Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Does Exercise Make You Lose Weight?

When I was reading Gary Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, I wasn't all that surprised by his findings about weight loss and exercise.

In fact, much of what he said didn't register on my radar, other than a "yeah that sounds about right" type response as I continued to read on.

My lack of, dare I say, disbelief in his audacity to say exercise doesn't make you lose weight, most likely stemmed from my own experience with weight loss years ago.When I counted calories (a la Weight Watchers) and hit the gym (at first three then five days a week) regularly - including exercise, and then increasing my exercise, it did nothing to make me lose any more weight. Not one who likes to be frustrated, I pretty much quit what wasn't working and quit going to the gym - and then months later, modified my dietary approach to a low carbohydrate diet (a la Atkins). Amazingly, I lost weight and continued to lose steadily without becoming a gym rat again.

So you can see why, as I read Taubes assertions on exercise - specifically that exercise does not make you lose weight or more weight while dieting - it didn't set off any alarm bells in my head. What he was saying meshed with my experience and what I've seen happen with others around me who adopt a carbohydrate restricted diet and don't hit the gym regularly when they start the diet.

Can you or should you exercise?

I'm not convinced Taubes was saying or is saying don't exercise, or that exercise has no benefit - by the end of the book, my impression was that he didn't find any good research to support the idea that exercise will make you lose weight as we're repeatedly told it will as part of the it's all about calories in and calories out; that he found the data doesn't show if you simply eat less and move more and you will lose weight.

Simply put, Taubes contends dieting with exercise doesn't make you lose more weight.

In fact, he reached the contrarian position that exercise does not make you lose weight from a number of studies designed to prove that exercise makes you lose weight - studies that found instead that weight loss is similar between groups who are eating similar calories and one group is exercising and one group is not exercising.

With the release of the book, no one seems to want to actually discuss the studies and data Taubes writes about; instead it seems the intent is to quickly stifle any and all discussion about the matter and maintain the status quo! Heaven forbid anyone learn that they won't lose more weight on the scale if they exercise!

Case in point in the effort to re-direct any discussion on the matter - when Taubes appeared on Larry King Live, among the guests was Jillian Michaels, a former a trainer from the show The Biggest Loser. She was quite visibly upset by the notion that exercise may not help one lose more weight than if they just diet - and stated up front that "exercise is essential to losing weight, just simply because weight is an energy equation."

The following heated exchange then took place:

BEHAR: Gary says exercise makes you hungry and so you eat more.

MICHAELS: Actually, I find that to be untrue in most cases. Exercise releases a series of different hormones, not just insulin.

TAUBES: You ever hear the concept of working up an appetite?

BEHAR: Go, go.

MICHAELS: Gary, if you can show me -- Gary, if you can show me one person you have taken 100 pounds off, then maybe we can apply your theory.

TAUBES: I'm not a diet doctor here. I'm just trying to say ...

MICHAELS: I appreciate that. But here's the thing ...

TAUBES: If you look at the actual evidence when people do clinical trials. Again, she changed a lot of things. She's changed her diet. She changed the way she ate. She exercised. All of those things might have had an effect. But the question is if you're actually doing a clinical trial where you randomize people who exercise versus sedentary lifestyle, you find that you can't show an effect from exercise?

MICHAELS: Wait a second. First of all, exercise actually releases serotonin and endorphins, which have been shown to decrease appetite. They release hormones like your thyroid hormones go up, your estradiol goes up, your testosterone goes up, your HGH goes up.These hormones, not just insuin, are integral to controlling metabolism, body fat and muscle mass. You are a scientist.

You appreciate the fact that science must be applied for a theory to be proven true. Your theory falls short when applied practically because I've applied it.

What's amusing about this particular exchange is how Michaels says Taubes' "theory falls short" when, if she'd actually read the book, she'd know it isn't "Taubes theory" but the conclusion he reached after reviewing the data from a large number of well cited studies.

Note in the exchange - she doesn't wish to discuss the studies; she bases her assertions on her experience with clients who follow her diet and exercise program. From that she believes that without exercise (and without any data to back her up) her clients would not lose the same weight as they do with exercise - afterall, she opened by stating her belief that "exercise is essential to losing weight."

End of discussion. Really! Rather than actually discuss the data or the studies, she instead sums up that Taubes is wrong and says he says what he does because it's "wildly convenient to come up with to sell books."

Okay. Whatever. Who needs data when they have Jillian Michaels?

In a recent New York Magazine article, Taubes wrote (uninterrupted) his analysis of the published data:

This is not to say that there aren’t excellent reasons to be physically active, as these reports invariably point out. We might just enjoy exercise. We may increase our overall fitness; we may live longer, perhaps by reducing our risk of heart disease or diabetes; we’ll probably feel better about ourselves. (Of course, this may be purely a cultural phenomenon. It’s hard to imagine that the French, for instance, would improve their self-esteem by spending more time at the gym.) But there’s no reason to think that we will lose any significant amount of weight, and little reason to think we will prevent ourselves from gaining it.

I point this out because no matter how clear Taubes was in the book, and no matter how many different ways he says it in interviews, somehow something is lost in translation.

Taubes asserts that one will not lose more weight while on a diet if they exercise or that exercise will make you lose weight.

Let's see if I can translate this - two words seem to be lost in the discussions going on about the book - WEIGHT LOSS - with or without exercise is found to be similar when one is dieting to lose weight, even in tightly controlled studies.

Basically, at the end of the day, whether you exercise or don't exercise, the number on the scale is likely to be the same.

For the majority seeing or hearing such words, I think the first thought might just be blasphemy!

And the next might be "burn the heretic!"

That might be because it is so deeply ingrained in our thinking that if you eat less and exercise more you will lose weight. Calories in calories out - if you eat less you consume less calories and if you exercise you burn more calories. Right?

For those of us who have been there, done that and have the XXL t-shirt to prove it didn't work...well we're often confronted by those who insist that it does work if you do it right; with the arguement foisted upon us being that if eating less and exercising more didn't work, then we did something wrong!

Unless of course we want to say we're freaks of nature who defy the laws of thermodynamics!

The funny thing is, Taubes book actually shows how it's possible within the laws of thermodynamics to fully experience little or no weight loss in a calorie deficit with or without exercise.

But, I digress - you'll need to read the book for those details.

Back to the subject at hand - do you lose more weight or not if you exercise?

My friend Adam Campbell, whom I adore, wrote an article on the subject, The Secret To Burning More Fat, on his blog, The Fitness Insider.

Unfortunately, even Adam made a critical mistake in his countering the idea that weight loss isn't all that different in those who exercise compared to those who don't.

He wrote, "There's been some buzz in the news recently about a story that suggests that exercise doesn't help you lose fat. I have plenty of thoughts on the matter, but for now, I'll just provide what I think is a powerful example of why this isn't true." [emphasis mine]

Do you notice the problem right at the start? Fat loss is not the bone of contention - it's weight loss with or without exercise. The issue Taubes talks about, the burning question that it comes down to really is this - at the end of the day, is the number on the scale significantly different in those who exercise when compared to those who don't, when the two groups eat the same calories?

Adam points to a study done by Dr. Jeff Volek as one piece of evidence that one can lose more fat with exercise - not just any exercise, but aerobic exercise and weight training.

But, remember, fat loss is not the bone of contention - it's what is the number on the scale at the end of the day!

After presenting a summary of the study (three groups, same calories; group 1 no exercise, group 2 aerobic exercise, group 3 aerobic exercise + weights) Adam writes, "[e]ach of the groups lost almost the same amount of weight—about 21 pounds...[j]ust because your scale weight may show similar results whether you exercise or not, don't assume that the right kind of exercise isn't providing a signficant benefit."

Exactly what Taubes contends - the weight on the scale is no different in those who exercise compared to those that don't.

Adam rightly shows, quite nicely too, that the quality of the weight lost differs - but the total amount of weight lost, what we're told exercise will do for us if we include it when we diet, isn't different.

Let's remember, Taubes' contention isn't about fat loss versus lean body mass loss - it's about weight loss - and the study presented shows exactly that!

The weight on the scale did not differ in those who did not exercise compared to those who did.

So no one misinterprets my intent here - I do think it's important to include activity and/or exercise in your daily routine; just not as a means to lose weight.

As the study Adam presented shows, a difference can be shown between fat loss (good) and lean body mass loss (bad) in those actively losing weight with diet and exercise (or not exercise).

In the above study those who included aerobic exercise and weight training saw a significant increase in fat loss even though they didn't lose more absolute weight, which means they preserved lean body mass - muscle!

Perhaps a better discussion isn't one seeking to discredit what Taubes wrote, but rather an examination of the studies he included so that we can explain to folks who are trying to lose weight that there are health benefits related to exercise that have nothing to do with the scale number at the end of the day.

Maybe if and when we can end the wishful thinking that exercise makes us lose weight, we can then engage in a discussion about how different types of exercise can help preserve lean body mass and lead to greater loss of fat, even if the total weight loss isn't greater with exercise.

What do you think?

44 comments:

  1. My main question would be this: is there any evidence that exercise alone reduces body-fat? I need to go back and take another look at Taubes' book and see if the distinction is ever made between total weight and body-fat.

    My guess is that unless you change dietary composition, the answer is "probably not". Suppose you eat a 2400 calorie diet with 60% carbohydrates before starting an exercise program. If exercise just makes you hungry so you eat 2800 calories, but still 60% carbs, is there any reason to believe you would lose fat?

    Exercise makes more muscle and (I think) increases insulin sensitivity of muscle, so at least there's a bigger "tank" for glucose, and more efficient uptake. On the other hand, you're eating more carbohydrates, and so have more glucose to store, so these things would seem to somewhat cancel.

    But this is speculation. I don't think the science has been done to say much on this issue. It does at least match anecdotal evidence, my own included.

    Dave

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  2. Anonymous7:26 PM

    I think you hit the nail on the head Regina.
    This was a very lucid and well done post, and I'm really glad you brought forth the points you did from Adam Campbell's blog, as I noticed the same thing from the study he cited.
    Body composition is effected favorably by the right types of exercise, but significant weight loss is virtually unseen from exercise alone.

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  3. d.rosart8:49 PM

    In Protein Power, the Drs. Eades suggest that if you are following the diet faithfully, and not losing weight, you should look in the mirror or get out the tape measure. I think Atkins made the same claim. I've seen a number of cases in forums where people claim to have been eating low carb for years, having lost very little weight for some time, but continuing to wear smaller clothes. This study Adam posted, where weight loss differed in ratio of fat to lean but not in sheer poundage, depending on if and what type of exercise is done, sort of backs up those anecdotal claims. I'd sort of tended to doubt the phenomenon, it seems kind of weird that the body would have some kind of homeostatic system that would make a trade off of lean for fat. Maybe it's a matter of protein retention? Fat eaten spares protein, just as well as carbs, and hormones involved in muscle growth release fat from the fat cells, and your muscles have no idea you didn't just eat the stuff. Maybe a pound of fat spares a pound of protein? Or we've got tiny little bathroom scales in our toes hardwired straight to our hypothallamuses.

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  4. Anonymous6:12 AM

    As a veteran dieter, low-carber, and exerciser, I'm not surprised at Taubes's findings and assertions that exercise does not make you lose weight. Tiny personal observation: in one year of twice-weekly weights classes at the YMCA, I have seen virtually no change in anyone's body. The skinny ones are still skinny. The chubby ones are still chubby. I warrant we're all in much better shape than we would be if we didn't faithfully do that class, but dramatic transformation? Not happening. I think exercise is good, with anti-aging properties, among other things. I've made it a habit because it feels good. But I take all admonitions to "exercise smarter, not harder" (and all weight loss articles about exercise) with a grain of salt. Just do something. It's good for you. If you like it. Barb L.

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  5. Great post, Regina.

    But I have to tell you that using the term "fat loss" wasn't a "mistake." It was intentional.

    After all, isn't fat loss and not weight loss that everyone's after? And isn't Gary talking about fat loss when he discusses weight loss? I really don't think he's suggesting that people are exercising in order to lose muscle.

    I'd also like to say that the post I made was simply an example, and certainly isn't an attempt to refute all of Gary's assertions, many of which are right on the money.

    Exercise, in and of itself, is a hard way to lose weight. Doesn't work for most simply because it's far easier to down an 800-calories Big Mac than burn those calories off. So to be effective, it needs to be combined with diet, which I think goes right along with what Gary's saying.

    Some others raised good questions on my blog, and I have some more thoughts on the topic--so I'll hopefully will post them later today or tomorrow.

    Glad you're back blogging!

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  6. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Nice to have you back, Oh most talented and beautiful blogger...

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  7. Anonymous11:57 AM

    A couple years after I started low carbing I added free weights lifting. And started piling on the pounds. I think I ended up dropping body fat by 15%. While Taubes is technically right that the exercise did not cause that much weight loss the difference in body composition and appearance was most welcome, which is one of the goals of most of us. Rob

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  8. Peter Hoff2:52 PM

    Ironically, I just got to the weight loss part of Taubes' book and from what I've read so far, the studies he cites are all about general weight loss -- there's no distinction regarding % body fat. The studies he cites are all over the place, from 1917 to the fairly recent Hirsch studies with the obese. One of the studies mentions weight lost during bed rest. Hmmmm Now, that's something I'm sure we all want to know more about.

    Thanks for blogging today "Reginer", I was starting to get the shakes

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  9. I think what Taubes is saying is that there have been no studies to prove that exercise helps you lose weight - a fact supported by the evidence of any studies concluding that it does. And backed up by the observation that exercising works up an appetite which will counter the calories expended in exercising. Not to mention you work up a thirst, and the social side of exercising - going for a drink afterwards.

    One of the big problems in this area is the absence of good, long term studies on diet and exercise. There have been very few. Who keeps an accurate record of everything they eat and do over a long period of time. And who doesn't have an axe to grind: we all eat, have beliefs, favourite foods and different attitudes to exercise.

    I do believe exercise helps you to lose body fat. Maybe this is by using protein for muscle building rather than for the production of blood glucose.

    As I understand it Taubes key point is that its insulin that dictates weight gain - and loss. Controlling this, via carbohydrate restriction offers the best hope of losing weight. I note that he suggests that, for some, this approach may only get you so far, but suggests its the best you can do.

    I do wonder if exercise can also improve insulin sensitivity - ie, lower insulin resistance. One area overlooked, I believe, is the inappropriate production of blood glucose by the body - mainly the liver but also the kidneys. Can exercise play a role here?

    I would say, for those that favour the exercise route - try and prove taubes wrong. Refine exercise techniques, and lets have some good long term studies to look in to this yet again. Maybe the intensity or duration of the exercise regime has been insufficient in the studies done to date.

    Its always worth looking at those who have succeeded long term. For those who have succeeded it doesn't necessarily matter how they got there - they deserve to be congratulated on their success.
    The problem is that they are a small monority.

    My belief is that you can lose weight on a low fat diet, but its an awful lot harder than doing so on a low cartb diet. I think its the satiety effect of protein, and the fact that carbs, esepcially wheat and starches, stimulate cravings.

    Its such a shame that it has become almost a religiuos debate - a battle of beliefs, with anyone departing from the mainstream low fat approach regarding as a dangerous heretic.

    Paul.

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  10. Well, personally, I have absolutely lost weight from exercise alone while eating an uncontrolled diet, more than once, as has my dad. The catch is that training volume was very, very high: typically more than an hour every day, and then some sort of intense calorie-burning activity on the weekend (a mountainous 12 mile hike, 3 back-to-back ice hockey games, a 100 mile bike ride). The other catch is that the inevitable injuries that interrupted the routine almost immediately led to weight regain. The third issue for me is that both times I've managed to do this I reached a stall I could not overcome with increased training volume while I was still significantly overweight.

    Now I'm eating low-carb with minimal exercise (although I'm trying to fix that -- a couple of injuries really threw me off my routine this fall) and depending on the scale I'm either within sight of or just past the weight at which I typically stalled with exercise alone (although this only represents a 12-15lb loss over 2 months on this diet). We'll see if I get stuck at the same place again. I will say I'm "bigger" at this weight than I was when I achieved it due to exercise, though.

    All this said, although I appreciated losing the weight, the main goal of exercise for me has always been feeling good and having fun. Right now I really just feel like a (slightly) smaller out-of-shape person, and I really do prefer to feel more fit.

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  11. I have always found it interesting that people focus on wait and not shape. I think there is a very big difference if you weigh 400 pounds and all of it is chiseled muscle vs. 400 pounds of mostly fat. When I exercise and lower my carbs, my goal is never to lose wait, but to change the shape of my body as well as other health benefits. As a society, would it not be better to focus on health and body shape vs. the number on the scale? That's my two cents. I enjoyed the article because it brings this mindset to light. Most people are concerned with the scale.

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  12. When I first began low-carbing 4 years ago, I lost the 50 pounds that I needed to lose through diet alone, in under 6 months, without any gym-type exercise.

    My endo maintains that muscle-building exercise, such as weightlifting, will reduce insulin resistance. Last year I gave it a try, but after 6 months with a trainer, I noticed no difference in anything except for strength. And that I was ravenously hungry after each workout. I hated pretty much every minute of it, so I stopped.

    And now? While I do get some regular exercise in the form of hiking, it's far from regular - but I have an easier time maintaining my weight/clothing size than I did while lifting weights every other day at the gym.

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  13. Anonymous11:42 AM

    Don't exercise to lose weight. Exercise for a more streamlined physique, improved oxygen uptake, lower blood pressure, better insulin sensitivity, fewer age-induced aches and pains.....

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  14. The reports of change in body composition in response to exercise may be confined to men. On page 267 of his book, Taubes says, "That same year [1989], Danish investigators reported that they had indeed trained previously sedentary individuals to run marathons (26.2 miles). At the end of this eighteen-month training period--a time of almost fanatic exercise--the eighteen men in the study had lost an average of five pounds of body fat. 'No change in body composition was observed' among nine female subjects."

    If we hypothesize that aerobic exercise does not change the insulin resistance of women's muscles or the insulin hypersensitivity of women's fat cells, it could not be expected to reduce their body composition.

    Stargazey

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  15. Bad proofreading. I said:

    "If we hypothesize that aerobic exercise does not change the insulin resistance of women's muscles or the insulin hypersensitivity of women's fat cells, it could not be expected to reduce their body composition."

    Modify that to say, "...aerobic exercise...could not be expected to modify their body composition to include less fat and more lean muscle."

    Stargazey

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  16. Re Kim:

    Yes, you can lose weight with intensive exercise, but that is because you have changed the hormonal balance of glucose/insulin in your body, not from the burning of calories. Exercise burns up glucose in the blood, hence there is less available to be turned into fat.

    and Paul on why low carb works:

    "I think it's the satiety effect of protein, and the fact that carbs, esepcially wheat and starches, stimulate cravings."

    Wrong, low carb does not work merely by reducing cravings. This is a popular misunderstanding. Low carb works by directly reducing glucose and insulin in your bloodsteam, which is the source of fat in the body. "Reducing of cravings" is a minor side-benefit. Read about insulin and learn how low-carb works. Dr. Ron Rosedale, "Insulin and it's Metabolic Effects"

    And regarding Adam's original post, the main point of Taubes' book is that total calories don't count for much - it is the TYPE of calories that matter. Stop measuring exercise effectiveness in calories, it's a waste of time.

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  17. Regina,

    In reading your post and those that support Gary I don't see a lot of difference from those who oppose Gary. Both sides seem to have taken a religious approach to support or deny his book!

    Here is my take. First Gary focuses on weight loss NOT fat loss. There is a huge difference there since when the doctor tells you to lose some weight they really mean lose some fat.

    Now since I just finished a donut I think I can say I am not a fanatical health nut! ;) That being said... I agree that most ignore the "studies" in their discussions. However that is not necessarily surprising given this is a debate among peers and not an academic forum. The studies however are in no way all inclusive and while I can't site the studies I have read they do exist. Do I care enough to go dig them up, No, believe what you want.

    From my perspective and an uninvested observer who is active and intelligent the assertion that exercise has no bearing on weight loss flies in the face of reason.

    What the author is exploiting here is the frustration of most people. Yes exploiting. The flaw in his argument is the carefully chosen term weight loss, not fat loss. When you exercise you loss fat and gain muscle mass. This process reduces the amount of weight loss you initially see. Over a prolonged period of time (different for everyone) you will begin to see small gains in weight loss. If however you increase your intake during periods of exercise there is a good chance you will gain weight. The reason is that your body realizes you are exercising and that you need more energy, since your body doesn't like to burn what it has already stored it will store more.

    From what people who don't think exercise have said this is the cycle they are describing. Yes if you don't exercise but cut down on your intake you will also loss weight, even fat but you won't be replacing it with anything beneficial. Yes if you eat only one type of food or shun another you will loss weight because your body will have to tap it's stores because it has to work harder since you are not giving it the appropriate nutrition it needs.

    The only proven and effective weight loss program is to zip your lip and eat human portions appropriate for your sex and age, exercise regularly but not obsessively. It is called moderation and it works. Remember slow and steady wins the race.

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  18. Stargazey,

    Yeah, in my experience steady-state endurance exercise doesn't do much for most women I know who've tried it for body composition change (some were "skinny fat" at the start but got no leaner). Interval training and weight lifting is where it's at.

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  19. It still doesn't make sense. If I eat my current diet and not excerise, I'll lose weight (probably). If I eat my current diet (same number of calories/carbs/fat/protein) and exercise, I know I'll lose. I don't (as Taubes says) increase my caloric intake because I excercise.

    So if I exercise I burn more of the calories I eat each day than if I just sit on my butt. If I weight train I might even put on some muscle, burning even more calories.

    So exercise makes you hungry. So what? If you are on a reduced calorie program and eating the same amount each day regardless of exercise, then being more hungry doesn't matter.

    I agree that exercise alone will do very little. But combine it with diet and you've got a winning combination.

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  20. The controversy generated by Taubes' conclusions about weight loss is due to the broad over-simplification created by the media and our 5-second attention span that leads to the implied conclusion that exercise does not matter to someone who is trying to lose weight. It's all well and good to point out, at great length, that he is quite specific in his book and that he generally is talking about total pounds of weight lost, not fat loss. But most people use the term "lose weight" when what they really want to achieve is fat loss. I suspect that even Taubes somewhat mischievously and deliberately encourages this confusion by focusing so much attention on the loss of mass rather than the change in composition of the mass.

    Perhaps the studies don't exisit that will bear out what many people seem to think is true - that two people, one who exercises regularly and one who does not - who are on the same diet, and both lose the same amount of "weight" - will look much different and will likely have lost different types of their body tissue.

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  21. I think that Exercise together with healty food is the key to success!

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  22. Anonymous5:05 PM

    When I was eating a low fat/high carb diet, I had an active job (massage therapist) and was doing five level-3 step aerobics classes per week. I didn't lose weight -- indeed, I was gaining. I stopped working out, went low carb, and dropped 35 pounds before I started working out again.

    I think exercise is beneficial in many ways, but I don't believe it makes one lose weight in the absence of proper nutrition.

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  23. > The reason is that your
    > body realizes you are
    > exercising and that you
    > need more energy, since
    > your body doesn't like to
    > burn what it has already stored
    > it will store more.

    This sounds good, but I don't remember any evidence that links the homeostatic weight control mechanism to work load. Has this been established?

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  24. Anonymous9:00 PM

    most people equate 'weight loss' with 'fat loss' because the weight they want to lose manifests as FAT deposits around their bodies. As for exercise it is a great way for gym owners & sports store people to make money. Most people don't realise the damage they are doing to their bodies through joint stress & free radical creation. Exercise can actually physically age you much quicker if you go too hard at it & don't counteract the free radical damage with good food / water & high vitamin & mineral supplementation.

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  25. Anonymous11:05 AM

    I wish that ALL obesity-treatment studies going forward would measure "body fat percentage" and NEVER JUST "weight loss". I suspect it might be loss of lean body mass (including internal organ tissue) that causes some yo-yo dieters to die younger.

    I care about body composition (specifically "body fat percentage = body fat weight divided by total weight"), not the scale. I weigh 305 lbs right now, but people guess I weigh 230 or 240. Why? Because I have 223 lbs lean body mass. My goal is to lower my % body fat from "obese" to "normal". If health and body composition are good, I'd rather be heavier than lighter because it feels good to be strong and fit.

    Thank you everyone for contributing.

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  26. In case you hadn't read it already, Gary Taubes also wrote an article in "New York" magazine : nymag.com/news/sports/38001 where he talks specifically about weight loss and exercise.

    I hate to sound unfriendly, but some of the distinctions between "weight loss" and "fat loss" mentioned in these replies sound a lot like rearguard actions of a defeated pro-exercise army. They remind me of the low-fat advocates who initially blamed all fat, then when the clinical studies didn't support their dogma, allowed for non-animal-based fats such as olive oil. But if Gary Taubes is right, then even such concessions are misguided, since saturated fat turns out to be harmless or at least beneficial.

    As a counter-argument to the argument that exercise increases muscle mass and decreases fat, I recall Atkins recounting many cases of people who, on his diet, lost inches but not weight, and all WITHOUT EXERCISE.

    After all, you don't increase your muscles just by exercising. As an extreme example, consider the Nazi slave laborers who grew more and more emaciated as their muscles atrophied from exercise without the necessary rest and dietary protein to build up muscle damage (I thank God that some experiments on human subjects are illegal, but there's something to be learned from past cruelty too). Don't forget what weight lifters already know: to build muscle mass you must allow the body rest to repair the tiny tears that come from pressing iron, and also protein for those muscles to heal. Exercise by itself may not lead to increased muscle mass; other factors are involved too.

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  27. It's funny how we make decisions about life based on our experience -- forget about the research! Here's why I agree with Regina & Traube: I was teaching two hours of cardio-kickboxing every day and gaining weight like crazy. (I'd never moderated my diet in the years before; never needed to.) Then I closed my school and became sedentary. When I started a lower-carb diet (South Beach) I lost all the weight (and fat) I wanted. Of course, being quite sedentary meant I wasn't as physically able as before, but I was much thinner.

    Here's why I gotta wonder how exercise doesn't have an effect on the weight, though. When I was in college, I'd gained the freshman 15, but then got into karate. With only two good workouts a week, and no attention to my diet (hey, it was cafeteria food!) I slimmed right down. Go figure.
    Connie

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  28. Really useful stuff Regina for weight losers with exercising

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  29. Wishing you and your family Turkey-Day festivities are enjoyable, fun, full of great family time and lots of low-carb turkey fare!!!

    Really appreciate all you do on your blog! It is always informative, interesting and enjoyable to read!!

    Keep up the great work!

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  30. Anonymous1:50 AM

    The BBC did a program recently about the human body. They found two people who were identical twins. One twin was overweight and the other thin. The overweight one said he had tried everything to lose weight but found it extremely hard.

    The difference between them was that one took up marathon running and ran a minumum of 3 to 4 miles a day and the other did little or no exercise.

    Guess which one was thin and which overweight.

    I used to think as Taubes. I wasted 6 months in the gym and accomplished nothing. However I am convinced my trainer saw a fat guy and decided that to keep this guy as a paying customer he should suggest a light program of exercise.

    I lost 25 kgs by dieting alone but then hit a plateau and lost very little weight no matter how little I ate. I gained back quickly 5 kgs when I started eating again.

    This frustrated me as I need to lose another 20 kgs to be in a healthy range.

    After seeing this program on the BBC I've started running and in the last month. I am eating as much as I did when I gained the 5 kgs and I can see that I have lost 1 kg. Not a lot for 1 month but I am happy I can eat which I like to do and the trend with my weight so far has been down not up as before.

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  31. Unless a person is aware of the impace of food on hormones and metabolism, all of the exercise in the world isn't going to help.

    She's right, exercise does favorably affect chemicals that promote weight loss. Exercise, most importantly, will reduce insulin levels by sucking up our blood glucose. However, unless we know not to eat carbs it's all moot, because that sucked up sugar will be replaced with more. There may be higher calorie intakes, but the overall insulin levels would approximate the same (less insulin for those same calories perhaps but not enough of a reduction in insulin to facilitate slimming).

    The bottom line is insulin makes us fat. Calories don't make us fat, calories raise insulin (both fat and carbs and protein) and insulin makes us fat. Eating fat decreases our tolerance for carbs. Eating protein increases our blood glucose increases our insulin. Eating carbs... well that's obvious, duh, it is a rapid shot of sugar and a swift squirt of insulin a few minutes thereafter.

    You can exercise, and that will help burn off our sugars, thus increasing carb tolerance and decreasing insulin levels... but UNLESS we know not to replace those sugars, there is no benefit.

    Most people seem to just eat more carbs after a workout. That's why exercise is so ineffective. If you follow your workout with a corn syrup protein smoothy you're doing yourself no favors... ironically you might even be shortening your lifespan by increasing your total metabolic rate.

    Exercise is associated with health because it is a marker of health. People who can make energy easiliy tend to enjoy exercise. When I was a fat blob, I couldn't walk 5 minutes without severe fatigue. Now I walk all the time, I don't think a thing of it. If I force myself to eat 2000 cals for a few days in a row, I gain minimal if any body fat, and the urge to move around is extreme (as well as extreme appetite suppression).

    Exericse, like body fat loss, follows fixing the disease of obesity (reducing insulin, improving energy metabolism).

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  32. Dave - anything that reduces total body weight tends to also reduce body fat, but I agree, the best way to lose weight is with a program/intervention that reduces mostly from fat.


    Peter Hoff - No mystery re: bedrest; two phenomena occur. Phenomena number one is that after prolonged bedrest tons of lean tissues are catabolized; bones thin, muscles emaciate, and body fat too is lost. This is not healthy weight loss, however. The body needs normal levels of activity to maintain proper anabolic hormones.
    Second is that most people are overstressed and chronically sleep deprived. The link between sleep deprivation and hypercortisolism and insulin resistance/obesity is well known. Bed rest is going to promote adequate sleep. The most effective weight I've lost (and it was true FAT) was eating 1800 cals of almost no carbs (like 20 or so), and sleeping pretty much 9+ hours.
    As a nursing student, I've noticed so many nurses are incredibly obese, but you see them on their feet literally *running* room to room doing so much physical work. They often don't eat till they get home at night. Combination of starvation all day and crazy cortisol = fat fat fat. For so many reasons.

    Marielle - endo is right; the upper body muscles suck up glucose like a pro. If I am carrying something heavy and walk with it for any distance, I start shaking and must stop to eat (I have very fragile blood sugar and tend to hypoglycemia). If one has insulin resistance, the goal is to suck up and reduce as much glucose as possible without raising insulin. Exercise, especially upper-body weights, achieves this well. The key is to do the exercise adn not follow it up with carbs. If I didn't know better, I would follow my weight-lifting hypo up with a glass of OJ and a cookie because that's what my body screams for. This would actually worsen insulin resistance long term, because of my fragile sugar that would spike me too high and my insulin even more than had I not done the xercise at all.

    Exercise is a tool, the key is to control those carbs and never forget insulin is what stores fat (and prevents fat burning).


    Kevin - 100% agreement. As Taubes points out, a lack of hunger is a sign of increased energy utilization. Not eating doesn't cause weight loss; weight loss causes not eating.
    I'm not disagreeing that not eating or reducing calories will cause weight loss (you can't have hyperinsulinemia without food). But this fact is no more relevant in solving obesity than is a pneumonectomy is a solution for small cell lung cancer. Lung cancer is caused by smoking. Fact. You can cut out a lung and remove the tumor, perhaps a cure if negative for metastasis; but what does this say about the etiology of small cell lung cancer? Or it's prevention? If we all get pneumonectomies will we have prevented the lung cancer epidemic? How fascile and naive.
    Gastric bypass, too, can slim an obese person... but it doesn't change the fact it only works because it's impossible for them to be hyperinsulinemic after the mutilation to their gastric anatomy.
    It's caused by the carbs, and insulin.


    Size 8 jeans - when you're maintaining weight for 5 years tell me if you still think hunger doesn't matter. It's easy to ignore your hunger if you're high on weight loss excitement. Self starvation is not possible for life unless you're mentally ill (anorexic, eating disordered) or physically ill (cannot properly feel hunger). And weight loss with starvation / "food restriction" is nothing like weight loss with healthy metabolism. I do not miss my paper thin skin, crazy brain, and overall miserable lethargic self.



    A final general comment - I think what is being missed here... the main point... is that Gary Taubes is trying to educate people, after years of extensive research, that the reason garden variety obesity occurs is well known (or at least a hypothetical pathology of it has plenty of evidence to be supported). Obesity is an endocrine disorder, caused by hyperinsulinemia, and then finalized by end stage insulin resistance. High insulin puts fat in the cells and reduces fat buring. Insulin resistance, which tends to occur later, permanently alters the amount of insulin receptors on muscle as compared to fat, forever promoting easy weight gain and lethargy when one eats more than a bare minimum of carb. It's a disease. It's not about eating more calories than you burn, or burning less calories than you eat.

    Anything that causes weight loss does so only by affecting insulin levels. Starvation reduces insulin. Low cal diets reduce insulin. Exercise reduces insuiln (but ONLY if paired with a diet that also reduces insulin; otherwise, the body will merely eat more and insulin levels will remain unchanged, along with body fat).

    Calories don't cause weight gain. Feed a type 1 diabetic, who makes no insulin. Watch dumbfounded as he emaciates and wastes away eating thousands of calories. His metabolism is in uncontrolled fat burning, because there is not enough insulin to regulate and suppress it (and certainly not enough to usher the glut of calories to his cells!)

    When one loses weight, one should not ask "what is the best way to lower calories" but "what ist he best way to lower insulin"? The perscription is obvious. A very low carb diet, with plenty of fat (fat must decrease, however, if carbs are increased) and protein needs adequate.
    Exercise will follow the diet. No one gets very high insulin because they don't exercise. Very high insulin decreases energy levels which result in lethargy and exercise intolerance. As one improves their capacity to make energy, exercise naturally follows.

    Exercise is credited as helping maintainers keep off weight. Exercise helps maintainers keep off weight, like not coughing helps people stay healthy. People who are maintaining weight have balanced metabolisms. Exercise may help promote that a little bit (exericse does has some ability to fight carb creep, by increasing carb tolerance) but mostly it's the maintainer maintaining their diet that is promoting the low insulin allowing exercise to be feasable.

    The exercise fad is in the same hat as the low fat diet, starvation diets, and all other interventions that can't work long term if ever. It neglects to identify the underlying cause of 99% of obesity: too many carbs, too quickly, too often.

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  33. Wooo said:
    >Size 8 jeans - when you're maintaining weight for 5 years tell me if you still think hunger doesn't matter. It's easy to ignore your hunger if you're high on weight loss excitement. Self starvation is not possible for life unless you're mentally ill (anorexic, eating disordered) or physically ill (cannot properly feel hunger). And weight loss with starvation / "food restriction" is nothing like weight loss with healthy metabolism. I do not miss my paper thin skin, crazy brain, and overall miserable lethargic self.<

    1) I don't have paper thin skin. Take a look at my Google photos and you will see how good I look. But then, that would prove your conjecture about me quite wrong.

    2) Considering I am more maintaining than losing, I'm closing in on that 5 year mark. So I am not "high on weight loss excitement" because I'm not losing.

    3) I cannot properly feel hunger. My meds make me hungry all the time, so I can easily eat 2000 calories (of high quality food) and still be hungry. How do you think I got obese to begin with???

    In short, Wooo, you think you know me but you don't. I live in this body every day and I *DO* know me. So until you get to know me and my metabolism a whole lot better, stop talking about it because you truly know nothing. You come across as downright silly to give advice on a topic (me) that you know zippo about.

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  34. And Wooo - I am not miserable or lethargic. I work out 6 days a week. But there you go making comments about me when you know nothing about me. Have a good day. :)

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  35. This is an extremely interesting post and discussion. I will have to carefully complete reading Taubes' book.

    I am a type2 Asian American (used to love my rice!). I am on about 35 g CHO per day, only on metformin and have had normalized blood sugars for about 4 months. I have lost 35 lbs in 4 months and I am normal BMI for the first time in 30 years as an adult!

    One book that has been of great help in this process is Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution. With respect to exercise, he writes "no pain/ no gain", about the importance of muscle building vs. aerobics i.e. exercising to exhaustion, until there is pain (lactic acid.. anaerobic respiration) ... improves muscle mass and hence improves insulin resistance. I used to do aerobics nearly everyday for 30 min. and did not find it enjoyable. Now I do some light yoga stretches to warm up(because I like them) followed by crunches, push-ups, leg rises and wall sits ... all to point of exhaustion and slowly. Takes me 20 min while I watch TV. Seems to help my blood sugar by about 5-10 mg/dL (can't really be 100% sure based on repeatability of the meters). But certainly I do feel better.

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  36. Size 8 jeans - YOu made a general statement about weight loss and hunger (that hunger can be ignored therefore it is not important). I made a general statement about your general statement: hunger exists for a reason, your metabolism is saying "we need food and if you don't give it to me I"m going to slow down on you".

    If you are on meds that break your satiety mechanisms that's a different issue all together, in which case you are an exception and not a rule. Most people have working satiety mechanisms that balance hunger with need for food (therefore ignoring hunger is the equivilant of triggering metabolic conservation and the side effects I mentioned).

    If you are going ot make general statements about hunger, and metabolism, why would you assume my responses were personally directed? If you personally truly have a reason to be abnormally interested in food all the time (but otherwise well energized and feeling well) then obviously this is an exception not relevant to the discussion (and, therefore, I can't possibly have been directing my comments at you in particular, but rather to weight loss dieters in general who have normal feedback mechanisms, metabolisms perhaps complicated by excess carbohydrate, but otherwise hunger/satiety/need for food working and intact).

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  37. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Wow! It is so nice to hear that I am not insane. As has often been the case for me since high school, I have been in the gym now steadily (4-5 times per week) for 6 months with no physical change. In the past, the only times I lost weight was when I didn't work out. It has been so difficult for trainers, etc. to understand this, but I guess they don't get paid if people don't exercise, right?

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  38. Amanda3:01 PM

    You know, I shudder whenever I read a new so called fact about weight loss.

    I think its different for different people, some things work for some body types and some things dont. Male or female, some people have more muscle definition, some are slimmer, some are stronger and thicker set..........and so different ways of keeping fit, losing weight etc are going to work different for different people.

    I lost a lot on low carb with no exercise but only once. It now wont work at all for me. The reason low carb works guys and girls is you instantly half your calories when you take the carbs out. Your plate is made up of half your calories being protein and half being carbs when you think about it....cut out the cars (or the protein in fact) and you half your calories.....less cals in, so less need to chug them out in the gym.

    Diet does nothing for me, my body just seems to adjust and cling onto anything for dear life. So I eat reasonably sensibly, I have a piece of software that clocks up my fat and cals, so long as I stick to around 1400 a day with the recommended fat and get enough fibre its fine (and I love carbs and eat them). I work out differently to most...I do an hour of cardio a day, but I keep my heart rate at around 130 and not go into cardio zone....I stay in fat burning zone.

    I think most people dont lose weight in the gym as they go there for half hour on a bike or treadmill and knock their heart rate up too high........they go into the zone where you are working your fitness, not burning fat......to burn fat, you train longer periods, but keep the heart rate lower (so take a book, get on the cycle for 40 mins, then an incline and walk on the treadmill for 20.....and it will come off but dont let your heart rate get over 135)

    Thats my two cents, but then I am no expert....just someone who went off low carb as it wasnt working, started eating the occassional burger and fries, pizza etc just was picky about which ones (leanburgers are now most places, thin crust hawaiian pizzas are fine).

    I also have to agree, when I first started training my appetite was huge......it then reduced dramatically and now I am not ravenous at all and I eat much much less.

    Take it from someone who has lost 9lbs in 2 weeks from exercise and a diet but not (as no diet lets you have pizza and burgers).

    However, that works for my body type (which doesnt lose weight by any means, is very musclular but stacks on weight like its going out of business).

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  39. Stacey11:35 AM

    I personally think that exercise is key to success because it boosts metabolism. http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/anatomyandphysiology/a/rmr.htm

    To say that someone with a sedentary life has the same metabolism as someone who is running marathons is delusional. Along with metabolic resting rates increasing, so does muscle mass, with the right exercise. More muscle means more calories burned. You build up that muscle AND cut your calories and the new muscle will burn off the fat around it thus resulting in a thinner body.

    Obviously exercise alone won't make you lose weight and gain a lean mass if you are stuffing potato chips and carbs down your gut. You have to exercise AND watch what you eat.

    Those who say "I exercised and didn't lost anything" I bet you anything that you were eating too many carbs and unhealthy foods therefore were not creating a calorie deficit.

    Fact is, no matter how you do it, if you create a 3,500 calorie deficit, you will lose a pound.

    If you work on your muscle mass though, your daily caloric burn will elevate along with your metabolism and you will burn more calories while NOT exercising thus making it easier to create a deficit.

    Cutting calories and going low carb will create a deficit. Exercising will create a deficit, but used in conjunction with eachother is key to losing weight the healthy way and to creating a lean strong body.

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  40. Anonymous1:39 PM

    I can't believe exercise doesn't reduce weight! Continuous movement burns calories. Why wouldn't it? If you then stuff yourself silly afterwards, or do half an hour at the gym and consider that sufficient, then that's your problem. How did you get fat in the first place? Were you always on the move? I don't think so. You were sedentary and the biscuit tin was open. Eat sensibly and just move around more under your own steam. And don't look at the scales every two seconds. Make healthy eating options and more movement your permanent lifestyle, not a diet.

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  41. Anonymous3:16 AM

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  42. Anonymous6:43 AM

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  43. Anonymous10:20 PM

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  44. Anonymous1:26 PM

    You are dumb...Why are you stressing that exercise doesn't cause people to lose weight? No one wants to lose weight -- they want to lose fat. If one person exercises and remains at the same fat but loses fat, that means he or she put on muscle, which is by no means a negative.

    Learn2Science.

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