Exercise: An iconoclast weighs in

Most of us swear that exercising makes us thinner; Gary Taubes says, fat chance.

In a provocative article, "The Scientist and The Stairmaster", originally published October 1, 2007 in New York Magazine, Taubes writes, "The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine published joint guidelines for physical activity and health. They suggest that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week is necessary to "promote and maintain health."

What they
didn't say, though, was that more physical activity will lead us to lose weight. Indeed, the best they could say about the relationship between fat and exercise was this: "It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling."

I wanted to hang myself with my jump rope.

Taubes notes rather curtly that there are
other reasons to exercise: cardio benefits, maybe living longer, feeling better about ourselves (and I'd add, the lovely endorphins).

"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."

And "More strenuous exercise doesn't help matters, because it builds up an appetite." So that's why I can eat a stack of pancakes the height of a garage after an hour on a treadmill.

Skeptics are welcome: he provides plenty of data to refute the casual chain between activity and weight reduction and discusses the historical roots of the exercise-to-reduce mind set.

Taubes's article disturbed me so much that when I first read it, I could not show it to a colleague
who had lost almost 80 lbs. in about 8 months. A year later, just as he predicted, she has regained at least 2/3 of the weight, though she still works out rigorously. She does have a genetic predispositon, which he also explores.

I'll keep exercising an hour most days, because the other benefits are so valuable- the endorphins are a life support system for my mood.

But I don't think it's helping my weight much
, and, reading Taubes, I now h
ave an explanation.


sisty said…
That's right -- the only sure way to lose weight is to reduce your caloric intake.

Love this site, by the way.
Duchesse said…
Sisty: Thanks! Do you have any suggestions for coping with hunger, when reducing intake? That's my challenge.
Anonymous said…
duchesse - dont' believe it! Read the book I told you about! I'm eating olive oil, almonds by the handful, rye bread, full-fat goat's yogurt - it's the quality of those calories that is important. If you deprive your body of calories it starts to produce a hormone called cortisol which (in my layman's terms) instructs the body to lay down as much fat as possible from the little food that you eat. That is why Weightwatchers does not work, because your body goes into shock from (frankly) starvation and produces the hormone. The less you eat the more cortisol it produces. That's what leads to yo-yo dieting and that is the downward spiral I found myself in.

The 'Fat around the Middle' book suggests eating every 3 hours to keep blood sugar levels even. I swear I have not felt hungry in nearly 4 weeks now and the calories that I'm eating are giving me the energy to really put my all into everything I'm doing.

I would add that I'm doing about 15 mins of yoga every morning followed by a few tummy crunches and a twice a week 20 min aerobic workout from a video at home. Apart from that I walk fast for 30 mins a day.

I think the old idea of simply losing weight by controlling calories has been disproved completely - even Weightwatchers use the saturated fat content more now as a indicator.

And another nice thing about the book is that the author only expects you to stick to her advice 80% of the time, so you are able to have your wine and chocolate in moderation. But frankly I haven't missed it at all.
Susan B said…
Duchesse - I tend to get quite hungry between meals and even have tended to get low blood sugar "crashes." The best thing I've found to combat this is to eat a little bit of protein and fat with each meal or snack. Have a cube of cheese (goat if you prefer) with that apple, a smear of almond butter with that stalk of celery. It really does help the hunger. I still may get a bit hungry, but it feels like the kind that you can push away for another couple hours, not the desparate kind that makes you grab whatever is available.

Oh, and I think Taubes is spot on.
Anonymous said…
Sorry duchesse, I know this post is about exercise. The older I get the more holistic I find yoga to be as a form of exercise. What I love about it is that you can do as much or as little as you like, anywhere you can. Many a time I've done my dog stance position in my office at work to stretch out the back and refocus my mind all at the same time!
Julianne said…
I always knew exercise was the devil. Aha!

J/K, though I don't love exercise except for the water aerobics classes that I take, and walking. Everything else I do not like!
WendyB said…
Years ago, I lost weight exercising and eating less. Obviously if you exercise and eat more than ever, you won't get anywhere.
Duchesse said…
GP: Thanks, I have ordered the book through Amazon. Also, I am an absolute yoga nut.

Pseu: I've been carrying kashi cereal bars in my briefcase but think I need some protein so will figure out how to carry some.

Wendy: I've lost weight that way too but now that I'm 60, would likely need many hours a day exercising to achieve that loss.
sisty said…
Yes! I find that most of the time I think I'm hungry, I'm actually thirsty. Drink regular plain water or, if that's too boring, I find a mix of 4 oz. unsweetened cranberry juice to 24 oz. of water is great. It tastes like water with lemon in it.

Of course, exercising is really valuable for health, but for reasons other than weight loss. It doesn't hurt, but without reducing calories, you won't lose weight.

The other thing is limiting your alcohol content -- not because of the calories, but because it throws your judgment out the window and sends you straight for the ice cream!

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