saying that "calories in vs calories out" doesn't explain obesity is no more or less true than saying that "income vs expenditures" doesn't explain debt.

There isn't any way to gain weight without eating more than you expend. But what you eat and expend is not at all transparent to you.

Suppose you never saw a paycheck or a bill, but all your income was direct deposited to a credit account, and you paid for everything with a card. And suppose that when you asked for it--no one ever volunteered it--you could find out what your balance was.

I think it is very safe to say that most people on that sort of regimen would be enormously surprised at the amount of debt they could accumulate in a short time. And there would be people claiming that the hours you work vs the items you purchase can't possibly be the whole explanation.

They would be right, because the missing piece is the valuation of hours and stuff in currency.

Gabriel said...

@Ignorance is Bliss:3500 Calories is close to 13.5 doughnuts, or about two a day. Pretty tough to cut back that much if you were only eating one per day.

Obviously you could find the equivalent in other foods to cut, two slices of bread maybe. There is nobody on this earth who is overweight and living on nothing at all, so obviously it can be cut somewhere.

Or you could pursue a level of intense exercise on a daily basis that only a tiny fraction of the population can manage, not to mention the time involved.

That's the point, really, that I was trying to make--we overemphasize the effects of exercise and underemphasize the effects of what we eat. Someone who could actually do 40 minutes of running up and down stairs six days a week would be in phenomenal shape, and is also controlling their diet pretty closely, whether they are aware of it or not.

Shanna said...

This was the conclusion that Taubes came to in the much maligned 'good calories bad calories' (that exercise did not help weight loss, it just made you hungrier).

Freeman Hunt said...

People were thin when they smoked. Thin and dying earlier because of the smoking.

Anonymous said...

I exercise for two reasons.

1) So I can continue to eat as I always have without becoming a huge, flat, slob.
2) So that I have muscle to do my job, rather than get winded after walking up a few flights of stairs.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Gabriel said...

That's the point, really, that I was trying to make--we overemphasize the effects of exercise and underemphasize the effects of what we eat.

Well, if that is the point then you won't make it very well by underemphasizing the effects of exercise by an order of magnitude. ( Because the internet is full of assholes like me who can't wait to point out any mistake that they see. )

MaxedOutMama said...

But weight is not the whole story - weight distribution, and especially muscle/fat ratios are more indicative of health and long-term health risks.

Probably most people who just diet will end up weighing less than individuals who diet and exercise, but the sedentary dieters often tend to lose as much or more muscle as fat. Over time, this sets them up for more health problems than those who might be theoretically "fatter" - heavier - but carry far more of that weight in the form of muscle.

A lot of girls who do sports will come up as overweight on the standard tables, but actually they are very fit and muscular. Muscle is more dense tissue than adipose tissue, and really healthy muscle is extremely dense.

Muscle is a huge component of healthy metabolism, because it is used by the body as quick-storage/release of glycogen. People born with a genetic problem that prevents storage or retrieval of glycogen in muscles have significant health issues.

Crimso said...

The glaring error in "calories in-calories out" is that it is seldom (if ever) a true material and energy balance analysis. What you swallow is not the caloric intake that is important. What is actually absorbed into your body (the "inside" of your digestive system is outside of your body) is the number that you should begin with. And that number evidently varies considerably. Once they're inside you, additional variables make predicting the outcome somewhat dicey. You certainly can make some generalizations. If you eat nothing for days or weeks, you will lose weight. If you eat 10,000 calories a day and are sedentary, you will probably gain a lot of weight.

What some people don't take into account is that your body is biochemically set to do things in the feeding-fasting cycle that "make sense." Your body does not know when you will eat next, and must behave as though the time it will eat next is never. Right after you eat, your body stores as much as it can, then releases it slowly in such a way as to keep things running (especially the brain). Your body stores relatively little carbohydrate, but it does have the wonderful ability to convert the carbohydrate it does not store into fatty acids and then triglycerides (for a rainy day; a MUCH more efficient energy storage form than glycogen). The primary precursor for fatty acid biosynthesis by the liver is excess dietary carbohydrate. If you wonder how such things can be known, first thing that comes to my mind is to feed test subjects radiolabeled carbs, and then see where the isotope ends up. More complicated than that but you get the drift.

As an aside to this, diabetes is sometimes described as "your body acts as though it is starving when it is in the midst of plenty." Insulin does so much more than alter blood sugar. It affects every area of metabolism, and all of its effects are likely not yet known. If you've heard of insulin (who hasn't?) but not glucagon, check out that yin and yang of metabolism. Fascinating stuff. Why is a dysfunction of insulin common in humans, but dysfunction of glucagon is not? Think about what blood sugar does in the absence of either of those. One is a condition you can live with for quite some time, the other should be lethal on a much shorter time scale. And all of this is just the very big picture stuff.

I'm sure many of you are aware of all of this, but I'm a pedant. And there's no hope for me. Plus the few of you who don't automatically ignore my comments have probably long-since abandoned this thread. So I figure I've got the place to myself now. Want to know how to make thousands of dollars per week working part-time from your own home? Just send me...

Gerrard787 said...

I couldn't lose weight until I counted my calories. Once I did that accurately and reduced my calories, the weight came off precisely as the calorie in/out model predicted. I think we make diet too complicated for ourselves and that makes it overly difficult to actually lose weight.

Yancey Ward said...

If you want to lose weight, you have weigh yourself the same time every day and adjust both the intake and/or the exercise. The feedback is a necessary part of weight loss. You don't have to literally count calories, though if it helps you to do so, then do so.

Kirk Parker said...

Meade:

" 5. gin."

Which brands?


Tank: "No pizza? "

None. WAAAYYY too many carbs.





Sloanasaurus,


You are completely and totally wrong. It's not just a measure of "calories in + calories out", it also has to do with how you metabolize and store various foods. Read the aforementioned Why We Get Fat for a decently technical (though non-biologist-rigorous) presentation.