Exercise and Weight Maintenance

The New York Times Magazine has a article titled Weighing the Evidence on Exercise, which is an interesting look at how exercise effects weight loss and appetite.

Not too long ago I recall Marie Claire having a rather unscientific, completely anecdotal article on which gets you thinner faster, calorie counting or exercise. Their findings were that the woman who dieted, but didn’t really exercise (this was a two woman comparison!) lost more weight than the woman who just exercised.

Certainly, my own anecdotal experience was similar. When I weighed around 260 lbs, and was going to the gym regularly (3x/wk, 30+min cardio, 45 min weights) I didn’t see the scale budge much. I wasn’t counting calories, though, and I am pretty sure, in retrospect, I ate up most of the calories I burned. My real weight loss started when I started tracking every thing I ate, and having a set ideal of food I ate for the day/week. That came without exercise, and the exercise came later as my body started feeling more capable.
(Keep in mind, at my heaviest I started avoiding having to step up on curbs because THAT was too much of a strain.)

The article highlights some of the things that make exercise and weight loss so frustrating (to me, at least):

  • “The newest science suggests that exercise alone will not make you thin, but it may determine whether you stay thin, if you can achieve that state.”
  • “In general, exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss,” says Eric Ravussin, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and an expert on weight loss.
  • Men’s and women’s bodies react differently to exercise, including how appetite is triggered. Women’s bodies are “directing them to replace the lost calories.”
  • I love this quote: “We didn’t look at this, but it’s probably safe to speculate that it’s easier and more pleasant to exercise if you’re not already heavy,”

A point of interest, however:

  • Standing for your job, vs. sitting in a chair can have health benefits: “Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair.””

Read the whole article here.

Weight loss and exercise isn’t simple, though as the article states,

The mathematics of weight loss is, in fact, quite simple, involving only subtraction. “Take in fewer calories than you burn, put yourself in negative energy balance, lose weight,” says Braun, who has been studying exercise and weight loss for years. The deficit in calories can result from cutting back your food intake or from increasing your energy output — the amount of exercise you complete — or both.

There are so many other factors, such as those discussed in the article, not to mention people with compounding factors, such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, chronic pain conditions, mobility issues, hormone therapy, depression, anxiety, life-stressors, poverty, access to health care, education – the list goes on, that impact weight. It’s not as simple as desiring something and just doing it. But that’s another blog post.

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