Why Blaming Exercise Won’t Make You Thin
by Claudio Boni - Manager Results Plus
Submitted by Dave Parise - Owner Results Plus Personal Training Hamden CT.
A week ago the Time magazine article, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin, was presented to me by several clients. Being a personal trainer, I quickly became intrigued and flipped to read what latest study could be showing something overlooked by the fitness world for decades. What I found was something of a much different nature. Despite several studies being “partially” cited as evidence for John Cloud’s (the article writer) claims, very little of the work presented much in terms of a groundbreaking revelation that would prove exercise ineffective. What I did find, however, was an aggravated writer explaining his frustration about how his daily bouts to the gym and meetings with trainers have failed to lead him to the hard body physique that he seeks. What I’d like to do now is take a moment to dissuade some other readers into seeing through a clouded perspective.
Cloud’s argument, summed up, is that although exercise burns calories, it causes an increase in hunger that will ultimately lead to excessive eating and therefore a built-in sabotage towards any possible diet. First and foremost I will go on the record to agree with Cloud that, yes, exercise does increase metabolism. The body will notice additional activity and increase hunger in response. Why is this? To answer let’s first look at how the body works. If someone burns an average of 2000 calories a day then the body will roughly look for 2000 calories of consumption to satisfy its energy needs. However, if we exceed the normal 2000 calories being burn and go to the gym and burn an addition 400 calories, don’t you think the body is going to want to refill that energy gap?
Yes, there is a problem here, but increases in metabolism are normal. Exercise and heart rate elevations are normal. Movement is normal. Our food choices, on the other hand, are not always so normal. One thing that is certain is that no one is entitled to unhealthy eating without experiencing the unhealthy side effects. Cloud’s frustration stems from his aggravation that spending 5+ hours a week in the gym should merits him the “perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries” that he feels he deserves “after his hard trip to the gym.”
I’m sorry to deliver the news, but no amount of exercise in the world will make up for a bad diet. Maybe you can break even, or even cause some weight loss, but to change your body’s composition is near impossible with just exercise alone. Models on the cover of Men’s Health and movie star physiques don’t come from just grueling trips to the gym. Ask any celebrity trainer, or any trainer in their right mind, and they will tell you that diet makes up at least 60% of the final product in producing a body someone is seeking.
Fitness models like Greg Plitt didn’t develop their bodies from being able to eat muffins because they deserve it for working out so much. They have achieved such incredible bodies by sticking to diets high in protein and moderate in carbohydrates and fats. Not just any carbs and fats, but slow digesting and fibrous carbs and healthy omega-3 enriched fats.
Exercise is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Yes, it increases the metabolism, but what happens when exercise is removed from the picture? Several clients of mine have come to me on their last resort, claiming to have tried every diet on the planet with no success. Some say they have even tried the “carb-starve” depletion diets and lost some weight, but upon ceasing the diet the weight returned with a vengeance.
Many of these clients who have come to me don’t take in a excess amount of calories. They are at their daily requirements, and often lower than they need caloricly. However, because these calories are pushed into only two or three meals a day that are made up of processed, high glycemic-index carbohydrates (that release fast into your blood sugar), their bodies are being surged with quick energy they are not using. Unused energy only has one option: storage (a.k.a. fat). In many cases these clients are not hungry throughout the day, but are taking in the wrong types of meals at night. Because of this they have very little energy and find themselves feeling like they are dragging through their day. But what these clients are the most upset about is their appearance: A slow and steady weight gain over the years. This is not muscle being built, but actually being lost. The metabolism is so underfed with proper nutrients that it freaks out and slows to conserve energy (recognizing that its not getting enough calories). A slowed metabolism does three things: 1-muscle is burned to create the energy need that was not supplied by the diet, 2- fat is stored to conserve any little energy that is brought in by the unhealthy carbohydrate enriched foods, and 3- the body produces less energy, making a simple walk up the stairs feel like a 200lb bodybag drag competition.
Cloud goes on to state in his article how, “after all, doesn’t exercise turn fat into muscle.” I couldn’t pick a more backwards statement. This line of thinking in metabolically impossible. Muscle and fat are two totally different tissues in the body. If this was the case, we’d find ourselves pointing to an overweight gentleman and saying, “watch out, or else all that fat might turn into muscle.” Exercise either burns fat or builds muscle, depending on not only the type of exercise, but also depending on what the macronutrients taken in from food tell the body to do. If I told the best brick-layer in the world to make me the finest brick house, but gave him tiles as materials to work with, do you really think he’s going to give me any kind of a brick house? No. All the exercise in the world will fall short if the body doesn’t get the proper building blocks needed to make the final product we are shooting for.
The article later attempts to bash exercise from a scientific standpoint; this time Cloud recruits a study by the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE), in which 464 overweight women were split into one of four groups. The first group, being the control, did no exercise while the other three groups were assigned either 72, 136, or 194 minutes of exercise per week. Although on average each group did lose weight, Cloud explains how these previously sedentary women did not see a significant increase in weight loss with increased exercise. At first glace this piece of evidence looks like it holds ground, but when I dragged up the actual study itself I found that it was presented in a rather misleading way. What Cloud fails to mention about the study is that not only did the exercise groups each see a loss of inches in tape measurements, but that these weren’t just a group of overweight women: they were post menopausal women. This changes factors in an extreme sense because post menopausal women are recovering from fluctuating hormone levels. After menopause, the female body is low in estrogen. Because this key female hormone is stored in fat cells, the body vigorously tries to hold onto fat as much as possible, making weight loss extremely difficult. So much so that post menopausal weight gain is almost considered inevitable by some. Comparing this group of women to a generalized study about weight loss is unfair and unprofessional. Apples don’t make good oranges for a reason.
Cloud explains how if you “workout hard enough to convert, say, 10lbs of fat to muscle- a major achievement- you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight. Good luck with that.”
Again, the line of though is completely skewed here. If someone where to loose 10 lbs of fat and put on (not convert) another 10 lbs of muscle, then he or she must have realized the type of hard work and dietary discipline it takes to complete such a task. They would then be knowledgeable enough to know that a teaspoon of butter belongs nowhere near a healthy eating program. We’re talking about pure fat here, the unhealthy kind, which comes in at a whopping 9 calories per gram. Why isn’t that replaced with 3 ounce of grilled chicken, which is calorically the same, but will do light-years more for your physique that butter will?
Foods such as Cloud’s ever so coveted “muffins and sports drinks” are calorie dense. Craving them, even after exercise, is the sign of improper dieting where food is not being front loaded (more in the morning and less in the evening) and slow releasing carbohydrates are not being taken in at the right time. Of course Starbucks is going to market their muffins right in front of your face. It’s not their responsibility to get you to eat the right foods; it’s their responsibility to stay alive as a company and make a profit. You can not blame them for wanting to sell you a product, even if it’s not healthy for you.
Here’s something I will definitely agree with Cloud on. Exercise shouldn’t be the only thing to consider when trying to burn off some extra pounds. Cloud sites several studies that show that there is no particular added benefit to organized exercise program when compared to simply being active. This is true. Humans burn hundreds of calories less today than we did hundreds of years ago. Everything we do is in front of us. To get something done fast we don’t run it over to the post office in a hurry. Instead we sit in front of the computer and the fastest googler wins. So yes, get up, move around, burn some extra calories. They’re no way anyone can say they don’t have time to exercise when in all actuality life is the exercise! There is no need to sit on a stair mill for 40 minutes. Those machines were created to making burning calories more efficient in less time. They are not the only way to loose weight. Losing weight is a lifestyle change, not a quest for a number. Organized exercise is made to supplement inactive; to help us get the movement we aren’t normally getting.
Cloud may say that evolution didn’t program us to lose weight through exercise, but we can all agree that evolution did program us to be active individuals. That’s why we have hands for grabbing and legs for running. To be used. One thing I can guarantee you is the evolution definitely did not program us to eat processed, man-made foods like muffins, pizza, and bagels. Those aren’t “from nature.” That’s something that man decided we liked, so we found a way to include it in our diets. Exercise doesn’t entitle us to eating them. If that was the case, bodybuilders, yoga instructors, and fitness models would be entitled to a doughnut a day with the amount of exercise they do. Think there’s some correlation with their healthy eating and their dynamite bodies? I think so. We are not entitled to anything. If you want something, you go after it. If you don’t, then you don’t really want it. You simply “would like to have it.” There’s a big difference.
In short, blaming exercise for bad eating is like blaming sports cars for fast drivers. Exercise increases metabolism because the body become more efficient at burning calories. But with the stress of exercise the body is in dire need of the proper nutrients to make it function correctly. There is no conspiracy here. McDonalds doesn’t have playground in them to make the kids hungrier, as Cloud deduces. Ever think that those playgrounds are there because kids like to play on them? Does that mean baseball games are only around to make sure that kids buy food from the ice cream truck in the parking lot afterwards? Cloud asks “could pushing people to exercise more actually be contributing to our obesity problem?” If that were the case, gym rats, body builders, and fitness enthusiasts like Jack Lalanne would be the fattest of us all. Take a look around. Let’s not shift the blame to exercise. It’s time to take control of our lives and make the right choices, inside and outside the gym. Fitness is not just what you do on a cardio piece or with a weight in your hand. Fitness is a way of life.
Claudio Boni CPT Manager
Results Plus Personal Training
3013 Dixwell Ave
Hamden CT. 06518