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By Michael Scholtz, Biggest Loser Club Fitness Expert
It takes a lot to make me angry. But I have to say that the recent TIME magazine article titled Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin has me upset.
Read on to find out why I think all Biggest Loser Club members have reason to be riled by the offensive depiction of exercise being dispensed by the author, Mr. John Cloud.
Let's start with the title. It's true. Exercise by itself will not make you thin. But who promised that exercise by itself was enough? Check out even in the cheapest of the cheap shot info-mercials aimed at selling you another piece of exercise equipment to get "the body you always wanted". I bet you'll see a reference to a healthy diet being a necessary part of the puzzle.
And in the legitimate scientific community it's widely accepted that exercise is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. In a rebuttal to the article, the American College of Sports Medicine states:
"There is strong evidence from the majority of the scientific literature that physical activity is an important component of an effective weight loss program.
Physical activity is one of the most important behavioral factors in weight maintenance and improving long-term weight loss outcomes. In fact, participation in an exercise program has proven to be the very best predictor of maintaining weight that was lost."
Mr. Cloud does admit that it's "possible" that he and others who exercise would weigh more than they do currently if they did not exercise. But he's torn between continuing his efforts and just giving up because he's not losing any weight and exercise may actually be making it harder.
He states that one of the reasons exercise makes weight loss harder is that it makes you want to eat more. Well, right again. When you exercise your body needs more calories. Your appetite will probably increase, and it's a good idea to listen to it and provide the fuel your body needs.
But that is not a license to overeat. Yet, as Mr. Cloud sees it, exercise can make you succumb to the "lip-licking anticipation of perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries after a hard trip to the gym". And when exactly did "fuel your body" become "lust after fries"?
Here's a news flash, sitting on the couch and eating "perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries" can also increase your desire for more of the same. Snack foods and junk foods are designed to keep you coming back for more. As a nation we are consuming bigger portions and more calories than ever in our history. Are we supposed to believe that is due to exercise? If we would just stop being so darn active we'd actually be eating healthier foods and fewer calories? Please.
Perhaps the best litmus test for whether exercise really does lead to overeating is to look at the exercisers. Are they more overweight than the rest of the population? I'm around a lot of people who exercise and I know most of them look and act differently from the typical population at the local food court. The athletes that I work with here on the Biggest Loser Club are more fit and getting more out of life than ever before. And exercise plays a big role in that. Yet most of them report that they are also enjoying healthy foods more than ever.
No, I don't think it's the people out there running 5Ks, paddling kayaks and going hiking that are doing the majority of the overeating in this country.
Mr. Cloud goes on to speculate that it might be the effort of so much strenuous exercise that leads us down the wrong paths.
He refers to the "Herculean exercise" that Americans have done "over the past 30 years". And he laments that his own workouts are made up of a "wretched four hours" per week of exercising with "Puritan fury". The implication is that all this working out may be exhausting our self-control "muscle" and causing us to give into food temptations and refuse to get off the couch when we're not working out.
First of all, I have to wonder if he's looked closely at the percentage of Americans who actually do regular, vigorous exercise. As a nation our exercise has hardly been "Herculean". But, even if we were it seems doubtful that we'd be expanding our waistlines. As mentioned before, it's not the vigorous exercisers who are most likely to be overweight.
And second, if your exercise is wretched then pick something else. It's well established that deprivation and huge sacrifices aren't part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. If you don't allow yourself to eat certain foods then you want them even more. If you hate your exercise then you feel like you deserve a reward for making it through and/or end up quitting due to burnout.
It hardly seems news worthy that taking such an all-or-nothing approach to life doesn't work.
Why am I so angry about this article? I believe it's difficult enough to change our lifestyles to be healthier without being subjected to information that is meant to be inflammatory and confusing. Is exercise the reason for our problem with overweight and obesity in this country? Of course not.
So why publish something that is twists the truth to make it seem like we could be exercising ourselves to fatness?
It seems much more productive to support a moderate approach to healthy eating and consistent activity that can be sustained. If only that was the story that made the headlines!
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