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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why You Get Fat – Exercise to Lose Fat – That’s What You Think - Part III

These Types Are Everywhere
If exercise was the key to fat loss then everyone who works out regularly would be lean, right?  Go to a gym or take a look at the people jogging and walking around town and you’ll quickly realize that just because someone exercises doesn’t mean they aren’t fat

In case you’re wondering, if you’re above 20% body fat, you’re fat, no matter your gender or age.  And it’s not because you aren’t exercising enough!  This doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise, there are plenty of benefits gained from exercise, but what it does mean is that exercise by itself will result in little or no reduction in body fat

If you’re the type who says “I exercise so I can eat whatever I want”, well I have news for you, in spite of your efforts, you’ll likely just get fatter over time. 

You hear it all the time, you have to work out to lose fat.  It’s kind of like saying you have to go to college to get a good paying job.  Yes, it helps to go to college, but it’s certainly no guarantee.  Just ask many a college graduate who can’t even get an interview, let alone a good paying job.  The same goes for fat loss.  It helps to exercise, but there is certainly no guarantee you are going to lose fat because you exercise.  Just ask many an exerciser who can’t even lose a pound, let alone a pound of fat. 

The problem with the idea of exercising to lose fat is that it’s another oversimplification that rests upon the calories in calories out premise.  A premise with many flaws, as I discussed in Part I and Part II of this series.  For starters, everyone knows that if you want to build up an appetite just engage in physical activity.  However, this fact makes the eat less exercise more idea seem even more dubious.  How long do you really think you can maintain a reduced calorie intake while increasing your activity levels?  Certainly not long enough to elicit any appreciable amount of fat loss.  And it just so happens that there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that increasing your activity levels will do little for fat loss

The More You Exercise the Bigger Your Appetite

In 2007, the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine stated that so far there is little evidence to support the belief that the number of calories expended has any effect on how fat we are.  Instead, these organizations advocate exercise not to lose fat, but to avoid getting fatter.  In fact the 60 min workout recommendations are based on the reality that there is little evidence that less does anything, with the USDA saying 90 min a day is necessary just to maintain weight!

Finnish researchers in 2000 reviewed a dozen trials, everyone in the trials regained weight with exercise either decreasing the gain or increasing the rate of gain.  I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to sign up right away for regular exercise!

Then in 2006 Williams and Wood, of Berkeley and Stanford respectively, collected information on 13,000 runners and found that all of them got fatter with each passing year.  Those that ran the most weighed the least, and thus the conclusion was that to remain lean they would have to increase mileage each year.  Carry this logic forward, and in their 60’s they’d have to be running daily marathons just to maintain weight!  Clearly this isn’t sustainable!

they keep getting fatter every year
But these are active people, they are runners, at the very least they should be maintaining their weight, right?  Not necessarily.  For this to be true requires us to assume they won’t simultaneously increase their energy intake due to exercise.  However, as mentioned previously, exercise increases appetite so this isn’t likely.  And to give you an idea how easy it is to mindlessly eat your way through any exercise program , consider the fact that to burn off the calories in one extra slice of bread you would have to climb 20 flights of stairs!  

You know the idea that adding muscle will increase the number of calories you burn?  Well I have news for you, replacing 5lbs of fat with 5 lbs of muscle only increases calorie burn by 24 calories per day…which is equivalent to just a ¼ slice of bread and your appetite will go up to boot.

With all of this evidence to the contrary, then where did this idea of using exercise to lose fat come from?

Nothing is Working Here!
You can thank Jean Mayer of Harvard and Tufts.  Problem is, he never actually worked with overweight patients.  He based his belief in exercise for fat loss on studies he did on obese mice that didn’t eat very much.  Making the conclusion that their inactivity made them fat…since it wasn’t like they were eating too much.  He also said that if you are sufficiently sedentary your appetite will no longer decrease accordingly, based on his misinterpretation of the rat studies and another study of mill workers in India.  Despite the fact that none of these studies were ever replicated, he promoted his position like crazy, influencing public policy through both the 60’s and 70’s.  Through this time period there was a lot of conflicting information, depending on your sources.  In 1977 the NIH said exercise is of less importance than might be believed while at the same time the New York Times was saying exercise does result in substantial and permanent weight loss.  Newsweek also declared exercise was essential for weight loss, while the New York St Luke's Hospital study investigating whether an increase in exercise would lead to fat loss produced mixed results.

Quite a testimony for the power of marketing, if something is repeated enough, people will believe it despite evidence to the contrary.  Another perfect example is the cholesterol causes heart disease baloney that thankfully people are finally starting to wise up to.  This is a topic for another day.

Denial leads to Disappointment
Considering the above, there is a point when the desire to believe and the reluctance to acknowledge contradictory evidence become so strong that falsities such as exercise delivering fat loss, rather than the truth that exercise by itself does not result in fat loss; dominate the popular mindset.  The truth here isn’t a recent discovery, as far back as the 1860’s Banting discussed his failed attempts at losing weight because he worked up an appetite that more than offset his exercise.  None-the-less, the exercise to lose fat mentality keeps resurfacing again and again.  On the front lines of this, are many well-meaning yet ignorant personal trainers, dietitians and medical professionals who propagate this nonsense to trusting clients and patients on a daily basis.  When most of the trusted “authorities” haven’t got a clue and the media is right there to effectively propagate this bad information it’s not at all surprising that we have a big fat problem on our hands (pun intended)!  The question is, what can you do?  You can educate and inform yourself, via quality sources (not most of the media, magazines or health practitioners), learn what really works, what doesn’t and take meaningful action right away.  Until you get these things clear in your mind, and expunge the nonsense you’ve been indoctrinated with for years, you’ll continue to fall back into the convenient falsities that lead to fat loss frustration.  

Next week look for more on the significance of 20 calories, why you get fat, how the laws of thermodynamics don’t tell you why you’re fat, and why will power and all of this other psychobabble surrounding fat loss is ineffective.

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