Why TIME magazine is completely irresponsible for saying that exercise won’t make you thin

August 18, 2009          Comments (0)


Recently, Time Magazine featured an article by John Cloud, entitled ‘Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin‘ that is generating a ton of buzz.

I addressed my thoughts on this in my Daily Inspiration the following day and I strongly considered doing so on this blog but I didn’t want to contribute to the buzz because it doesn’t deserve the attention.

But when I received an email from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) I felt as though it was my responsibility to address this to the world being that this is what I do and have lived since I was in 4th grade.

This is just too important to ignore. The email from them said: “Last Friday, an article appeared in Time Magazine making statements that we believe run counter to fact and the public interest. The article claimed that exercise, contrary to the research with which we are all familiar, is not an effective health tool, particularly as it pertains to weight loss…”

They continued, (addressing the fitness professionals on their mailing list):

“Your assistance is needed in getting the right health message out to the public. Also we encourage you to adapt our letter to the editor and submit it to your local news outlets, helping readers and viewers get the best evidence-based facts and information.”

So here I am. Never fear MyBodyTutor is here! I’m going to make this as simple and concise as possible.

Ridiculously enough, this debate made the rounds last year and the year before that as well. It’s nothing new!

Of course, the media loves stories like this because it’s attention grabbing. It makes you stop in your tracks and say, “Wait a second. What? Exercise won’t make you thin?” It’s written for people that don’t really want to change. Sadly, that’s most of the population.

Here’s the deal: To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. Energy (food) in must be less than energy (movement) out. HOWEVER (Yes, that is a big however, if you eat certain types of foods the amount of calories you consume doesn’t matter all that much. For example, our body processes chicken very differently than it does, say, candy.

[For my nerds out there:  This is what’s known as the Thermic Effect of Food. The energy used to burn the food we eat is known as the Thermic Effect of feeding. Proteins have a thermic effect of about 30% while carbs have a thermic effect of about 15%. Meaning it takes a lot more calories to process and digest, say, chicken breast than it does candy. If you consumed a serving of chicken that was 200 calories, 30% — 60 calories — may be required for digesting it. Not to mention, we feel a lot more satiated when we eat proteins. Plus, our ability to regulate ourselves is greatly increased when we eat certain foods. Where as when we eat, say, cookies, the combo of salt, sugar and fat can make it very hard to control ourselves.]

When we exercise intensely – it can make us very hungry, even ravenous. There in lies one of the problems.

It’s called overcompensation. If you exercise say for 30 minutes at a moderate pace – you may burn 200 calories. And you’ll (most likely) overestimate how hard you worked. (Most people think they worked out harder than they really did. Most people also think they eat better than they really do.)

And if you think it’s now okay to eat a donut** just because you exercised you just negated your entire workout for purposes of weight loss. (I’m not even going to mention the gazillion and one benefits exercising has on our health, fitness and over all well being. This is just about weight loss right now as was Time’s ridiculous article.)

[**With the right plan you can absolutely enjoy donuts and still lose weight. BUT, you have to build it into the plan. That’s a big part of what we do. Never eating your favorite foods isn’t sustainable. We help our clients lose weight while enjoying their favorite foods guilt free!]

(Ugh. I can’t resist. Here’s a few benefits of exercise.)

Or, why not slog down a Gatorade to aide in your recovery. Whoops! There goes your workout. (Sports drinks are only necessary when you are running marathons and the like!)

Which leads to the real problem at hand:

Food (or drink) as a reward.

This is the problem we all have. While you’re working your tail off exercising, you might be thinking about how hard you’re working. And because you’re working so damn hard – you might feel you deserve a reward – a food reward.

In fact, exercising might make you feel that you deserve food as a reward a lot more than if you weren’t exercising at all. After all, you’re working your butt off! “I’m working my butt off and I can’t eat junk?!?” you say to yourself.

That will make you feel deprived.

Because you still believe food is the reward! It’s not your fault. We’ve been conditioned to think of food as the reward since we were infants. But when food is your reward that leads to bad news!

So all of this brings me to several important points:

1. Food isn’t a reward. It’s fuel. Sure, it can be a source of love and joy. And if it has to be one – let’s make it about fresh food. Indulge yourself. But with real food!

Tip: How else can you reward yourself besides food?

2. If you exercise (and yes, of course it’s worthwhile for so many reasons!) don’t throw away all of your hard work with poor eating. You literally can negate a hard work out with 10 bites!

3. The best exercise of all: Keep your mouth shut. (I know this is a lot easier said than done. The rationalizations and justifications we come up with are brilliant! We will always fool ourselves. Enter MyBodyTutor!)

4. Thinking about how intensely I exercise makes me want to eat healthfully because I know how hard I work and I don’t want to waste my time. I want to get all of the benefits that exercise yields.

5. When we eat sugar, fat and salt we get a temporary rise in dopamine. But of course, it’s very fleeting. (Which is why once you start, it’s hard to stop. We want more and more!)

However, it’s been proven that we get the same feeling of reward and pleasure from exercise. So if you can look at exercise for the immediate short term benefits of pleasure – like you might do for junk food – it becomes a treat to workout. Not a sacrifice.

6. Going back to point 3 – who wants to workout and workout and not see any changes in your body? I see so many people in the gym that look exactly the same month after month – even with a personal trainer!

Obviously their diet is lacking. And of course, they’d be even bigger if they didn’t exercise. But what a waste!

In short: Exercise is critical in helping you to lose weight because it burns lots of calories. It can help to create a calorie deficit. But only if you don’t overcompensate!

In fact, diet is 70-80% of the battle. If you can’t control yourself like John Cloud, you’re not alone. Most people can’t.

But he shouldn’t make ridiculous claims.

Instead, he should admit that he needs help. Sadly, most people can’t do that. And that’s the first step to getting in to the shape you want to be in.

Sadly, most people can’t admit when they’re totally wrong either. And in this day and age, when 2/3 of the American population is overweight, the last thing we need is messages like this being put out there. There is enough conflicting information.

So John can you admit that you need some help? I’ll tell you what. I’ll work with you for free. All I ask is that instead of making bogus claims like exercising won’t make you thin – you tell the world that what they really need is daily and personal accountability.

A very hopeful,

-Adam Gilbert
Chief Body Tutor
MyBodyTutor, Inc.

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