Losing Weight and Exercise

As a general rule I’ve been trying to keep this little blog mostly about my writing, with a few tangential commentaries or links to things I think have some interest to the types of people who might be interested in me. Not that I’m always right, or anything. But that’s the basic plan of the place.

But today I’m stretching a little. So, bear with me.

Lisa sent me this story, which is somewhat relevant to us because, as I’ve noted a few times before, Lisa and I have been spending considerable time at the health club.

Quite honestly, I struggle with the story–particularly the headline.

For those who don’t click through, the headline asks: “Why doesn’t exercise lead to weight loss,” then the story goes on to explain that a collection of obese people were put through an exercise program without changing their diet and that they lost only seven pounds on average, with several losing only half that. So the first problem with this headline is, clearly, exercise actually did lead to losing weight.

I figure that the author did not write the headline. I assume that was a copy editor. But, even then I have to struggle with the lead portion of the article, which seems to be asking “why doesn’t exercise lead to MORE weight loss than this?” To that, I have to reply: Seriously? I mean, does one seriously have to ask why taking a collection of obese people and telling them to keep eating the same way that’s gotten them into their situation will severely limit the influence of exercise?

Just in case this is true, that one actually does have to answer that question, here’s the deal: assuming you are in fair health, either one of two things will happen when you exercise. (1) you will lose weight because the calories you burn off will offset those you eat, or (2) you will gain weight more slowly than you would have if you didn’t exercise. That’s the equation. It’s really very simple. Oh, sure, you can dig a little deeper to get some additional information and refine your weight control strategy (which this story touches on at its end), but the equation is all you really need to know about weight loss and weight gain. Exercise burns calories, and eating reasonable portions of a balanced diet allows exercise to do its thing.

Luckily, the article redeems itself a bit by quoting one of the lead researchers:

“The message of our work is really simple,” although not agreeable to hear, Melanson said. “It all comes down to energy balance,” or, as you might have guessed, calories in and calories out.

For the record, my BMI when we started going to the health club so often was 26.5, which put me in the “Overweight” category. Today it’s 23.4, which puts me clearly in the “normal” category. Lisa’s numbers are probably a shade better–and, yes, we’ve changed our approach to eating as well as exercising. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve not done any crash dieting. Such approaches would not work well for either of us, I think. I eat about as much as I ever did, for example, and I eat when I’m hungry. But we pay attention to what we eat, and we’ve gone to snacks that are more fruits and nuts than chips and cookies. Lisa takes her lunch to work, and I do the same a bit more than half the time (this saves money, too, of course).

So I’m sitting here wondering what it is that has me so perturbed about this article and its clearly misleading headline. To be honest, I’m not 100% certain. But it seems clear to me that we really don’t need this kind of confusing article being posted in one of the leading.

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