That Is The Question

A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.

–A.A. Milne

Another big question I get in eating this way is, “what about exercise?” This is a good question. If you read at all, or are able to hear, you’d think that exercise was the magic elixir that solves all of life’s problems. You can’t open a web page anywhere without seeing it lauded in glowing terms as the key to weight loss, heart health, and even longevity.

Of course you can’t find many centenarians who exercise, but we’ll just call that a paradox and pretend it doesn’t happen. The key for you to live a long life is obviously to exercise.

Only maybe it isn’t.

Because there are enough paradoxes lying around here to build our own gym with.

How about the one where adults before about 1975 thought that exercise was something you only did if you were training as an athlete, and yet somehow managed to have a population a lot thinner than we are today?

Or the one where people’s leisure time physical activity levels have gone up exponentially in the last few decades, right along with their waist circumferences?

Just to show we’re not making stuff up here, let’s have a quick peak at the IBISworld’s report on Gym, Health and Fitness Clubs Market Research:

Despite experiencing solid growth during the past decade (with the exception of the past two years), the market has not yet reached saturation…According to IBISWorld’s latest report, the Gym, Health and Fitness Clubs industry has benefited greatly from the vast array of marketing campaigns and ensuing consumer trends for fighting obesity and improving health. Gym membership numbers have increased considerably over the past 10 years, rising from 36.3 million in 2002 to more than 42.8 million by 2011.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Somehow, despite all the economic difficulties of the past decade, there’s been solid growth in this industry; and they think the sky’s the limit. I mean, after all, they’ve convinced everyone that exercise will stop them getting fat, and even though no one’s stopped getting fat, they’re still all running on the gerbil wheel as if it was really solving our obesity problem.

But that’s not my favorite quote. Here’s my favorite from a report on the industry:

With the obesity epidemic that is currently going on in the United States, fitness and weight loss has been growing in popularity, if not becoming an obsession, for Americans.

We won’t argue with that. They go on:

The rate of obesity grew steadily from 1987 to 2007 and all states except Colorado consider at least one fifth of their population obese. Over 72 million Americans, or one third of the population of the United States, are considered clinically obese.

I might have to question the actual numbers here, since the definition of obesity was redefined overnight. But we won’t quibble. We’ll grant it all: Americans are foundation-quiveringly-fat. But what is really interesting is the next paragraph:

The fitness center industry started coming into its own in the 1970s and 1980s , when exercise, led by running and aerobics, became popular. Membership rose throughout the 1990s, and the 2000s were a period of enormous growth for fitness centers. There were 16,938 clubs at the beginning of the decade, and that number grew to 29,636 by January 2008.

So apparently we’re supposed to believe all three of these statements are true:

1. Americans have gotten enormously fat since the 1980s.
2. Americans have been joining gyms, running, and jogging in enormous numbers since about that same time.
3. Exercise is the key to fighting obesity.

One of these statements is, to put it nicely, misguided.

When it comes to exercise, there are a lot of people who don’t seem to see any weight loss benefit. In fact, if anything, it stops them from losing weight.

This has been my experience, and a thumb through some low-carb forums will show you many people with the same experience. For me, I ditched the elliptical the day I started eating this way: and not only did I start dropping weight like I had a parasite, my blood pressure, resting heart beat, and even stamina improved. I discovered the stamina thing when, two months later, I hopped on the elliptical just “to see” and found that while before I could barely make it through my 15 minutes, checking the clock every minute after the first five, I had now just powered through 20 without glancing at the clock or thinking a thing of it. And yet, at that point, I had only lost a very little bit of weight.

Now there are others eating this way who swear that they can see no weight loss at all without exercise. Before I comment on that, I would like to repeat a previous warning:

I am not a nutritionist or a doctor or even a PE teacher. I’m just stating what I observe and what’s happened to me personally. You’ve got to think for yourself.

Having said that, what I’ve observed is that the people who do say they absolutely must exercise, as well as eat this way, to see any weight loss seem to have the following characteristics:

1. They are usually women

2. They are usually older

3. They often have full-blown diabetes

4. They have yo-yo dieted many times in life

Many of them speak to their suspicion that they must exercise because they have so seriously broken their metabolisms by years of high-sugar intake, insulin injections, and big weight loss and re-gains that it has become necessary. Personally, I suspect there is something to that. I also have to wonder–just wonder mind you–if some of these people have really, honestly tried a high fat diet with no exercise. Just going gluten-free is not the same thing.

Here’s some other thoughts:

Cardio is useless.

That’s such a brazen thing to say that I feel a little frightened just now. But I’ll just bite the bullet and say it again: unless you’re training for a marathon or hoping to be one of the survivors when the machines take over, cardio is useless.

And quite frankly if you want to survive in an I, Robot sort of situation, it’d be a better use of your time to invest in some classes at DeVry Technical College and learn how to make EMPs.

But don’t take my word for it. Here you can read a personal trainer’s advice. Or here for a great explanation and links to some hard science. I’d also recommend to you the book by Drs Phinney and Volek in which they describe in great detail what’s going on in the human body, and why you can’t trick your body with cardio into burning off that brownie.

Your body isn’t that stupid.

The human body strives, thankfully, to stay in energy balance. We may want to burn off an extra 250 calories today so we can eat that snack cake, but our bodies don’t know we plan on being idiotic later in the day, so they respond sensibly. As you do cardio exercise, your body does indeed raise your metabolism. It produces cortisol to help do so, which puts you under tremendous internal stress. As soon as you stop, you body compensates by reducing your metabolism to anywhere from 5-15% below what you normally run at when not active. In this way, it ensures that you don’t burn any extra calories that day.

If you not only do the cardio, but also restrict your calorie intake, your body continues to respond sensibly by lowering your metabolism even further as soon as it has the opportunity. If you continue to act in what the body views as a dangerous and foolish manner–by pushing it physically while simultaneously denying it fuel–it will eventually start pumping depressants into you in an effort to get you to sit down already.

Now that’s not to say that other types of exercise aren’t good. The aforementioned people who can’t seem to lose weight without it tend to swear by weightlifting and interval training. And both interval training and weightlifting are sudden bursts of intense effort, instead of long, slow, useless cardio. The body understands sudden bursts of intense energy: that’s what it was designed to do. And this also isn’t to say that things we might call “cardio,” such as long walks in the hills or going for swim, don’t have other, very important benefits. It’s only to say that if you’re depending on that to ditch the tonnage, you’re likely going to be disappointed.

But do be aware: despite the anecdotal testimony, doctors who support this way of eating and have actually done in-clinic studies (where diet and exercise are controlled and metabolisms are accurately measured) say that they haven’t found even weight-lifting and interval training types of exercise to be of any use in weight loss.

In fact what they recommend is change your eating first: eat healthy animal fats, red meat and adequate protein. Avoid vegetable oils, low-fat anything, grains, sugar and excessive fruit. Then you’ll have energy, start losing weight, and gain an interest in exercise you could never muster before. When you’re smaller, you can start training safely without worrying so much about tearing things.

Then you can actually get fit.

(For more info, go here and search the phrase” “It is not a weight loss tool.”)


Plato says he’s hungry

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