Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Elliptical Won't Save You

"So, like, how much do you exercise?" 

"Exercise? No, not me. I try to walk as much as I can, that's it." 

"What, you don't go to the gym?" 

"The gym? Feh! I spit on the gym." 

"Wait, really?" 

"Yeah, really." 

"So how do you . . . " 

"I watch what I eat." 


Conversation is dead in the water.
I am adamant: When it comes to weight, exercise is not the way to go. Yes, exercise is necessary for health. Yes, exercise can tone. But exercise won't be the way to kick those pounds to the curb. 

Even before Aaron Carroll's article ("To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important Than Exercise") was actually printed, it became the most popular e-mailed online, to the point that CBS This Morning picked it up. Tack that together with Aseem Malhotra's Washington Post article, "Take Off that Fitbit."

Carroll begins by referencing The Biggest Loser, in which morbidly obese individuals are mostly clobbered in the gym as they attempt to lose the weight. But as Carroll and Malhotra point out: 

1) Exercising burns less than one thinks. Sure, you can be lying there post-workout, wheezing and steaming, every muscle screaming, but you probably only burned off a cookie or two. 

2) Exercise makes you hungrier. I knew a gal whose trainer would put her through hell, and she would fall into the fridge whenever she got home. Kinda defeats the point.

3) When losing weight, the metabolism can slow as the goal gets nearer. Many erroneously believe that the metabolism will get a burning boost through exercise. Research shows there is no correlation between the two.

4) Despite busy schedules, the determined manage to ration time and effort to get to the gym, work out, clean up, drive home. But there would be better results in utilizing those same hours in planning healthy meals, shopping the perimeter of the supermarket, and cooking up some vegetable-based lunches and suppers.
Carroll: Many people think of dieting as a drastic and rigid change, with a high risk of putting the pounds back on. What is more likely to succeed is gradual change, made in a much more sustainable way. I also don’t mean to make it seem that weight loss with diet is easy and exercise is hard. They’re both hard. The challenge of a slowing metabolism, and the desire to eat more, occurs in both cases, although dietary change still works better than exercise.
That's how I did it. Starting small, reprogramming my palate, shunning certain foods and embracing others, learning that whole stupid portion-control thing, which I still struggle with. But I'm a work in progress.

It's happened to me very, very few times: 

"So how do you do it?" 

"I eat vegetables, mostly." 

"Can you type it up and send it to me? You know, what your plan is?"
For me, exercise is the devil; altering my diet is a much more attractive option. Very few others want to hear that exercise is not the messiah. I challenge you, then: Change one bad eating habit. Tell me that you don't see results in a month. 


Sporadic Intelligence said...

Tis' true.

Years ago, I signed up for the gym and exercised religiously...and yes, I was more toned and fit, had more energy, but did I lose weight (which was my intention to), no.

Only when I started to watch what I ate (I did a modified sorta weight watchers) did those 5 pounds vanish...

But weight is only part of the equation to looking good. There's something to being toned, your clothing lay just so much nicer :)

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Okay, a few facts:
1) Yes, as you lose weight it takes more effort to lose a pound. That's because when you're heavier you burn more calories when you move that bulk of yours. Smaller body = less calories to move it.
2) One big reason exercise doesn't cause huge weight loss is because as you burn fat you're also putting on muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat. Your goal should be waist circumference, not raw poundage.
3) Exercise not helping you lose weight is a myth propounded by fat people who could figure out how the treadmill works.

Daniel Saunders said...

I don't understand your dislike of exercise. I mean, I understand why you might not like it personally, but I don't see it as a zero sum game between exercise and diet: "if I exercise more, I diet less." I don't see that. And exercise is good for other things, as you mentioned, so I don't see discouraging it a particularly sensible idea.

As for your point that exercise makes you hungrier, what happened to your advocacy of iron self-control? I tend to jog before lunch (granted, I have the advantage of only working part-time), use lunch to stave off the hunger and make sure I have no more to eat than usual through self-control.

Princess Lea said...

SI: But of course there are benefits. Just not weight loss ones. I still walk as much as I can, and I do a yoga routine here and there (post forthcoming) which bestows all sorts of csinos upsides, but as a weight loss panacea, methinketh not, unless the diet is altered.

MGI: 1) Which in turn means that one requires less calories, right? So they should be cutting out unnecessary calories that won't have to be burned off.

2) Muscle takes up less space than fat, 1/3, I believe. It's not like it's a 1:1 ratio of space. Yes, like I said, exercise tones. But in terms of brute weight loss, that's a negatory. I have never heard of someone who lost a cosmic amount of weight through exercise alone.

3) If anything, in my experience, no one wants to hear that changes to diet is the way to go. Are you saying obese people are obese because they don't exercise? How many obese people do you know subsist on vegetables? (Cheetos is not a vegetable.)

People focus more on the sweating power than they do on what they chew. Work out all you like, but a crappy diet leads to crappy health and crappy weight. I think that's also a "fact."

DS: Like I said before, too many people want to rely on exercise as their savior, and then they can't maintain it. So they continue to eat badly and they don't work out.

I'm not trying to be discouraging. I'm trying to be informative. If you see someone wrestling with a door handle and there's an open passage right over there, wouldn't you point it out?

I advocate what worked for me: EAT GOOD FOODS and walk a little. Nothing insane or insurmountable. Instead of freaking out to get to the gym, buy eggplant and zucchini and make a ratatouille for supper with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on top. That would put anyone ahead of the game.

Yes, I advocate self-control, but I don't make a point of putting myself in difficult situations. "Don't put a stumbling block before a blind man" can apply to oneself too, not to place oneself in situations that will be difficult to oversome.

I'm saying that instead if brutalizing oneself on a hard-to-maintain level, go for a sedate stroll that won't awaken an insatiable appetite.

See, like I wrote, no one wants to hear this . . .

Daniel Saunders said...

I completely agree with the importance of a healthy diet, I just think exercise is important too and I don't understand why you keep banging this particular drum.

If we're going by anecdotal evidence, controlling my diet stabilised my weight, but I didn't actually lose anything until I started exercising more (and, as I've said previously, I don't go to the gym, I just jog a couple of times a week and walk on other days). Granted my weight is complicated by my mental health and medication, both of which can affect it in different ways, but what worked for me is a mixture of diet and exercise, not one by itself.

Anyway, I do think it's important that you stress diet, I just wish you wouldn't keep putting exercise down.

Shabbat shalom!

FrumGeek said...

While dieting is the better, faster way to lose weight, exercise has been proven to be the more sustainable way to keep the weight off.

Princess Lea said...

DS: It's my blog. I can bang whatever drum I want.

FG: You said it, not me: "Dieting is the better, faster way." I'm trying to galvanize those who haven't done either yet. It's about modifying the diet and taking on low-impact strolls, as opposed to summoning the will to flagellate oneself with weights right off the bat.

Daniel Saunders said...

Fair enough!

Not related but: I probably won't be commenting here for a while. I'm in a pretty bad place, emotionally and psychologically, and I think I need to get away from reading and especially commenting on blogs. I didn't want you to think you'd upset me, as you mentioned worrying about upsetting people. (This is assuming I have the will-power to abstain, of course.)

Princess Lea said...

Thank you, I would have if you hadn't given me the heads' up!

"Shetishlach mehaira refuas shleimah min HaShamayim, refuas henefesh." May you find your inner peace.