You can't outrun a bad diet
May 18, 2015 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Our waistlines aren’t expanding because people aren’t exercising intelligently or vigorously enough. You don’t need a new personal trainer, another Insanity workout video or a more aggressive CrossFit regimen. What you need is the truth, and here it is: Exercise — no matter how many gym memberships you buy or how often you wear your Fitbit — won’t make you lose weight.

From an op-ed in The Washington Post by Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and consultant clinical associate to the United Kindom’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

The idea that our obesity epidemic is caused by sedentary lifestyles has spread widely over the past few decades, spurring a multibillion-dollar industry that pitches gadgets and gimmicks promising to walk, run and kickbox you to a slim figure. But those pitches are based on a myth. Physical activity has a multitude of health benefits — it reduces the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and possibly even cancer — but weight loss is not one of them. ...

... Misconceptions about diet and exercise are paralyzing efforts to curb the worsening obesity crisis. The food industry has been central in pushing these misconceptions, using tactics similar to those employed by big tobacco, to elide its culpability in spreading disease. ... Reuters found that the food and beverage industry spent more than $175 million on lobbying during President Obama’s first three years in office, more than doubling its spending under the last three years of George W. Bush’s administration, targeting proposals like a federal tax on sodas and stricter nutritional guidelines.


Related links:
Editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine
Timothy Noakes, runner and Chair of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, on the dangers of carbohydrates
The Milbank Quarterly asks if Big Food is like Big Tobacco.
posted by Bella Donna (168 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
Please note: I don't have an opinion. I'm just interested in this topic because my grandmothers and mom all died in similar ways: first diabetes, then heart disease, then strokes. And I have a partner who is obese according to his BMI--despite cycling about 50 miles twice a week. No actual ax to grind here, just curious about the (not new, I know) idea that carbs might be killers and that exercise is important, just not for the purpose of losing weight if that happens to be a goal.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:55 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


People often fail at their weight loss regimes largely because they undertake too many dramatic changes at once, including both diet and exercise.

When I underwent a weight loss regime for my wedding the first two months were entirely focused on changing my diet (cutting out refined carbs and sugars). I had a good 40 lbs to lose and 25 of those lbs were lost before I even took a single step on the treadmill at the gym.

What I find just as appalling is the amount of misinformation out there as to what one should and shouldn't eat. Certainly the low fat meals of the 80 and 90s seem like they don't work. At least it never did for me.
posted by Karaage at 10:56 AM on May 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


Exercise may not make you lose weight, but it sure as hell makes you live longer and live healthier longer.
posted by musofire at 10:59 AM on May 18, 2015 [61 favorites]


Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

I don't know what it is about the topic of weight loss that makes so many people into dogmatic, absolutist assholes who want to dictate to other people how their own bodies work.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 11:01 AM on May 18, 2015 [90 favorites]


I don't think a lot of people really feel that exercise on its own accomplishes much in terms of weight loss. People tend to get better results when exercise is combined with dietary changes (e.g. here, here).

It's unclear why that is. Some people's appetites are suppressed by exercise, others' appetites are increased, makes no difference for others again (will try to find related studies when I have a moment); some of what seems to matter in that regard is sex and exercise intensity, though a lot's not known. It might be something psychological, related to adherence.

Regardless, exercise certainly doesn't hurt, and it does seem to help (for weight loss, in combination with a reduced calorie diet), so why not hedge your bets?
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


To be fair, I don't think the writer is hating on individuals who exercise but on the food industry.
posted by emjaybee at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2015 [26 favorites]


A couple of books really changed my thoughts regarding food and exercise. The first The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. The second, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Both require a very open mind, but they do illustrate what we are told runs very contrary to years of evidence. None of what the post posits is shocking.
posted by grefo at 11:04 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Do what you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, cycling, sex or all three.

At the same time, amirite, doc? Amirite? Doc, at the same time, amirite?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:05 AM on May 18, 2015 [26 favorites]


Whether or not exercise will help you "lose weight" is only part of the issue. I know when I was at my most active (I was an actually gym rat for a year, somewhere in there) I actually went through about a month early on when my shape was noticeably changing, but the number on the scale was staying the same. The weight was the same, but the body carrying that weight was in much better shape and a much smaller percentage of that weight was comprised of fat.

Even today, when my "exercise" consists of more walking and then some kayaking in summer, I still have a noticeable body-shape change during the six months of the year when my CSA is in overdrive and I'm eating way more vegetables.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the calories you burn with exercise are nothing compared to what your body burns just existing. According to this BMR calculator I burn ~2000 calories just lounging all day.

As a bit of anecdata, when I turned 40 I suddenly lost my taste for sugar for some reason, and lost around 25 lbs in a few months. I lost another 25 just being more mindful about what I ate, but that first 25 was just an accident.
posted by Huck500 at 11:06 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


To be fair, I don't think the writer is hating on individuals who exercise but on the food industry.

That's how I read it too, but the scare headline of course makes it seem just the opposite.

And no, I'm not taking off my Fitbit.
posted by blucevalo at 11:06 AM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

Sigh. If you were eating pretty much right at your maintenance level of calories and started/upped your exercise regime, sure, you are going to start losing weight. The point is it is extremely easy to ingest calories, and that for all but a teeny tiny handful of elite athletes, exercise is going to make up a very small percentage of calories burned, so it's much easier to just not ingest so many calories in the first place.

This completely leaves aside any question of gut flora, etc. Nutrition and exercise science are still in their infancy, in my opinion.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:07 AM on May 18, 2015 [47 favorites]


Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

I don't know what it is about the topic of weight loss that makes so many people into dogmatic, absolutist assholes who want to dictate to other people how their own bodies work.


Word. I only ever lose weight through exercise. It took me 26 supremely frustrating years of "just dieting" that led nowhere, followed by 2 years of regular exercise that took off 30 lbs with astonishing swiftness and effectiveness. Moreover, a regular exercise regimen is currently holding my weight quite steady despite a truly appalling diet.

Sorry, I guess my body is just broken!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:08 AM on May 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


> Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

And I guess the 30 pounds I lost purely by diet change alone, likewise?

Different bodies gonna be different, really. Some people will find it easy to lose weight on diet alone, and some will do better with exercise. This is a good sign that the very first thing you should do when encountering a thread like this is to not universalize your own experience and insist that because you did it [thisway] everyone else should be able to.
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on May 18, 2015 [26 favorites]


A friend started exercising and dropped close to a hundred pounds with no dietary changes. I started exercising and...dropped zero weight, slightly reconfigured my shape, gained a lot of strength, etc.

I think it's worth considering the whole "so far it seems virtually impossible for people [in the aggregate] to lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off, no matter what they eat or what they do" business.....sooooooo "go forth and exercise a lot even if you're still fat" seems like pretty good advice to me.
posted by Frowner at 11:08 AM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

I bet there was more than exercise going on though. I mean, when I used to do this, I would get back from a run, and when I was wanting a snack I would think, "I just ran six miles. I can have this," then I would think, "You'll undo the run," so I wouldn't snack.

And by snack I mean drink a bottle of wine.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:09 AM on May 18, 2015 [51 favorites]


2 years of regular exercise that took off 30 lbs with astonishing swiftness and effectiveness

Does this mean it took you two years to lose 30 pounds, or...? Slightly more than a pound a month is not "astonishing swiftness". How long did it actually take you to lose this weight?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


[In the spirit of trying to get a thread about a known-to-be-contentious topic off to a good start, it'd be great if folks could focus on talking constructively about the content of the links and not so much on beefing about their (however understandable) existing frustrations with the general topic at large.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2015 [30 favorites]


people are complex and the way they respond to diet and exercise is complicated. the basic math doesn't change - if you burn more than intake, you'll lose weight, but how people do that and how their bodies adapt to that is such a personal thing.

as to your first comment, Bella Donna - i feel you so much on that and i'm sorry for your losses. the women in my family get heart attacks and they get them young and sometimes it kills them. i was a vegetarian for 10 years partially to try to cheat my dna. my family is also filled to the brim with diabetes. so - imagine my shock when my (admittedly carb loving) husband was recently diagnosed with diabetes, with no family history. we're both overweight (although, thanks to dka and our lack of knowledge before diagnosis, he's within 12lbs of his goal weight, down from 60+lbs away) and we're both sedentary, and we both love love love carbs in all their wonderful forms.

but - something had to change - so we cut carbs down to 30g a day for a week or two and then slowly, slowly brought them up to about 85/90g a day. that one (gigantic, world turning upside down) change has us steadily losing 1-3lbs a week. we're slowly, ever so slowly working exercise in, short walks for now, but we're hoping to be more active by the end of of summer. i was honestly surprised how steady the weight loss can be when you're really focusing on just diet, at least for us.
posted by nadawi at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't know what it is about the topic of weight loss that makes so many people into dogmatic, absolutist assholes who want to dictate to other people how their own bodies work.

Probably the Xbox vs. Playstation fanboy effect. "I spent so much money on this console, I have to convince myself I made the right decision, that it's the best."

Changing your eating and/or exercise habits is hard. Believing that you're pursuing The One Right Way To Be Healthy is probably an important motivator for many people.

Also, people who make lifestyle changes that seem to result in better health have probably tried several things before they were successful, so that increases the belief that they have found The One Right Way To Be Healthy (unlike all those other things that didn't work (for them)).
posted by straight at 11:11 AM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]




Do what you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, cycling, sex or all three.

At the same time, amirite, doc? Amirite? Doc, at the same time, amirite?


Now, there's an accident (of more than one type) waiting to happen...
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:12 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is a really good video about the changes in the composition of the American diet.

TL;DR: more prepared food consumption. It's not easily reducible to increased sugar/carbs, it's more calories of all types.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good lord, can we please stop using BMI as a metric for health?
posted by nzero at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2015 [47 favorites]


This article was really ruined by the headline. Exercise has all sorts of health benefits and will make you feel better and will extend your life, but it won't make you lose weight. So guys, it's pretty worthless, and you shouldn't bother! I'm not going to take off my fitbit, because losing weight isn't really the end goal for me. Being healthy is the goal, and exercise absolutely does help with that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:14 AM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


And me as data point that exercising never has done much.

Three months ago, my household, me and two 70+ parents, started low carb. The diet is pretty easy. Bump up protein, cut out simple carbs and sugar and eat lots of veggies. Now it's just a normal way of eating. I do eat some sugar and once or twice a week indulge in some french fries so I don't feel deprived at all. I've essentially just readjusted the quantities of carbs and sugars not eliminated them completely.

The weight has just slowly and steadily come off without any real increase in exercising. Best thing though is that I just feel so much better. I have tons more energy. Dad has lost over 30 pounds, Mom 18 and me over 20. Both my Aunts and an Uncle have now started eating this way and are seeing the same sort of success. It

T's been really good for someone like my Dad who for better or for worse has never been and exerciser and making both a diet and physical change seemed to be more then he was able to handle. He now because of the weight loss and increase in just feeling better is being more physical overall.

I've now added in exercise but not as part of losing the weight. My way of looking at has changed. I do it because I want to get into better shape and increase my capacity to do physical things. I do it because it makes me feel better.

I'm just happy that I found something that doesn't feel like a "diet". I know that everyone is different. It's just cool to finally figure out what works for me.
posted by Jalliah at 11:14 AM on May 18, 2015 [19 favorites]


Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

Maybe. You didn't change a single thing about your diet the same time you were losing? And you know this for certain because you were tracking every morsel you put in your mouth for weeks or months at a time?

I ask because I have done that. Exactly that. And lost 100 lbs or so doing it. On the basis of that experience, I'd say the food half is much, much more important than the exercise half. An hour or so of vigorous exercise --- like, running at a good clip --- is going to burn you a few hundred calories. A few hundred calories is a small bag of chips and a regular soda, or a bakery muffin, or a Frappuccino. Or hell, three extra glugs of olive oil on your salad, or a cup of pasta. It is very, very easy to eat a couple hundred calories. Burning them takes hours. The vast majority of the calories you burn you burn keeping the refrigerator running --- heart beating, lungs breathing, brain thinking. There's only so much you're going to add to that by switching an hour of sitting on your ass time per day into an hour of moderate activity.

I think exercise has been really important in helping me lose weight, in one way --- it helps my mood, it gives me new goal to pursue. But if all I had done was exercise I would still be obsese. The math is the math and you can't beat the math.
posted by maggiepolitt at 11:14 AM on May 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


I've lost substantial amounts of weight at different points through both diet alone and diet and exercise, and I have to say that with exercise involved, in my case, I lost weight much more rapidly. I would think that the important thing is finding a diet change or exercise change that's sustainable, regardless of the rate of weight loss.
posted by XMLicious at 11:15 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I sort of feel about straight's there's no "One Right Way To Be Healthy" that just being more aware of what you're eating and what you're doing is half the battle in terms of being physically healthy on whatever side of the exercise/diet or carb/fat spectrum you may fall.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:16 AM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Steely-eyed Missile Man: check yr MeMail
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2015


I can believe this; I dropped 40 pounds without lifting a finger when I stopped drinking - AFTER the stereotypical sugar craving phase of early sobriety had run its course.
posted by thelonius at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The "carbs are dangerous" thing can be taken to ridiculous extremes. The link has a quote that "the fewer carbs you eat the healthier you are going to be". If that were true the ideal would just be to eat meat and fat and no vegetables. Yeah, getting no phytonutrients is really healthy!

As for my diet, I have tried many things over the years, at times tracking every morsel I eat, yes. I know what works (HIIT for example) and doesn't work (low carb for example) for me and the fact that I am being " sighed" at and questioned about whether I have really had the experience I report really points to exactly the attitude I mentioned before.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I try to teach people that exercise is for all the things you cannot measure - quality of life, raising your threshold for illness, injury, depression, slowing the aging process. But for measurable metrics it is almost counterproductive, as it gives the false sense that the extremes to which one must govern caloric intake are really not that intense. The medical and news community has dug itself a hole that needs to be corrected, i.e. the erroneous information that exercise is a useful weight loss tool. It distracts from the effort needed in most people.

There are no absolutes, of course, and for some people exercise is the way to go, but that is the exception. I think exercise helps put people in the frame of mind to bring more discipline to their eating habits, which is critical. But frankly, if the choice were being overweight and active v. sedentary and normal weight, the active person will almost certainly have a better aging and health experience.
posted by docpops at 11:19 AM on May 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


What's really fascinating to me, something I was thinking about earlier in an unrelated fashion, is the distribution of obese adults in the US.

Personally, I was at my "ideal" weight in orange states and gained a significant amount of weight in a purple state. I thought it was due to my lifestyle specifically at the time, but now I'm not so sure.
Maybe I should move to Colorado.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:20 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only time I ever lost weight without exercise being an integral component it was due to drug or alcohol abuse, so obviously it's not something I'm interested in trying again at any point in my life.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:20 AM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Weight loss is hard. Exercise is huge but the right diet is key. I tried for years to lose college beer weight. Approaching 30 and increasingly common panic attacks needled me to take it seriously.

There is so much conflicting info out there. I tried low-fat and that did not work. I tried Atkins and Keto and it worked for a few months, only to rebound with a vengeance when I fell off their plans.

What worked is figuring out which exercises I love, but starting with walking. I now bike, run, swim and still walk. I've lost almost 70 lbs in the last year. Walking was the kindling, and then learning to control the munchies after smoking herb helped immensely. If you can resist pizza when seriously red-eyed, it's a hell of a lot easier when you're stone cold sober.

Not the solution for everyone, but it works for me.
posted by glaucon at 11:21 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fuckin' calories, how do they work?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:23 AM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Let me tell you, the man of twists and turns, being a fat woman in health-conscious Boulder is BRUTAL. (I am one.) It actually makes it even harder to feel like it's worth getting active or changing my diet even though I know that's the opposite.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:23 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This just isn't an A or B situation.

A pound of fat contains 3500 calories, but not everybody is guaranteed to lose weight directly from fat reserves. Eating at a caloric deficit (ideally, never more than 500 calories under your daily BMR * Harris-Benedict activity modifier) will cause some people to draw from muscle more readily than fat. Everybody's metabolism is different.

That said, if you make a consistent effort to both diet and exercise, and maintain a 30:50:20 Protein:Carb:Fat macronutrient ratio, you are absolutely going to replace muscle more rapidly than *any* metabolism will consume it.

A very few extreme genetic outliers aside, fitness is within anybody's reach - but anybody who thinks that reach is the same distance for everyone, or that one particular aspect is more effective for everyone simply doesn't know what they're talking about.
posted by Ryvar at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


The only time I ever lost weight without exercise being an integral component it was due to drug or alcohol abuse, so obviously it's not something I'm interested in trying again at any point in my life.

The only way I ever lost weight without exercise was the unexplained stomach-related illness that resulted in me vomiting up pretty much everything I ate for like 2 months. Coming home for Christmas break and being asked if I have AIDS: not a thing I'm planning to do again.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what this article is arguing against - has there ever been any mainstream advice that exercise ALONE will cause weight loss even if you eat McDonald's 10 times a day? It's always about both diet AND exercise, together. There was a recent PBS/Frontline type documentary about obesity that tried to make the point that exercise alone isn't that helpful, but then one of the people it profiled was an overweight firefighter who started a rigorous exercise program and lost a lot of weight - but there was no acknowledgement of how his case undermined the arguments that the documentary was otherwise making.

Also, cardiovascular exercise might not burn enough calories to be significant, but what about weight training? You may not lose weight in the sense that your total weight stays the same, but you gain muscle and lose fat. It seems like the real goal of many if not most people who want to lose "weight" is actually to lose fat.
posted by Mallenroh at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do what you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, cycling, sex or all three.

At the same time, amirite, doc? Amirite? Doc, at the same time, amirite?


Burning Man is only a few months away!
posted by vogon_poet at 11:31 AM on May 18, 2015 [15 favorites]



As for my diet, I have tried many things over the years, at times tracking every morsel I eat, yes. I know what works (HIIT for example) and doesn't work (low carb for example) for me and the fact that I am being " sighed" at and questioned about whether I have really had the experience I report really points to exactly the attitude I mentioned before.


To be clear, I'm not saying it's impossible to lose weight through exercise alone. And I agree that different things work differently for different people. But I will say that I think the biggest thing i've learned, doing it, is that weight loss is a grind. It's not one big decision, one big change, the moment when I decided to do this and not that. It's a grind. It's 10,000 different moments of choice that don't even feel like choices, that build on each other.

So yeah, it is certainly possible that one could make zero changes in their diet and take up enough vigorous physical activity --- say switching their commute from driving to biking --- that they're burning x amount more calories per week causing them to lose y amount of weight. All I'm saying is, is that a single Oreo is the equivalent of about 15 or 20 minutes on the elliptical, you know? And my guess would be that a lot of people who've decided to make healthy changes in their lives might pass up an Oreo here or there in the course of a week without thinking much of it. So I am confessedly a little skeptical when people who aren't keeping strict track of everything they eat insist they made no changes to their diet; in some ways it it can be as easy and thoughtless to slip into healthier habits as it can be to slip into unhealthy ones. Making every act of eating this conscious choice whose impact you can accurately measure is tremendously difficult.
posted by maggiepolitt at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Over the last two and a half years, I've lost between 90 and 100 pounds (the last six months have been rough), due to the keto diet (or as I describe it, like paleo but without all the libertarian politics). During this same time, I've also exercised, going to the gym every weekday morning to lift weights and occasionally do cardio. I've missed the gym a dozen or so times in this period, mostly due to things like travel or finals. I've had cheat periods from my diet as well, usually planned ahead. I'm still fairly strict on my diet.

I separate the diet and the exercise when I'm talking about my weight loss, because the weight loss has come almost exclusively from the change in diet. It's hard to say that for certain, but in the month or so that I was exercising before starting the diet, and in the earlier periods of my life where I exercised without significant dietary changes, my weight hardly shifted. But going on keto made the weight really drop off quickly.

Exercise has had many benefits for me, and has no doubt contributed a bit to the weight loss. But it's the diet that dropped the weight, it's the exercise that made me stronger. There is a feedback loop, it's a lot easier to run or do pull-ups when you're carrying less weight. And in general, exercise suppresses my appetite for a while (particularly high intensity cardio).

I've had a lot of people ask me what I did to lose the weight so quickly (most of the weight I lost came in the first 4-6 months, the rest was slower and then maintenance), and I told them. But I also told them that I found a diet that works for me. Not even biologically, finding a diet that my body responded to, but socially. When I started my diet, I happened to be in a period of great change, and I had some time to devote to these other changes (diet and exercise). But I've kept on the diet even past that, and it's one that largely works for me. I can have a normal life, but I pack my lunch. I generally cook at home for myself, and if I am eating out (something I rarely do), I can usually find something that works for me. But the diet works for me, it might not work for other people.
posted by X-Himy at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


People vary!

After accounting for age, sex, race and baseline weight, the researchers found that the people who lost the least weight during the calorie-reduced period were those whose metabolism decreased the most during fasting. Those people have what the researchers call a “thrifty” metabolism, compared to a “spendthrift” metabolism in those who lost the most weight and whose metabolism decreased the least.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


has there ever been any mainstream advice that exercise ALONE will cause weight loss even if you eat McDonald's 10 times a day?

The issue, I think, is that there have been diversionary tactics from the food industry to de-emphasize the harmful/addictive nature of their products in favor of the message that increased physical activity is what's needed. The parallels with the tobacco industry are instructive. The food industry has been able to fall back on vague notions of "moderation," when in reality they engineer foods to be more likely to be overconsumed and damn the consequences.

In reality, "exercise" as we know it is pretty much unnecessary as long as you don't consume prepared foods. If you look at the lifestyles of other cultures and times, being sedentary did not cause disease outside of the context of white flour, sugar, soda, french fries, etc...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Regular exercise often has a pretty direct effect on how and what you eat. It can make you really hungry! But it can also keep you in tune with how your body reacts to certain foods.

In my experience, age is also a factor. In my teens and 20s, vigorous exercise would change my weight and body shape in a short period of time and I pretty much ate whatever I wanted. In my 30s and 40s, exercise makes me ravenous first, the body shape changes come later, slowly, if at all.
posted by vunder at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, my current diet is not the greatest or well-balanced, but while I was lifting heavy I was, despite eating 5 meals a day, still losing weight, about 1-2lbs per week, because my metabolism was like a plague of locusts devouring all in its path and leaving behind only destruction. Then I had a month of post-surgical downtime, during which I didn't pay much attention to modulating my diet from a heavy lifting diet to a heavy napping diet, and I gained like 5-6 pounds while losing a startling amount of muscle and i'm v mad about it.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


mysterious_stranger, one of the reasons this kind of discussion is so frustrating, for both sides, is that we're talking about an issue for which there is a lot of individual variation.

It's very easy to fall into the trap of saying, "my experience is different, therefore I don't believe this evidence showing large-scale trends is meaningful," and on the other hand, "your experience is different than what the evidence of large-scale trends shows, and therefore you're wrong about your experiences."

As an individual, you might have had an unusually static average caloric intake, so the fluctuations in caloric intake that swamp other people's burning of calories through exercise didn't affect you as much. The reasons a low carb diet work for many people might not work for you.

That's all great, and valid - but it doesn't mean that in aggregate, telling people to lose weight through exercise is a good idea. At the individual level everyone needs to figure out their health for themselves, but at the group level working on adjusting our diets, and the pressures that push us toward less healthy diets, is the best we've got.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Look up Michael Phelps's diet (the Olympic swimmer). The man eats enough pizza and spaghetti for an entire family. Also, I dated a rower. During competition season she had to seek out high calorie foods like dairy to replace the calories she burned training. She put extra butter on everything. She was in the best shape of anyone I've ever known.

The point is a lot of it comes down to inputs and outputs. If you train exercise hard enough, you can eat just about anything and keep a healthy weight.

So I'm not buying what this is selling.

Also, the fact is everyone's metabolism is different, so make generalizations is almost pointless.
posted by dry white toast at 11:35 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think exercise helps put people in the frame of mind to bring more discipline to their eating habits, which is critical.

More anecdata: Something along those lines was the case for me, absolutely. Initially, I could much more easily motivate myself to do e.g. burpees (because that made me feel harder-better-faster-stronger) than I could to not eat delicious poutine. In my case, I don't think it was that I wanted to impose more discipline on my eating habits, though; I just spontaneously found myself craving things like grilled dishes and salads, and feeling better after eating things like that, while feeling pretty unwell after eating a McD's quarter cheese combo.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:35 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


mysterious_stranger: "Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.
"

Well, in a statistical sense, you're not yourself, you know?
posted by boo_radley at 11:37 AM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Does losing weight through "just exercise" include the unstated behavior of "no change in eating habits, either composition or quantity"?

It seems like that would induce caloric restriction by raising the caloric demands of the body, rather than by lowering the caloric input to the body. And therefore, "just exercise" would effect a decrease in body fat volume. (Alongside the increase in body muscle volume, which for some results in a weight gain rather than loss!)
posted by crysflame at 11:40 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I lost 50lbs in 3 months trying to cancel my NYSC membership.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:41 AM on May 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


Look up Michael Phelps's diet (the Olympic swimmer). The man eats enough pizza and spaghetti for an entire family. Also, I dated a rower. During competition season she had to seek out high calorie foods like dairy to replace the calories she burned training. She put extra butter on everything. She was in the best shape of anyone I've ever known.

The point is a lot of it comes down to inputs and outputs. If you train exercise hard enough, you can eat just about anything and keep a healthy weight.

So I'm not buying what this is selling.


You need to have a lot of free time in order to train as hard as a competitive rower, and training as hard as is necessary to swim in the Olympics is essentially an Olympic swimmer's job. For an office-working schmo like me, these aren't good models from which to extrapolate.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:42 AM on May 18, 2015 [14 favorites]




For the most part, my reaction to these kinds of highly reductive, generalizing "science journalism" op-eds is similar to people who are overweight with excellent cardiovascular health and low cholesterol being told that "fat people can't ever be healthy." It's like "and yet, here I am, I remain real and extant despite your denial."

I will cop to there being an element of superstition involved, though. A nanosecond of fear, oh god, is someone going to come over and strip me of my gym membership? Is someone going to come and force me to regain the weight exercise helped me lose? WILL THIS THING MAGICALLY STOP WORKING? IS IT POSSIBLE IT NEVER WORKED AT ALL AND I AM TRAPPED IN A COMPLEX DELUSION SUPPORTED BY A CONSPIRACY OF DOCTORS AND PANTS????

Fortunately it's a pretty brief nanosecond, and then I can go back to grumbling about unnecessarily sensationalist and generalizing articles designed to generate clicks.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:44 AM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Does losing weight through "just exercise" include the unstated behavior of "no change in eating habits, either composition or quantity"?


I really think this is spot on. However, I still think if you don't make dietary changes to include more vegetables (and thus more fiber), more protein and less carbs, you'll find yourself really struggling to lose weight.

Fat will sate my hunger to an incredible degree. I can have a pretty light breakfast, but a spoonful of sunflower seed butter or similar will really keep me going.

Carbs stimulate my appetite, and can make me distressingly hungry in a short period of time. The same quantity of food (in calories) that's mostly carbs versus mostly fat will leave me hungrier faster.

I honestly believe that's true for most people.

So, long answer short, I agree that just exercise and no dietary changes will probably not produce results. It could, but probably won't.
posted by glaucon at 11:45 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the folks who keep referring to X food item requiring N number of minutes of cardio to "burn off" should look into High Intensity Interval Training and its effects on metabolism. If done correctly, it improves your metabolism so that you are burning more calories all the time. If done intensely enough, you will increase HGH which can be especially important for those trying to lose weight who are not in the first bloom of youth.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 11:46 AM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Look up Michael Phelps's diet (the Olympic swimmer).

There is a pretty large difference between someone for whom exercise is their career, and someone who goes to the gym after work three days a week. Anyone who looks at the "calorie counter" on the elliptical knows that after 30 minutes you may feel tired but you just burned off the equivalent of an apple. A small apple.

Since this has become an anecdote thread, here's my own contribution: I lose weight based on diet, but I lose mass (tighten up) based on exercise. Technically exercising is bad for losing weight in the strictest sense of the term, because muscle is heavy.

Also all of my weight loss has come from carb reduction. It sucks that eating very low carb requires cooking pretty much every day and spending a lot more money on groceries -- it's a hard lifestyle for me to sustain for more than a few months at a time.
posted by jess at 11:48 AM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


For an office-working schmo like me, these aren't good models from which to extrapolate.

Obvious solution: Live in Cornwall but work in the Channel Islands, make your commute in a speedo.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:52 AM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


In my late 40s I felt laggy so I cut out sugar and fast carbohydrates and along with feeling better I lost weight with no increase in exercise. I think that the simple calories in calories out model is incomplete. Fat is not simply a storage mechanism but has a dynamic role in metabolism. There are healthy people whose diets consist almost entirely of carbohydrates so I don't believe that the so called Paleo diet is the "Truth" but I do think that the ammount of sugar and fast carbohydrates in the American diet does something to the metabolism that makes for obesity and diabetes and probably also causes other ills that are slightly less coherent.

Trick for me to stop eating sugar was that I had to cut it out absolutely as even a little bit of it would reawaken a craving. If I didn't have it I didn't want it and didn't need any particular will power. Also I have never been really overweight, my diet change was for feeling tired and hungry all the time, the weight loss was about 12 lb on a 6 foot mail 187-175 or less.
posted by Pembquist at 11:52 AM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


It seems like that would induce caloric restriction by raising the caloric demands of the body, rather than by lowering the caloric input to the body.

This is of course true - if you are exercising you are burning more calories if not. The issue is not so much with the biological truth of "calories in, calories out." The issue is that in aggregate, exercising is a much less effective way to lose weight than changing the diet, in part because the extra calories you burn through exercise are swamped by small diet-related decisions like whether or not to have a cookie at lunch.

And one of the issues spotlighted in the OP is how there are powerful pressures against us changing our diets to be more healthy, including powerful self-serving lobbies that use us not getting enough exercise as a kind of distractor.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:53 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also all of my weight loss has come from carb reduction. It sucks that eating very low carb requires cooking pretty much every day and spending a lot more money on groceries

omg so true! i'm really not sure how we'd maintain this without me being a housewife and my husband working from home - hats off to those who manage! also so.many.eggs.oh.my.god.make.it.stop.
posted by nadawi at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I got very good results when I was hungry and sore all day every day
posted by The Whelk at 11:58 AM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


My issue is with the idea that the only significant goal is to lose weight. I know a lot of people want to lose weight, and that's great: they should know that they probably won't be able to do it with exercise alone. But the author says that "physical activity has a multitude of health benefits — it reduces the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and possibly even cancer" before launching into his anti-exercise diatribe, and you know, those things are good, too. So if we're talking about what society should be encouraging people to do, I would say that exercise should still be on the agenda, because it is good to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer even if people don't also lose weight.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:59 AM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


In the end, like any goal, it comes down to γνῶθι σεαυτόν.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:00 PM on May 18, 2015


Hmmm, I guess the 25 pounds I lost exclusively from exercise was a figment of my imagination, then.

I could do that in a month easily but how long have you kept it off? Your comment is dogmatic IMO and I'm betting it's about half true, but wouldn't go so far as to call it bogus. Good for you, but the fact is exercise is not a weight loss tool for most people, it triggers intense hunger and often becomes an unsustainable addiction when performed at the level of intensity needed for weight loss. Should be common knowledge by now, not dogma.
posted by aydeejones at 12:01 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've lost 30 pounds since January on a ketogenic diet, and the only weights I've been lifting have been bourbon and rum. Seriously, I've been drinking waaay more than usual over that same time frame and it's all working out well so far.

I mean, except for the liver and brain cells.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:01 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've always wondered at why people don't look at the variance in fecal energy levels. I mean, they vary 50-100%, I've seen in some sources and maybe some of that variance is systematic. And it certainly doesn't violate thermodynamics to say that someone burning 300 calories and then excreting 300 will do worse than someone lounging about and excreting 1000.
posted by curuinor at 12:02 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I put a lot of stock into "everyone is different and these rules may not apply."

What's frustrating to me as a very short person is I'm already operating on a lower amount of calories than someone of an average height, so there isn't much wiggle room for playing around with food. Various online calculators put my BMR at 1100-1300, which means at a sedentary maintenance level I need something like 1400 calories. Exercise becomes my primary way to burn off enough to make a difference. It suuuucks.

(I will never stop whining at how hard it is to get on my bike in the morning, even with the results it shows.)

This is tangential, but I watched a documentary recently called "I Want To Look Like That Guy" (found the entire thing on youtube when I was sick at home one day). It was an interesting look into the kind of training and diet bodybuilding requires, starting from an average-joe body type. Using both exercise and food together is no doubt the best way to get in shape, if that's someone's ultimate goal.
posted by erratic meatsack at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


i really enjoyed how my husband's diabetic counselor explained how exercise helps with type 2 - about how if you can get your muscles to use up the carbs you won't be relying on your depleted stores of insulin to do the work. that helps me remember that if we have a more carb loaded meal than usual, or include a potato or piece of bread instead of a giant pile of broccoli, then it's time to get some pants on and go for a nice brisk walk - feed those muscles, y'know?

with all the "one true plan" and propaganda from the food industry and infomercials for exercise systems and everyone's advice and and and - things just get boiled down to "do this!" or "do that!" instead of, "hey, if you do these things in this way for this purpose you'll likely see this result."
posted by nadawi at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


This article was really ruined by the headline.

Sorry about that. I lifted it from one of the other links because I thought it was an interesting take. Also, I'm kind of sorry that this thread has become a thread about losing weight, exercise vs. diet. I should have foreseen that; it's totally understandable. But I don't really care what people weigh--including my boyfriend. So apologies for the BMI derail. Really, I just want to know how both of us can keep our brain cells alive and functioning well into old age. Strokes tend to impair that kind of thing. I know that exercise is useful for maintaining cognitive functioning. I don't know much about nutrition. If that bag of chips I bought last night is leading me down the path taken earlier by my mother and two grandmothers then I should take it straight to the trash. It's lunchtime and I'm feeling seriously paralysed about what to put in my mouth. (Did I mention I also suffer from health anxiety. Yikes!)
posted by Bella Donna at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The dodgy science behind the claim that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight

Yeah... is it very common to put out a press release for an editorial in a journal? Particularly a 1000-word editorial? The press release looks like it might be longer than what it's announcing.
posted by XMLicious at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2015


posted by dry white toast at 2:35 PM on May 18

I smell a (deliciously toasty) conflict of interest, here.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 12:12 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The point is a lot of it comes down to inputs and outputs. If you train exercise hard enough, you can eat just about anything and keep a healthy weight.

So I'm not buying what this is selling.

You used an Olympic swimmer to make this point. It's like when tabloids point out that a famous new mom is in good shape. No shit working out for 4 hours a day will cause atypical weight loss. It's a ridiculous point to raise.
posted by aydeejones at 12:13 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Bella Donna - oh i know that paralyzed feeling well! the first week i'm sure i wasn't feeding us enough because i just couldn't conceptualize what a completed meal should look like. i find something like MyFitnessPal to be super useful because you can just input everything you eat and check the charts - if i were you with your family history, i would probably look into reducing simple carbs and increasing protein/fat and green veggies. once you realize how many carbs you can get in a veggie only salad, it's easier to decide to skip the rice, or whatever - or at least it was for me. i have serious health anxiety, body dysmorphia issues, ocd, a history of anorexia - and i'm feeling more confident about food than i maybe ever have.

feel free to memail me if you want to talk more about family health history and food or whatever else.
posted by nadawi at 12:13 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I generally tell people that, if they want to be thin, they need to eat less. If they want to be healthy they should probably exercise more.

But the two aren't totally unrelated. I lift weights twice a week and I'm noticeably less hungry on days that I work out. Both my wife and I have noticed that when we go on vacations where we're walking around a bunch (vs. laying on the beach sipping drinks with mini-umbrellas in them), we just can't eat as much as we normally do and find that we've lost weight when we get home. I suspect that, at some point, we'd get enough exercise that it would actually increase our appetites.

It's still a matter of calories in vs. calories out but getting the right amount of exercise absolutely affects my ability to regulate the former.
posted by VTX at 12:17 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Outrun? Hell, I outwalked a bad diet once. The problem is, the bad diet is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever. So once you stop running, it just catches up with you again and you're right back where you started.

(Also while I dropped a bunch of pounds, my body fat percentage was almost exactly the same as when I started out. I lost almost exactly as much lean mass as fat, and didn't really look any better naked. So what was the damn point of that?)
posted by Naberius at 12:18 PM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


The problem is, the bad diet is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever. So once you stop running, it just catches up with you again and you're right back where you started.

This. I've fallen off the food wagon enough to know when the animal part of my brain is trying to trick me into ordering takeout, ignore a workout or get fries instead of salad.

A lot is learning how to say: No! No! No! to those urges.
posted by glaucon at 12:21 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anecdata:

I used to eat like crap. I still eat like crap, but I used to, too. (/hedberg)

I now exercise regularly, which I didn't do, formerly. Not a lot, admittedly: 6 times a week, I go to the gym. 3 days, I do 3 sets on weight machines at my current limit and 10 minutes on an elliptical, 3 days I do 30 minutes on the elliptical and 1 set at 50% of my current limit (basically just going through the motions to keep from stiffening up too much).

When I first started doing this, I lost some weight, but much of it came back. Overall, I feel generally healthier, but I've accepted that I won't lose weight until I stop eating like crap. Which may not ever happen.
posted by Four Ds at 12:21 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tree planted for a couple of summers, lost weight and leaned right up. Only time I've been skinny, skinny. I ate tons. Like enormous three buffet plates full of food type eating. A regular dinner item was a dinner plate of mashed potatoes smothered in butter. Food wise it was awesome. I couldn't keep weight on.

8-10 hours of day of constant and at times aerobic level of activity will allow that. I figure this was elite athlete levels of exercise on a daily basis.

No joke though. I gained close to 20 pounds in the month after I got home because appetite was so out of whack with activity level that even with a 2 hour bike ride a day just wasn't enough to compensate.
posted by Jalliah at 12:23 PM on May 18, 2015


I have lost 33 pounds since February, partly through exercise(namely, hauling 50+ pounds up and down ten long flights of stairs) but changing my diet has been pretty huge.

I eat the weirdest food. It seems to do the trick.
I stopped eating pre-packaged mealz (like Lean Cuisine stuff) and started packing my own food. Things I knew that I enjoyed, and had lots of protein or fiber and limited fat and carbohydrates. Lean meats and dairy seem to hit the spot for satiety. Pickles and capers for flavor, lots of vegetables, limited servings of multigrain breads or tortillas - none of that sounds weird until I put it all together,but when you see me eating cottage cheese with salsa in it...


This is tangential, but I watched a documentary recently called "I Want To Look Like That Guy" (found the entire thing on youtube when I was sick at home one day). It was an interesting look into the kind of training and diet bodybuilding requires, starting from an average-joe body type.

Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I don't know if I could just shovel various nutrients into my mouth on a schedule like that. I enjoy the creativity required to make things that are savory and satisfying. People I know who have to eat all the time kind of hate it.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:23 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


All the discussion over what works for specific individuals misses what I personally think is the most important point, as summarized in the OP's final link: That Big Food and Big Beverage companies are systematically trying to establish that exercise and diet are equally obesogenic, and equally to blame. Why do you think Coke sponsors so many youth sports programs? Why does PepsiCo tell people "refuel" themselves after a workout with a Gatorade? Coke et al. are sponsoring things like youth sports so they can position themselves as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Which is not to say that exercise isn't awesome -- it's well-established that exercise has a host of positive health benefits. But Big Food/Beverage is co-opting those benefits to try to argue that Coke and exercise together are part of a balanced lifestyle, just like Sugar Crunch-Em's Cereal is part of a balanced breakfast featuring milk, eggs, bacon, and a grapefruit.

Any time you see food or beverage ads mentioning "energy balance," or see exercise, activity, and sports-related programs promoted by a food or beverage company, you should view it with the same skepticism you would apply to a cigarette company telling you their tobacco is "toasted."
posted by pie ninja at 12:24 PM on May 18, 2015 [42 favorites]


It is my dream to have nothing to do but be able to work out for 8 hours a day. It's so at odds with hating the 40-60 minutes I do every day, but at the same time having the ability to focus so completely on my diet and exercise is incredibly appealing.

It might also be linked to absolutely hating having a desk job. Where can I go plant trees for an entire summer?
posted by erratic meatsack at 12:27 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


It might also be linked to absolutely hating having a desk job. Where can I go plant trees for an entire summer?

British Columbia.
posted by Jalliah at 12:28 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mark me down as someone else who does best with a healthy diet (for me, that means nutritarian) and exercise I like -- and what I like is running, biking, and walking.

But this isn't about personal choices so much as it is about the major point of most of the links, which is that we are being marketed, incessantly, a clearly unhealthy diet. I just ran a half marathon, and the "health" fair for that event was, as always, dominated by companies marketing a lot of processed sugar, via energy bars, energy gels, sugary Greek yogurt, chocolate milk, Gatorade, etc. Sugar absolutely permeates processed food, and grocery stores and food companies are very much in the business of getting us to eat as much of that stuff as possible. The political lobbying to support the processed food business is rather staggering, too.

I thought the most interesting link was the last, comparing tobacco companies and the food industry. Speaking as a former smoker, that resonates for me.
posted by bearwife at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


And here's My Weight Loss Story: Varying degrees of chubby/fat/fatter/holy-shit-so-fat for most of my life, until it all just clicked, and over the course of 2 years, starting at 40, I lost every single excess pound, and ended up smack in the middle of what the BMI chart tells me is normal. (Not debating BMI, just noting that's where doctors and insurance companies are happy to judge your weight as officially acceptable, in my experience.) And I mean, I lost a lot of weight, so much I can't even bring myself to say how much, and I'm coming up on six years having kept it all off, barring the wonky menstrual cycle five-pound swing, oh fuck you perimenopause.

Apparently, I've done it all wrong, and am still doing it wrong, since beyond walking everywhere and staying generally highly physically active, I don't regularly do anything that could be considered exercise. (To be fair, I do walk a LOT.) All I really did was set a calorie budget, and mostly stick to it, with holiday/special occasions/vacation exceptions. I eat tons of carbs, because I genuinely prefer vegetables and fruit to meat and dairy. I do mostly avoid starchy stuff like rice and bread, simply because I wasn't fat because I don't like to eat a lot, and that stuff is just way too calorically dense compared to, say, cabbage or green beans or strawberries. My macros would make a lot of committed low carb folks scream.

It's working for me. My husband is finding going pretty low carb and busting his ass in the gym works for him, but he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes last year, and oh yes, low carb eating and strenuous exercise has had a wonderful impact on his blood sugar. I think the biggest factor, for us both, though, is definitely calorie restriction and staying the hell away from crap like ready meals. Which we can do, since I have the time to shop for fresh ingredients frequently, and the skills to cook really, really well. And plenty of freezer space, for batch cooking. I don't think it would be anywhere near as easy (for some value of easy) if our circumstances were different. And fortunately, I actively love cooking and food shopping, so it isn't a miserable chore. That counts for a lot.
posted by skybluepink at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was talking about the Washington Post's headline ("Take off that Fitbit. Exercise alone won’t make you lose weight."), Bella Donna, not yours!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:32 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


But Big Food/Beverage is co-opting those benefits to try to argue that Coke and exercise together are part of a balanced lifestyle, just like Sugar Crunch-Em's Cereal is part of a balanced breakfast featuring milk, eggs, bacon, and a grapefruit.

that's why EU law puts stickers over those US-based lies on imported snack foods.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:34 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seriously? I just lost 40 pounds. I ate less but I also exercised in the fasted state. So if the title is "exercise won't help you lose weight" that's bullshit. Exercise can help you lose weight. But it works better if you also change your diet. Much better.

Also, you will lose some weight if you exercise and eat as you are now. You will create caloric deficits. But major weight loss happens when you eat right and exercise enough.

This article title, at least, does a disservice to the people.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:35 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nobody ever seems to mention thresholds when they talk about exercise and weight loss. My experience is that I can eat almost nothing and still maintain weight if I don't exercise at all. If I start taking walks every other day, all of a sudden my metabolism switches on and my diet-related changes start to take effect. But it's not a linear response; walking every day doesn't help twice as much, it just makes me hungrier after a certain point.

I think there are subtle threshold effects that are missed when we talk about this stuff imprecisely. If you're not exercising at all, a little exercise might be all you needed to bump your metabolism into action. If you already walk a couple miles every day, ramping up your exercise might not make a damn bit of difference without bigger dietary changes. If we don't mention our baseline levels of diet and activity when we ascribe our weight loss to this or that, we miss these little interactive or nonlinear effects - and they're vitally important, because the effects of diet and exercise on our bodies are by no means independent.
posted by dialetheia at 12:39 PM on May 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


Do what you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, cycling, sex or all three.

At the same time, amirite, doc? Amirite? Doc, at the same time, amirite?


Now, there's an accident (of more than one type) waiting to happen...

Is this the right place to mention that sex-toy injuries surged after 50 Shades of Gray was published? I'm not sure if a bicycle qualifies as a sex toy but be careful out there all you simultaneous sex-and-exercise lovers!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:41 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I do think ramping up my physical activity a lot, after losing the bulk of my excess weight, has helped immeasurably with maintaining the loss (not to mention my overall cardiovascular fitness). I figure I've probably bought myself a couple of hundred extra calories a day as a cushion.
posted by skybluepink at 12:43 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought the most interesting link was the last, comparing tobacco companies and the food industry.

If I'm remembering the title correctly, "Fed Up" was making much of the same comparison.

And while they didn't state the need for a low-carb diet outright, the gist of the movie was the mistaken belief that people can substitute low-fat foods for everything and make a dent in their weight. Very few make the connection to the added sugar in place of fat - I know I didn't until it was pointed out to me.
posted by erratic meatsack at 12:43 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sadly, many doctors’ understanding of nutrition is influenced by bogus industry advertising... The food industry has been central in pushing these misconceptions, using tactics similar to those employed by big tobacco, to elide its culpability in spreading disease... the food industry has formed close ties with influential politicians... Corporate greed and a systematic political failure to protect citizens from the manipulations of the food industry have brought American health care to its knees...
I once worked, indirectly, as a low-level shill in the U.S. agricultural-industrial complex, and this is stuff that needs to keep being said.

OF COURSE we don't want to go back to the days of food insecurity we had a century ago, but just like with the military-industrial complex, greed and corruption have crept in and swung the pendulum right off its axle (or whatever it is a pendulum swings on.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:48 PM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm going to actually read the thread, but I wanted to respond to this pull quote first:

Exercise — no matter how many gym memberships you buy or how often you wear your Fitbit — won’t make you lose weight.

Horseshit. Some years ago I was living in the west end, and both my job and then-boyfriend were about 8km away. For about a month, I rollerbladed to work every day, then over to his place, then back home. Approximately 18-19km, total. And I dropped three inches off my waist in as many weeks, with no change to my dietary habits--including much beer--whatsoever. Fat just melted right off, and the only difference was exercise.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:49 PM on May 18, 2015


There's been a real decline in the quality of Washington Post's headlines over the years as they have tried to compete for the clickbait eyeballs.
posted by peeedro at 12:53 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've never lost weight by adopting an exercise regime OR a diet. I just don't have the willpower, even if I see results I fall off the wagon within a few weeks to a month. But I have lost weight by incidentally becoming more active separate from a desire to lose weight. Dragging myself to the gym three times a week has never made any difference, but in the last 6 months I started biking to work (because I started a new job within super easy biking range), got a dog that needs to be walked and got into an active sport as a fun thing to do 2-3x a week and now I'm losing weight, of course, without much change in diet. Plus with the warmer weather I'm more likely to do a bike ride or go kayaking on the weekend.

That map of state by state overweight rates posted up thread is amazing. Has there really been that much change in 5 years? 10 years? Have our eating habits as a nation really changed that much in that amount of time?
posted by geegollygosh at 12:53 PM on May 18, 2015


So, I went looking for the FPP author's credentials in this subject and came up empty. His BMJ article coauthors have quite a compelling "competing interests" section writeup though.
posted by zennie at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2015


But Big Food/Beverage is co-opting those benefits to try to argue that Coke and exercise together are part of a balanced lifestyle, just like Sugar Crunch-Em's Cereal is part of a balanced breakfast featuring milk, eggs, bacon, and a grapefruit.

Yeah. I mean activity is an easy story to sell because it gets people feeling vicariously heroic. Encouraging people to identify with strong-looking people running, kicking balls, whatever, works; thinking you could be like either of the Williams sisters is flattering. There was some opposition to these kinds of ads, not sure what came of it.

To clarify my anecdote: I really did just feel like eating healthier stuff, but I then also counted calories, and switched out white for grainier carbs, as per the common sense of the time. Went for a very small deficit and a slow rate of loss, + higher-intensity activity most days.

Speculating about that feeling, though: I wonder if the totally novel, improved sense of well-being after workouts unfavourably (if unintentionally) contrasted with a biologically-grounded, McD's-related crappiness I previously hadn't known existed, because I was used to feeling that way all the time. I.e. something I can now recognize as a kind of carb/fat haze. And then, maybe I noticed that the haze wasn't around when I had e.g. a steak and salad, which instead powered an awesomely kick-ass [for me, for me, obviously it was still clumsy] breaststroke in the pool. Some kind of accidental reinforcement loop, maybe.

posted by cotton dress sock at 1:08 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


you can have my fitbit when you pry it from my cold dead wrist. buzzy alarms twice a day to go for a walk and do pull-ups. I feel better, regardless of my BMI. And after trying the calorie tracking part of the app...yeah, i'm way too lazy to eat junk food and expect to work it off, so i just eat it less. and, the sky. i see the sky for 10-15 minutes more every day and now 3-4 coworkers go with me.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:24 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Its interesting to note that the editorial and three main studies mentioned in the article (BMJ, PHM, NEJM, Int. J. Epidemiol.), are focused primarily on aerobic exercise and 'activity levels'. The survey-based study lists a number of activities that count toward the activity score, and it appears that none of them include any significant weight-bearing/resistance component (For instance, the respondents in the moderate activity category needed to report that they performed activities such as brisk walking, vacuuming, gardening, etc., that increased breathing or heart rate for 30 minutes 5 days a week). The PHM study on the older adults did include some resistance training, but it was not very intense (these adults are over 65 and would be unlikely candidates for serious weightlifting).

I wonder if there is a restriction of range problem here, where increased activity within the bounds of normal exercise (light jogging, gardening) is unlikely to significantly affect weight, but vigorous exercise coupled with anaerobic training to increase the proportion of metabolically costly tissue may have better results. The studies cited in the article suggest that adding a few more steps to your fitbit will not move the dial, and support the claim that diet is the greater contributor to weight loss, but fail to support the statement that a 'more aggressive Crossfit regimen' including serious lifting would not help, as truly intense exercise does not appear to have been extensively tested.
posted by Svejk at 1:35 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Tthe vast majority of magic bullet style diets that focus superfoods or ingredient avoidance encourage an obsession with marginal returns that also diminish over time as you learn how to acquire calories within the diet's scheme. The primary reason low carb diets work initially is because it is difficult to source your calories at first. Once you sort it you end up back where you were before (albeit poorer because no-carb calories are quite a bit more expensive).

Counting calories is important because it teaches you the relationship between what you put in and what you put out. I know my uninformed estimates of how much food = how much exercise were wildly off base in the direction of gaining weight. Hell, I thought breads, cheeses and juices were healthy and relatively low calorie. Now I know they are just delicious but with a price to pay on the running trails. So even if you can't stick with counting (and it is hard) it is still worth doing for a while just so you are better informed.

Also the best motivation I have found for keeping weight off is running. Mostly because running is hard at a healthy weight. When you gain weight it's crushingly difficult. So being lazy I make the effort to avoid weight creep.
posted by srboisvert at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2015


I think that's one of the problems with the whole field of study, really --- given the cost and difficulty of precisely monitoring caloric input vs output, you either get very narrow studies of say, a couple dozen people max for a brief window of time, or very broad based survey-type studies of large populations with incredibly broad definitions of what counts as exercise. Neither are super great for drawing sweeping conclusions about the whole population, IMO.
posted by maggiepolitt at 1:43 PM on May 18, 2015


The link has a quote that "the fewer carbs you eat the healthier you are going to be". If that were true the ideal would just be to eat meat and fat and no vegetables. Yeah, getting no phytonutrients is really healthy!

*processed carbs = bad*
eat real food. real food doesn't come in a box. cauliflower = good carbs. pasta, bread, etc = bad carbs. worked for me, i dropped 100 pounds. then i reversed the process and that worked too!
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:44 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm reminded of the section on exercise in The Hacker's Diet:

"So, don't exercise to try to burn off calories and lose weight. Unless you're a professional athlete or obsessed with sports, you're not likely to spend enough time exercising strenuously enough to make much of a difference... The real reasons to exercise are that you'll live longer and feel better."
posted by baf at 1:47 PM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Of relevance, Malhotra's similar editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine was temporarily pulled down over undeclared conflicts of interest.
posted by Hutch at 1:48 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd think that you'd be better off eating carbs, being overweight, and getting plenty of exercise than eating better, being thinner, but otherwise being a couch potato.
posted by VTX at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a yoyo-weight history. For my entire childhood, I was underweight. Then I got into elite sports, and got used to eating a lot, mainly protein and fat. I have never enjoyed sugar.
When my family insisted I go for an academic career instead of sports (and today I agree with this), I put on 20 pounds.
The cure was a lot of walking. At least 2 hours a day of walking.
Later in life I have put on too much weight during two pregnancies. Again the efficient cure was +2hours of walking.
Today I am overweight again, (too long irrelevant story). I have tried all sorts of diets - to no avail.
My doctor is confused because he says I am overall very healthy in spite of the overweight.

However, I actually agree with the overall concept of the article. Yesterday, I decided to start walking again (I'll keep you updated). I'm certain it will work for me. But there are two important aspects to this:
- first of all, I'll be walking a half-marathon every day. A lot more than most people's basic training.
- second, I know from experience that this will change my eating habits. So the egg-hen relationship here is very complicated.
posted by mumimor at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2015


So I've just read Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall. The prose can be a little breathless at times, and it IS all over the place, but I liked it a lot.

Key points McDougall argues include the cutting down/out of carbs and (especially) refined sugars, and the benefits of exercise. He namechecks Tim Noakes, mentioned in the lead post, as someone who underwent a conversion on the dangers of carbs. He was someone who used to promote "carb-loading" etc, which was/is fairly standard for endurance events.

Someone more central to this is Phil Maffetone who argues for fat as the primary fuel for endurance sports. The arguments he makes for this make a lot of sense to my, admittedly non-scientific, mind.

As someone wanting to run further, I'm looking to try this as a means of kick-starting an improvement in my body's fat-burning-for-fuel ability. I'm also interesting in losing a little weight, basically so I have a little less to carry around running :)

One REALLY IMPORTANT point Maffetone makes is that none of this should be thought of AS A DIET! You should not be hungry. You should eat as much as you want and need - just of the right sort of foods.

I'm interested to see how this experiment goes for me. I've been running about 3 1/12 years and very much doing a two steps forward, one step back journey in learning what works for me!
posted by maupuia at 1:59 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


vigorous exercise coupled with anaerobic training to increase the proportion of metabolically costly tissue may have better results.

Agree, with the caveat that recovery can be an issue for people over a certain age and beginners.

And I personally have had a number of orthopedic issues resulting from getting a little too vigorous (mileage varies so much, obviously). OTOH, long, slow cardio takes a long-ass time. And other than walking, that can be risky for joints, too. From that point of view, alternating medium-intensity, low-impact endurance stuff on the machines (with some intervals thrown in now and then) with low-to-medium-intensity resistance activity, is the safest and most sustainable bet for me (for where I'm at right now).
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:09 PM on May 18, 2015


The article in the FPP is only about weight loss, and acknowledges there are significant health benefits to exercise OTHER than weight loss. It seems that some of those benefits may directly counteract the negative health effects of excessive sugar consumption. Assuming these types of studies are not fake/secretly funded by Big Soda, I guess I'm not offended when companies that peddle sugar also try to promote exercise.
posted by Mallenroh at 2:09 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


For a long time, exercise was the only way I could GAIN weight. Muscles are heavy and body weight isn't a very useful way to measure "health."

I have to agree with a number of people above: I'm done with all these snake-oil evangelists beating you over the head with shaky science. IMHO almost all nutritional science seems to have a high degree of utter wonk to it. I'm fairly convinced that a diet high in processed corn is probably not good. Beyond that, it's just hand-waving and assumptions made on very questionable data.

And what kind of "exercise" is he talking about? Aerobic Threshold? Lactate Threshold? yoga? Walking the dog to 15 minutes? If he's gonna go ahead and lump all exercise together, I'll go ahead and lump all nutritional advice together and throw this out with the rest of the pseudo-wonkishness that is the dieting advice community.
posted by ghostiger at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2015


One REALLY IMPORTANT point Maffetone makes is that none of this should be thought of AS A DIET! You should not be hungry. You should eat as much as you want and need - just of the right sort of foods.

This is the reason why I figure what I've been doing is working. I'm eating and I'm not hungry. I don't really like calling it a diet when people ask what I've been doing. I don't see me going back to my old way of eating either. There have been a couple of days in row where I did eat stuff like I used to and I felt crappy and tired. Yeah it was good eating all the bread and pasta but boy did I feel it. It made me sad actually because it became clear that if I want to feel good, energized and not have these ravenous creating up and downs that there is no going back.

I joked with my Mom the day after that I needed grieve. It was only sort of a joke though, it did make me pretty down. And it's not that I can't or won't eat those things it's just not something for me to eat as regularly as I did before.
posted by Jalliah at 2:20 PM on May 18, 2015


I am 5'4" and weigh 130 lbs. I lost 35 lbs 4 years ago in large part to diet and exercise. I stopped eating fast food and started to run/workout 3-4 times a week. I initially went with a low-carb/South Beach style diet which I stopped after two months. I've kept the weight off and I feel better about my health and habits.

I have noticed that my metabolism has slowed down within these last 4 years. It's a balance that is not easy and I work hard to try to stay healthy. I guess I'm just sharing that even with the weight now gone, I find myself working at my health. I have to keep it on my mind. I have a running blog to help remind myself that I need to run more. It's such a difficult thing to manage, this idea of health and fitness and keeping it in my life. But I'm glad that I work hard at it. I do enjoy feeling better about myself and my fitness and health.
posted by Fizz at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just thought I should add. I've talked about weight loss but the more important measure are actual body measurements and their changes. Even more important now that I've added in some exercise which includes strength training. I've had a couple of weeks that hasn't seen a whole lot of weight change but noticeable measurement changes.

It's cool how that works. I'm looking forward to having and seeing some muscle again.
posted by Jalliah at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2015


I'm going to just skip to the bottom here and ignore the stuff written above, largely because I bet I can predict a lot of it.

A few concerns.

1. Focusing on weight loss misses the point. The focus should be on improved health. Weight loss is A metric of this, not THE metric. You end up insulin resistant? Bad. You end up thin? Not necessarily good. Goal is cardiovascular health here, and exercise is good at helping obtain that goal.

2. Focusing on volitional exercise ALSO misses the point. Study after study after study shows that increasing your volitional exercise (gym time) will not make up for time spent sedentary (I write, as I sit on my ass in my desk chair). We do not necessarily need to increase our overall volitional activity, but we DO need to be less sedentary. Stairs over escalator or elevator. Walk or bike instead of drive. Stand instead of sit, and sit instead of lie down. The studies that look ONLY at volitional exercise miss a lot of this. Basal rate, you can't change much, and volitional burn can only do so much. Nonexercise activity is a huge part of your daily expenditure - you spend a hell of a lot of time NOT being at the gym. I mean, really - standing up doubles your caloric burn vs. sitting.

3. Exercise also improves sleep. Lack of good sleep is a huge contributor to weight gain. Simple level - you are tired, so you don't move as much. Easy to see how the viscous cycle perpetuates itself, even without getting into brain effects and neuroendocrine interactions.

So yeah. Stand up more often. Sleep more. Work out some, but mostly just don't sit on your ass all the time. Eat better, and eat less refined carbs. (Complex carbs? Good for you. Don't remove all carbs. Just the white flour and sugars and such... whole grain is good. Gluten, meh, go with your gut there [no pun intended]... I have a hard time thinking something we've been eating for 10,000+ years is suddenly toxic.)

Full disclosure: I am an obesity researcher. But I am not YOUR obesity researcher. And you probably need one. The solution is likely going to differ on a per-person basis. But we aren't far enough along to have truly individualized solutions yet. Don't worry. We're working on it. (Well OK, I'm not personally working on it, I'm still at the animal model stage of research. Go ask my colleagues on the human side.)

Addendum. Want the bad news? The bad news is once you become fat, your brain changes. Your response to food and exercise changes. And we are very, very good at defending our current weight, but even better at adding to it. Especially as we get older and becme more sedentary and lose muscle mass (and thus lose capacity to burn that extra energy). We have no evolutionary reason to put the brakes on fat accumulation. In the wild, lack of food WAS the brakes. We didn't have any pressure to develop a mechanism to counter this - unlimited food never happened. In a society where there are dollar menus and sugar is in everything? There's no lack of food. And we have no brakes. Physical, or mental, really. We're from ape stock, animals that savor fat and sugar as it's rare and to be treasured in the wild. Our ancestors survived and thrived by seeking out and gorging on fat and sugar. Now fat and sugar are two of the five main food groups, which are (if the supermarket is any indication) fat, sugar, corn syrup, salt, and enriched white flour.

Do I sound bitter and depressed? Sure. This line of work is chock full of depression! All the evidence shows that the best way to "cure" weight-related diseases is to stop anyone from getting overweight to begin with. But all the evidence also shows that companies making snack food don't give a shit, and that Congress is content to take their money, declare Sunny Delight is "fruit juice" and ketchup is a "vegetable" (that's two kinds of wrong, because jesus christ, tomatoes are fruits, for gods sake; I don't care what the food industry says, if it grows from a flower it's a fruit. We all fail at biology. What the hell is wrong with us.)

tl;dr: Scare tactic headlines are scary. But don't miss the point that sitting on our asses is killing us.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:39 PM on May 18, 2015 [47 favorites]


I've recently cut out automatic cheesy crust upgrades. I've never felt better.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:44 PM on May 18, 2015


Of relevance, Malhotra's similar editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine was temporarily pulled down over undeclared conflicts of interest.

This is actually the same editorial as linked to in the OP, with the same DOI; the web address just changed slightly when it was re-posted.
posted by XMLicious at 2:53 PM on May 18, 2015


Discussion like these always interest me because I'm always interested in what specifically helped specific people. (Perhaps in the same way I'm curious what specific people carry in their bags or what software they use the manage their todo list).

But...

I think we perhaps forget that medical journals and researchers are working with statistics. Any criticism of BMI can be countered with "It's a statistical model, and people with a BMI over x are more likely to get y disease." That doesn't mean you will get that disease any more than a 60% chance of rain means it will rain all the time. It's a forecast, that's all. I think it can be misused, but it's a reasonable statistical tool.

The same goes for health advice. Obviously one piece of advice does not fit all (hence why books and websites tell you to consult your doctor before embarking on an exercise program) but that statistically, we're dealing with a serious eating problem in the US.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 3:03 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I ran a personal best in the Half-Marathon over the weekend. Apparently I've discovered a way to run faster without having to lose all that extra weight that I've had to burn off each spring. To celebrate, I had a pint of Ben & Jerry's Salted Caramel Core.
posted by yeti at 3:06 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


All of these exercise studies seem to leave out the vitally important part where you have to imagine you'll never join the X-Men unless you get your fitness scores up.
posted by The Whelk at 3:10 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Remember, She-Hulk's strength increased significantly when she started exercising in her non-green Jennifer Walters form.
posted by asperity at 3:25 PM on May 18, 2015


You might even want to get books with the 1940 military benchmark tests to meet if you're a totally insane person and want to be captain America
posted by The Whelk at 3:42 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


make your commute in a speedo

Please do this only when swimming. You cannot burn calories frightening your fellow riders on Metrorail.

Sorry ... what?
posted by datawrangler at 3:44 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Personal experience--back in the early years of the universe I dropped 20 pounds in 6 weeks through a combination of diet change and exercise. Nowadays it would have to be mainly diet, as my knees complain when I take them up a flight of stairs. Or for a walk. I can't take these knees anywhere without their pronouncements of misery.

When it comes to diet, exercise, all that body business that leads to appearance and function changes--YMMV. Why is that so hard for some people to accept?

Eeeeehhhhhhverybody has got The Best Idea. It's just that my waistline isn't listening.
posted by datawrangler at 3:50 PM on May 18, 2015


All I'm saying is, is that a single Oreo is the equivalent of about 15 or 20 minutes on the elliptical, you know?

Argh. There's a reason physics, chemistry, and biology are all different disciplines. That comparison is nonsense for a bunch of reasons. People vary in how many of the calories in something they eat are excreted (and it varies individually depending on when you eat it and what else you eat). People vary in how efficiently they burn calories on the elliptical. People vary in how much 20 minutes on the elliptical affects their basal metabolic rate. People vary in how eating that Oreo will affect what else they choose to eat that day.
posted by straight at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


That whole "you" thing is dangerous. You can't outrun a bad diet? Can't you? I know people who do. I also know people who can't. To me, the reason I still try to work out regularly is that my brain was not meant to occupy a jar in front of a computer screen. I have a body to do stuff with, not a body that exists to be pleasing for other people to look at. I also got a large Big Mac meal for supper and still expect to be running at a calorie deficit for the day because otherwise I'm running on celery sticks and unsweetened ginger peach iced tea. I'm not you. You do you. Try stuff, see what works, read a lot, ignore anybody who makes broad pronouncements about what you ought to be doing without knowing you--good advice for a lot of things, actually.
posted by Sequence at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The main argument that I hear a lot is that when we exercise more, we eat more, because our bodies need it from having exercised so much, so we don't actually get ahead. Well, yeah. This is why when you exercise you tend to think more carefully about what you eat and what kinds of things provide more satiety and such. Also, it's why you sometimes choose to not eat more to simply make up for the calorie deficit, to get an additional benefit from the exercise. It's not inevitable that we will eat more. If you argue that working out more results in people who are not self aware and just filling the calorie hole, that might make sense. Interstingly, the time in my life I lost the most weight was when I simply ate fewer calories and exercised very little. But there's no way that burning more calories while intentionally eating fewer and more satisfying calories doesn't also lead to weight loss.

Perhaps most importantly, there are indirect benefits to exercise that lead to weight loss. When I'm in the groove in my running routine, there is a real keen awareness that there are certain foods that can take the feel-good edge off. Additionally, there are certain foods that will make me feel even better when I exercise. Those foods tend to be the kinds of things that don't pack on the calories like a couple of Big Macs, and are indirectly a consequence of treating my body better by simply getting it moving. However you cut it, the equation is likely true that eating less and not doing much can provide a similar calorie/debt ratio while exercising and perhaps eating a little bit more. But I'd bet a lot of money that those who are more successful at maintaining a weight loss ratio of calories in-and-out are those who aren't couch potatoes.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2015


okay but like can we discuss how delicious oreos are

for reals
posted by erratic meatsack at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


erratic meatsack: "It might also be linked to absolutely hating having a desk job. Where can I go plant trees for an entire summer?"

Note that exercise is about the only thing going for the job. Otherwise the pay is bad; working conditions can vary from tolerable to miserable; you have to deal with bugs and bears; you often live in camps with all the disadvantages of camp life; the camps tend to be substandard; injury rates are high; and many of the companies are exploitative of their workers.
posted by Mitheral at 4:18 PM on May 18, 2015


"How long have you kept it off?"

Those first 25 pounds? Coming up on a year and a half.

"Your comment is dogmatic". My comment was pointedly about what I personally have found to be true. I absolutely accept that other people's bodies may work differently than mine.

" I'm betting it's about half true"

Based on what? Why are you being so antagonistic? It is entirely true. I don't want to type out a novel here, but very briefly, I gave low carb (without exercise because I didn't have enough energy to exercise while doing low carb) a long chance to work, it resulted in my gaining a small amount of weight and feeling like crap. The next year I joined a gym and focused entirely on exercise ... Read a lot, had some personal training sessions, and experimented. I did not have time or oomph to make dietary changes at the same time.

"Good for you, but the fact is exercise is not a weight loss tool for most people"

Looks like quite a few people on this thread have found exercise to be a weight loss tool. Are you going to accuse all of them of being "bogus"? Are you going to accuse all the people on the national weight loss registry of being bogus? One of the few commonalities people who have kept weight off long-term have is that they exercise.

"It triggers intense hunger"

I've said it before but will said it again: check out High Intensity Interval Training. One of the many benefits is that it tends to suppress hunger.

"Often becomes an unsustainable addiction when performed at the level of intensity needed for weight loss. "

On what do you base this assertion?

HIIT tends to take far less time per week than traditional cardio to have a meaningful effect, and can easily be fit into most schedules.

Here's a decent summary link: www.Fultonkettlebells.com/11-research-backed-reasons-you-should-be-doing-hiit-instead-of-traditional-cardio/
posted by mysterious_stranger at 4:18 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


okay but like can we discuss how delicious oreos are

You know, I've loved sugar, especially in chocolate and eggy iterations, and I am a former oreo fan from way back. I was notorious for this sugar weakness in my family. But I got strict about being nutritarian for a couple of months a couple of years ago -- which also sent my bad cholesterol plummeting -- and I lost my taste for oreos along with just about all other processed sweets. I'm pretty sensitive to salt now, too. I do love whole fruit, but that's all the sugar I find I really want these days.

I think part of what is going on with the aggressive, saturating marketing of processed food is that all of us have been made into sugar addicts. And when you are addicted, sure oreos taste great. After you stop eating that stuff, not so much, for reals. What I taste now is overwhelming sweetness and quite bit of salt and a nasty oily residue on the tongue.
posted by bearwife at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


okay but like can we discuss how delicious oreos are

and also their total lack of anything resembling actual food ingredients means that people with all kinds of dietary intolerances can tolerate them

they are miraculous
posted by poffin boffin at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I so badly want to lose my desire for delicious mouth-watering sugary things! Yesterday I broke down and had a fruit tart (and a bottle of riesling DAMN IT) after being really good about avoiding these things for 3 weeks straight.

I maintained keto for two full months but it was not enough to break me from sugar's enchanting grasps. Kudos to you, bearwife!
posted by erratic meatsack at 4:25 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Related: Grant Petersen's recent book Eat Bacon, Don't Jog.
posted by monkeymike at 4:34 PM on May 18, 2015


TL;DR: more prepared food consumption. It's not easily reducible to increased sugar/carbs, it's more calories of all types.

I saw a really interesting thing recently. It's thesis was this:

Sugar alone? Too sweet. Consumption is self limiting
Fat alone: Same deal. Who eats a block of butter/lard/whatever?

Combine the sugar and the fat though (cheesecake, ice cream, cookies, etc), and what you get is a substance that tricks the brain by turning off those self-limiting switches. It's so delicious that we can eat mountains of that shit.

I can happily limit all other food variants with no effort whatsoever, but put one of those sugar/fat combinations in front of me and I'm like the rats in Bruce Alexanders Rat Park experiment --stamping on that lever with no thought for my own mortality.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:48 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've said it before but will said it again: check out High Intensity Interval Training. One of the many benefits is that it tends to suppress hunger.

Yeah, but then you're just replacing feeling hungry with feeling like being tortured when doing HIIT. I'd rather just feel hungry, since at least I can do something while I feel hungry (like study, read, or have a conversation).

I did HIIT years ago, and only because I was training for a job that has a physical requirement. I ended up with another job and quickly dropped HIIT, because it was absolutely no fun and unlike traditional cardio, there was no way to listen to music or podcasts while doing it.

Nowadays I just find the time to walk for 45-60 minutes a day. Yes, it eats up time, but it's not only for physical exercise, but a space to let thoughts wander and do some good thinking, which is something that I thought I didn't need until I had it.
posted by FJT at 4:52 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who eats a block of butter/lard/whatever?

You had to ask, didn't you?
posted by BWA at 5:01 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're at a point where you're not actively gaining, and mostly hovering at the same weight in an overweight/obese category, then you're going to lose weight if you add exercise but don't change your diet. I had hovered around 175-185 (I'm like 5' 2.5"). Added small amounts of exercise, but increased it incrementally, and dropped 55lbs over the course of a little more than a year. I've now maintained it for almost a year. No dietary changes. Never added up calories. I eat lots and lots of carbs, because I'm just not a big meat & dairy person. I'm active enough now that I'm pretty positive I eat more today, than I did when I was categorically obese. I do eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, do a lot of home cooking and don't eat out often. But I'll also stock up on peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's, or sour gummy worms from Whole Foods, or giant blueberry muffins from a local bakery. In fact, I ate all 3 of those today, but lookit I'm like flying across this 5k finish line yesterday, so you can definitely, absolutely outrun a less than stellar diet.
posted by raztaj at 5:30 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've struggled to lose weight for over ten years now using various diets and exercise. Nothing seemed to work and over that time I gradually put on more and more weight. Last year, however, I was very busy with my work for about 6 months (which involves moderate physical activity), and lost about 25 lbs with no effort at all in moderating my diet or exercising. Not wanting to lose this gift over the Christmas break, I decided to start an exercise program.

I think what ended up working for me was that, though my initial goals were weight loss, they quickly shifted toward competing in a triathlon this summer. My weight actually became a secondary focus to other training goals. Over that time, my diet did evolve, though it is hardly disciplined still, but the amount and intensity of exercise increased enormously. Since I started training, I've lost a further 35 lbs and become dramatically more lean as well.

I think the key thing for me, though, is that my goals are no longer focused on weight. My goal is to race as well as I can. If I were to have focused on my weight over that time, I probably would have become far more discouraged as it plateaued, went up, and dropped at various times. Instead, by being focused on performance targets, I was able to see it as only part of the equation for me and stay on course.

Another very helpful thing has been joining a team to train with. I really enjoy the social aspects of it, and I always increase the intensity of exercise when I'm around other people (I'm somewhat competitive I think).
posted by jamincan at 5:56 PM on May 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think the biggest problem is that people think of healthy diet and exercise as a matter of chemistry and sports medicine, but it's not that mysterious to most people how to exercise or lose weight. Yes, they don't know the specifics, but you can talk about glycemic indexes and ketosis and VO2 max stats, and if they don't follow the plans they set, you might as well have been a glib internet commenter saying "eat less, move more."

Moving out of a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet are really behavioral problems. But I think a lot of people are afraid to think of their problems from a psychological perspective because of the societal stigma. Then, the pitches for crash diets and complicated exercise routines sound really appealing.

Of course, hunger itself can be distressing, and a big part of your brain fights for you to stay sedentary until you're in the habit of being active, so this is a psychological problem that butts up against some physical urges.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:31 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you're...then you're going to lose weight if you...

If there's anything science has proven about weight loss it's that sentences with these phrases are either factually inaccurate, ineffective as advice, or both.
posted by straight at 9:13 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


okay but like can we discuss how delicious oreos are

Yes we can. They're not delicious anymore since they replaced the trans fats with canola and palm oil in 2006.

Seriously, I have all of the same bad eating habits I had 10 years ago but I won't touch Oreos. I'd rather eat Broccoli.
posted by mmoncur at 9:22 PM on May 18, 2015


I never lose weight from exercise alone and I've always seemed to lose weight through cutting calories. But I have noticed that if I'm exercising regularly I don't gain weight as quickly. It's much easier to maintain my weight when I'm exercising.
posted by gt2 at 9:37 PM on May 18, 2015


I always wonder how much of the loss from HIIT is from the 3-hour window where eating is precluded (1 hr before, 1 hr exercise, 1 hr after). I only once ate snacks before doing 100 sit ups. Afterwards, you're much more likely to collapse into sleep rather than snack while watching tv.
posted by benzenedream at 12:01 AM on May 19, 2015


Moving out of a sedentary lifestyle and bad diet are really behavioral problems. But I think a lot of people are afraid to think of their problems from a psychological perspective because of the societal stigma. Then, the pitches for crash diets and complicated exercise routines sound really appealing

Exactly. It's really not complicated. I don't want to. I want to want to. I know I should want to. What we need is a one of those health hucksters with a simple plan for making an unmotivated person motivated. That would make billions.
posted by Octaviuz at 5:48 AM on May 19, 2015


You lose weight in the kitchen, you gain health in the gym.
posted by Cosine at 10:55 AM on May 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Good lord, can we please stop using BMI as a metric for health?

Yeah, pretty much this. Usually the point is though that you can be "obese" by the standards of BMI and still be healthy. Well I have the unfortunate experience of being the opposite: BMI tell me that yeah, you could lose a few pounds, but you're basically pretty much healthy as is, no problem. Well, I'm not. I have high blood pressure and heart problems, which is because of drinking-smoking-sitting. Where did this belief in the BMI as a telling metric even come from?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:10 PM on May 19, 2015


A few hundred calories is a small bag of chips and a regular soda

Definitely in terms of just creating a calorie deficit, diet wins over exercise. But exercise can do other useful things to your body besides create a calorie deficit, like engage signaling pathways that re-route metabolic flux. The main question is whether those effects of exercise improve or induce weight loss (and especially and specifically, fat loss) in addition to generally promoting health.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:41 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have you guys seen the size of a "regular" soda these days? There's like 300 calories in there! Don't drink that stuff.
posted by Justinian at 4:00 PM on May 19, 2015


Definitely in terms of just creating a calorie deficit, diet wins over exercise. But exercise can do other useful things to your body besides create a calorie deficit,

I like feeling the lymph being churned thoroughly, myself...
posted by mikelieman at 5:05 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Its interesting to note that the editorial and three main studies mentioned in the article (BMJ, PHM, NEJM, Int. J. Epidemiol.), are focused primarily on aerobic exercise and 'activity levels'. The survey-based study lists a number of activities that count toward the activity score, and it appears that none of them include any significant weight-bearing/resistance component

Weightlifting is better for losing weight than cardio. Cardio is better for heart health. But if you want to lose weight, weightlifting is better. Both is best.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:53 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


also, working out in the morning before you eat does wonders for weight loss. the key is that you are working out when there is no gas in the tank. the only place the body has to go is to fat stores for energy.

The first 40 days I was hitting the weights in the morning and doing cardio before eating? I lost 20 pounds, no shit. I was never hungry.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Exactly. It's really not complicated. I don't want to. I want to want to. I know I should want to. What we need is a one of those health hucksters with a simple plan for making an unmotivated person motivated. That would make billions.

waiting around for motivation is for suckers. discipline gets the job done. don't wait until you feel like doing it and you are excited. learn to work out despite not wanting to. its about creating habits.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:59 AM on May 20, 2015


And how exactly does one force themselves to do so when there's no motivation? Way to miss the point there, dude.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:05 AM on May 20, 2015


Have you guys seen the size of a "regular" soda these days? There's like 300 calories in there! Don't drink that stuff.

it's called child-sized because it's roughly the size of a 2 year old child if they were liquified
posted by poffin boffin at 11:59 AM on May 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


As I've observed before, people do irrational things for illogical reasons, so a rational analysis of the logical reasons behind people's issues will alone resolve those issues.

See Also: Fitness Calvinists, Total Depravity, and You.
posted by mikelieman at 1:23 PM on May 20, 2015


Weightlifting is better for losing weight than cardio. Cardio is better for heart health. But if you want to lose weight, weightlifting is better.

Is there a rationale behind why this would be the case? I've encountered people who've said this before but it seems completely backwards to me, at least if weight loss as a consequence of exercise has anything to do with energy expenditure (or work done, or power output, or whatever the correct physics quantity is.)

Like, if I'm out for a walk and I climb up a 20 foot high slope, that's approximately equivalent to twenty reps of lifting my entire body weight one foot, right? I must do that a dozen or more times on every occasion I go out for a walk near my house, but doing weightlifting I can't lift anywhere near my body weight except maybe with leg presses, and not as quickly as I can climb the hill.

I never stuck with weightlifting for very long, so maybe I could speed that up... but I couldn't do leg presses for as long as I walk (would you even want to? would that be safe I mean?) and this is just in comparison to walking. I'd think that a runner or a cyclist would be expending substantially more.

I don't doubt that you can lose lots of weight via weightlifting, it just seems like for the average person it would be difficult to lose more weight in the course of the exercise itself compared to something where you're moving your body. (Especially a big, heavy body like mine.) Is the idea maybe that muscle growth and increased vascularization and stuff like that makes up the difference?
posted by XMLicious at 2:16 PM on May 20, 2015


XMLicious, I don't think the evidence is behind Ironmouth's pronouncement that lifting weights** is better for losing weight than cardio, but strength training is way more useful for weight loss than most people think. The idea is that doing only cardio burns a lot of calories, but it doesn't build muscle and doesn't necessarily take those calories from fat or food instead of muscle. Strength training ensures that one isn't cannibalizing muscle while losing weight. Having more muscle in comparison to fat is not only a better goal than a lower scale weight, it also improves one's metabolism and ability to perform effective cardio.

Remember, too, that weight loss (or body recomposition, which is often the true goal) is not purely about work output, but is tremendously dependent on hormone regulation. Merely comparing calories expended between running for an hour and lifting for an hour does not solve the equation. We need to consider, for instance, what each does to our appetites and to our stress hormones.

Personally the evidence seems clear to me that a mix of cardio, strength training, and eating well is 80% of a good plan for most health goals, including weight loss or body recomposition.

** Not "weightlifting", the Olympic sport. /actually
posted by daveliepmann at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


An "all of the above" approach is probably the best for overall health but if you're trying to lose weight and can only commit to one form of exercise, strength training is about the most efficient one to do.

Using the big four compound lifts (squat, bench, dead lift, and overhead press) in either 3 or 5 sets of 5 reps you don't have to spend a ton of time actually working out (especially if you have the equipment at home, craigslist is boon for used equipment). So it's easier to fit into your schedule and easier to form the habit.

You preserve muscle so you're just losing fat. I lost a lot of volume before I started losing weight when I started. The added muscle usually makes the not-so-shapely parts appear more shapely (no matter your gender). When you lift heavy with compound lifts you engage a lot of muscles and it constricts your arteries so your heart has to work harder and your heart gets a workout that way (though not as much as HIIT). Your metabolic rate stays elevated for a while after your workout (for as much as a day and a half IIRC). And the added muscle increases your basal metabolic rate.

All the parts of your musculoskeletal get stronger in addition to the muscles. If you make sure you work on your flexibility and mobility, you're less prone to injury. Oh, and you start to follow better form when lifting things that aren't a bar bell without even thinking about it so you're less likely to injure yourself that way. Being stronger means that lifting heavy things (like helping someone move) takes a little less effort the neural pathways that govern the lifting movements get to be more effective (this is one of the reasons why you get big gains really fast when you first start).

I mean, the best workout routine is the one that you'll stick with but I really think that strength training is the best place to start. Most other forms of exercise are going to benefit from the strength training and the strength training will benefit from everything else.
posted by VTX at 7:48 PM on May 20, 2015


I don't disagree with strength training for losing weight and I agree that strength is a great place to start, but saying it's better than cardio for weight loss is a tough claim. People succeed and fail at body recomp using either one depending on a whole host of factors.

The important part is to use each tool properly: it's not the rep scheme that makes lifting so useful—I'm partial to 20-rep squats for losing fat—it's perpetually choosing challenging weights. Linear progression is more important than 3x5 every day of the week. The point, as you say, is to use it to build muscle instead of just burning calories, to increase metabolic rate, and to get better at a variety of movement patterns instead of just grinding away at a repetitive movement like running or cycling.

However, I do think strength training (or mixed cardio/strength) is a better starting point than pure cardio simply because it stabs the idea of calorie-burn-über-alles scale-weight-obsessed exercise-as-punishment right in the heart. Lots of people kill that poisonous self-flagellation-by-treadmill idea by setting 5k personal records or cycling for fun, but I think strength training is better at orienting people towards performance goals and having fun while working out.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:18 AM on May 21, 2015


Well, you'd at least want to have a day in between workouts and you wouldn't do every lift every time either (the Starting Strength beginner program is what I'm referring to).

I think you'd actually be better off with something like the Stronglifts 5x5 (five sets of five reps) once the beginner program stops working or the Texas method (and maybe doing more of the clean and press) over the 20-reps at a set squats. Because I think the fat burning really comes from the boosted metabolism that you get for the 24-36 hours after the workout. But really we're arguing about optimization, either way will be pretty effective. And, just because the Texas method works better for me doesn't mean that it will work better for you. And, once you've been doing it for a while and tried some different things, you'll know what works best for you and your specific situation. I just think the 3x5 setup is the easiest way to start. It's effective and it's easier to commit to and build the habit.

But we're in 100% agreement that progression is the key.

...it stabs the idea of calorie-burn-über-alles scale-weight-obsessed exercise-as-punishment right in the heart.

This is a really good point. Once of things that is really stressed in a lot of the stuff I've read is that you don't build muscle in the gym, you build it in the kitchen (getting enough protein) and in the bed (while you're sleeping). Lift all the weights you want, if you don't get enough sleep or enough protein and those weights are going nowhere.

Lifting weights is something I go to my basement and do three times a week for 30-minutes. Building strength is something do outside of the gym.
posted by VTX at 1:40 PM on May 21, 2015


The funny thing is that I didn't actually see much "body recomposition" until I started adding 30 minutes on the elliptical to each workout. I had begun with weights and pilates - first weight machines and then dumbells (because I wasn't flexible enough for good form on barbell squats) and while I gained some strength and flexibility, it wasn't until I was pushing myself on the elliptical that I began to see real changes in body shape in terms of thinner legs and flatter stomach. (Not that I have thin legs or a flat stomach, but they look different than they did in November.)

Also, the elliptical has increased my endurance/comfort with biking - I tend to bike at a moderate pace but go as fast as I can on the elliptical. And it has increased my exercise tolerance - standing or walking for long periods, dancing, chores have all become easier and more comfortable with the elliptical.

That's the one thing about weights - yes, if I do weights for thirty minutes three times a week, I get stronger, but I don't get any practice in being active for long periods, which is just as important in my daily life. I often need to spend hours walking or doing active chores and I like to go dancing when fate allows - and that means that being able to do something difficult for thirty minutes isn't actually enough.

Which isn't to knock weights - without even thinking about it, I managed to turn my queen mattress last weekend, something that I would have struggled with or gotten help for previously.
posted by Frowner at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2015


"I always wonder how much of the loss from HIIT is from the 3-hour window where eating is precluded (1 hr before, 1 hr exercise, 1 hr after)"

Erm, if you are doing an entire HOUR of exercise, you are NOT doing anything remotely approximating HIIT.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 2:41 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, one hour solid of Tabata burpees. Crossfit Excelsior!
posted by benzenedream at 11:53 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, you'd at least want to have a day in between workouts and you wouldn't do every lift every time either (the Starting Strength beginner program is what Im referring to).
Sorry, I was unclear. I didn't mean "3x5 every day" but rather that linear progression is always more important than 3x5.

one hour solid of Tabata burpees
Whenever I see WODs like this, I imagine that the gym recommends "Paleo" "brownies" for breakfast. Just totally missing the point, you know?
posted by daveliepmann at 1:33 AM on May 22, 2015


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