Exercise Won’t Make You Thin?

Bullshit.  According to the article:

“In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher. Many recent studies have found that exercise isn’t as important in helping people lose weight as you hear so regularly in gym advertisements or on shows like The Biggest Loser — or, for that matter, from magazines like this one.

The basic problem is that while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.

Sure, exercise makes you hungry.  So does dieting.  So does being awake.  So does sleeping.  Everything makes you hungry. 

But good exercise makes you hungry in a qualitatively different way.  It’s a good hungry, like the good soreness you get from working out hard.  Sure, the resulting stimulation of hunger makes you eat, but you were going to eat anyway.  The only thing you have to do is either (1) control portions and not eat crap after exercising, or (2) exercise really hard for an extended time if you want to eat lots of crap.

I know this from experience.  I like beer and burgers and other bad things.  I also like endurance exercise, like difficult hikes, road and mountain biking, and, lately, long’ish distance running.  If I do one of these things on a regular basis, I can eat whatever the hell I want.  If I don’t, I can’t.

But that doesn’t mean exercise is counterproductive.  It just means I can’t gorge myself after a lazy half hour on the eliptical.  When I fall into that habit, I gain weight.  When I don’t, I shed the pounds pretty steadily.

The point is, weight is math: calories in < calories burned = not fat; calories in > calories burned = fat.  We need to stop pretending there aren’t tradeoffs. 

If you phone in your workout (or don’t work out at all, natch) then head out for a 1,000 calorie coffee drink and a 500 calorie muffin, you’re screwed.  But if you work out fairly hard and fairly regularly, then eat some fruit to cut the hunger rather than a bagel loaded with cream cheese and keep an eye on portions, then you can eat well and still drop weight.  So I have little patience for people who wander the gym for a 1/2 hour then head to McD’s and chase down a Big Mac value meal with a Diet Coke.

Now back to your regularly scheduled political rants.

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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