Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blogging and the diet/exercise conundrum

Simon Owens, who runs the interesting blogging and media website Bloggasm, sent me a link to a piece he did which followed up that Time magazine story which claimed that exercise didn't help much when it came to weight loss:

Mike Howard is a health and fitness consultant and has been blogging over at the popular Diet Blog for about two years. Over the weekend he joined his colleagues in attempting to “debunk” the Time piece in a long blog post.

“In summary, the article essentially claims that exercise won’t help you lose weight, and may in fact be responsible for people GAINING weight,” Howard wrote. “Hmmm… The author, John Cloud (ooh the irony in that surname) goes on an anecdotally-based tirade, side-stepping contradictory evidence and common sense on route to his perplexing hypothesis.”

Like many of the other bloggers who reacted to the piece, he noted that there is general truth in what the article is saying — that exercise alone would not cause weight loss. He then went on to differentiate between the various forms of exercise that were lumped into one category in the piece, explaining the long-term health benefits that would result from each. [...]

The diet blogger explained that mainstream news often tries to offer provocative, black-and-white statements to grab reader eyeballs, rather than explaining the much more nuanced facts.

“It’s not a black or white issue,” he said. “The headline ‘Exercise does not help much when not combined with proper dietary compliance’ is not going to get many readers, so you have to be on the edge, you have to have a pull, or something like that, and that’s basically a trap that a lot of mainstream media falls into to grab our attention.” [All links in original--E.M.]

Do read the whole thing; I think it covers a lot of the complaints and questions people had about the original article.

To me, the takeaway here is that Time writer John Cloud's article leans too much toward the sensational, as articles about diet and exercise often do. There's nothing wrong with pointing out that exercise alone generally won't cause you to lose weight--but that's not really a provocative or eye-catching claim, in the realm of diet and exercise.

Or is it? Let's face it: the twin pillars of diet and exercise are often uneven in terms of what is being emphasized. I recall various fitness crazes of my youth: there was the "running will make everybody healthy!" craze, followed by the low fat diet phase, followed by the low carb diet phase (again, since it's been around a while), followed by the "strength training" phase and the health club phase, followed by...well, you get the idea.

The truth, as everybody knows, is that both diet and exercise are important for health, and that even for weight loss the proper balance between both must be found. You can't lose weight by going to the gym five times a week--and stopping for ice cream on the way home, as the Time article pointed out. But you also can't lose weight by cutting your calories drastically and then being a total couch potato. I think most people realize that the second is true--but perhaps some don't want to think that much about the first. Certainly in my own struggles to lose weight, it has been a lot easier for me to ignore bad eating habits while still exercising, as if the exercise canceled out the need to assess a sensible daily calorie amount and stick to it.


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Anonymous said...

If you do the exercise, eat the ice cream, and don't lose much fat, you'll still build muscle, improve endurance, and generally be healthier and more energetic than if you didn't exercise.
At the same time, if you eat the same, and exercise more, you almost certainly will lose fat, until your body adjusts to the new level of exercise.
Of course, if you're a 'perimenopausal" woman (I think that's the new pseudomedical euphemism for 'not a kid anymore,' the simple arithmetic of calories in/out works more like calculus.
Good luck...

Sue Murphy

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