Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oh Time, Time, Time...

I know I'm not alone in thinking that Time Magazine totally dropped the ball with its "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" article. A response by Shari Roan in the LA Times opens with "Fitness and health experts say Time magazine got it wrong this week with its cover story, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin,"" and's Dean Anderson really nails it, in The Daily Spark: "Unfortunately, this article is riddled with headlines and statements that seem more designed to attract attention and readers than to provide useful information—a common problem in this age of declining readership. But if you can get past the sensational headlines and faulty logic (a connection between two things doesn't mean one causes the other), the actual information in the article is nothing new or surprising."

Because, well... it's not.

Gee, burning 300 calories on the treadmill won't take care of the 740-calorie Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese I ate for lunch? Who knew?

And that's the kind of brilliant "non-conventional" information Time's John Cloud offers in his treatise regarding how exercise not only won't make you lose weight, but could even result in you gaining weight as you compensate for your virtuous exercise with a ginormous blueberry muffin from Starbucks! Oh the shock and horror.

See, the key to losing weight is very simple: expend calories in excess of those which you take in. Now the follow-through on that isn't necessary easy, as thousands of dieters in this country can attest (including me), but the basic formula just isn't that difficult to comprehend.

John Cloud cites that a pound of fat will burn 2 calories while at rest, while a pound of muscle will burn 6 calories at rest; ergo, a person who puts forth the tremendous effort to convert 10 pounds of fat to muscle can only eat 40 more calories per day. This limited gain, in Mr. Cloud's eyes, apparently utterly negates the extra calories the individual burned while converting those ten pounds, and also discounts the calories that will also continue to be burned as our hypothetical athlete maintains this change.

It's a given that exercise alone won't make a person lose weight. However, it's also a given that the proper combination of food intake and caloric expenditure will result in weight loss, and that adding to that caloric expenditure will increase that loss.

For example, at 155 pounds I need approximately 1700 calories per day to maintain my current weight at a minimal activity level. I consume a weekly average of 1300 calories per day, resulting in a daily caloric deficit of 400. It takes a 3,500 calorie expenditure to lose a pound, so at 400 calories per day I can expect to lose a pound about every nine days.

However, I also exercise 5-6 days per week and conservatively expend 300 calories a day in that activity. If I did that 7 days per week, just to pretty up the figures a bit: 300 calories from exercise + 400 calories from food intake = daily caloric deficit of 700, and a loss of a pound about every 5 days.

That's nearly HALF the time it would take if I weren't exercising. Believe me, I know. I struggled for almost three months at the beginning of this year to drop 13 pounds, only to gain it all back and then some since I quit smoking/ started putting more food in my mouth rather than cigarettes. I am now down from a high of 164 pounds (there, I've admitted it) to 155 pounds in just under one month, simply by watching what I eat and adding exercise to my life.

As for that post-workout blueberry muffin, are we not capable of getting pencil and paper and calculating that a 400 calorie reduced fat blueberry muffin from Dunkin Donuts will utterly wipe out any caloric benefit from the 300 calories we burned due to exercise? We as a nation need to look at what we're feeding our bodies, wake up to the calorie nightmare some of our foods are, and just do the math.

Do we need to exercise to lose weight? Nope. Not one bit. But it sure helps.

Note: don't even get me started on chain restaurants refusing to give nutrition information for their menus -- Florida, it's time to follow New York's lead. Good grief.


Tycho Beresford said...

I guess it's time to put that chin-up bar back outside the GlamShack. We took it up when we were building the GAG; I guess I can put it on the other side of the building.

Amanda said...

hehehe! Oh the awesome thing about being an avatar is that in SL we don't have extra bulges unless we want 'em. Or unless SL is hosed. Or...

Nevermind ;)

Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS said...

Nice post, Amanda. Had John Cloud actually bothered to read the research, he would have come to a very different conclusion on the topic. But that wouldn't have sold magazines. Instead, he skewed the facts to support a conclusion that is spurious if not downright wrong. The upshot is that he's done a grave disservice to the general public. I'd encourage you to read my rebuttal to Mr. Cloud on my blog,, where I actually cite the research on the subject. Spread the word: exercise is good for waistline!


Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS

Grumpy, M.D. said...

That is so wrong to put bullshit out like that just to sell magazines.

As I tell my patients: Plants are the only living things on earth that can make their own food.

So when I get the morbidly obese person (or relative) who insists that they never eat, I ask them if they've evolved photosynthesis.

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