TIME magazine’s recent story Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin left me shaking my head in disbelief. At a time when our nation’s health is center stage it frustrates me that any entity, let alone TIME magazine, would put out a story that in any way suggests that exercise can be detrimental to one’s weight loss goals. It defies common sense.
After reading the article, it is clear to me that the author is a victim of some of the “exercise fiction” that circulates among the population. “Exercise fiction” often includes nuggets of research that are misconstrued or misapplied and “conventional wisdom” that is anything but wise. For the author to propagate these myths (and start a few new ones) is very disheartening.
Changing exercise and eating habits is VERY difficult, but to make exercise the scapegoat for weight gain is an ill-conceived version of the blame game. What I WILL take away from this article is a better understanding of the personal demons people fight when they attempt to change their lifestyle habits. The author has afforded us a telling glimpse into his own battles with weight and exercise, and I suggest that we as fitness professionals take advantage of this opportunity to achieve greater insight into the barriers to exercise and weight loss that many people face.
1) Supposition #1: “…fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain.”
The author suggests that vigorous exercise stimulates appetite, and as a result of your increased hunger, you will make food choices that actually lead you to consume more calories than you burn.
It is true that some individuals may not realize how calorie-laden some of their food choices are, but we can hardly fault exercise for the extra calories ingested. Rather, it seems to be a case of “operator error”. This can be corrected with education and increased awareness.
If on the other hand the author is suggesting that it is impossible to turn down greasy or sugary food options after exercising, I suspect that he is caught in the “food as reward” trap. The author obviously does not enjoy his workouts and at the end is trying to find a way to pat himself on the back for his efforts. Rather than entertain the “lip-licking anticipation for perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries after a hard trip to the gym”, he needs to find other ways to reward himself.
Food as comfort is a real issue for many people. The author divulges that he “self-medicated with lots of Italian desserts” during a dark period in his life. We all splurge from time to time, and while our relationship with food should be enjoyable, the driving force for eating really should be sustenance and nourishment.
Another possibility is that he is a victim of “all or nothing” thinking. Perhaps in his eyes, you can either have a slab of cake or you can have none at all. Depriving yourself of foods you enjoy will surely backfire and lead to overeating binges.
2) Supposition #2: “Could pushing people to exercise more actually be contributing to our obesity problem? In some respects, yes.”
The author asserts that vigorous exercise may weaken your will power and cause you to be sedentary for the rest of the day.
We need to help our clients find a happy medium in their workouts. Anyone who is too tired to function the rest of the day following exercise is simply working out too hard. The author admits to exercising “obsessively, a bit grimly—for years” with “Puritan fury”. We don’t want participants to be compulsive about exercise. We want to help them find forms of exercise that they like to do and make sure they know how much, how often and at what intensity they need to work to achieve their goals.
While the TIME article took many of us in the industry aback, it shows just how much people need good advice from health and fitness professionals. People need to know that it is OK to eat all things in moderation, that being active on a regular basis is more beneficial than being a warrior once in a while and that with the right support and information, positive changes ARE possible.
For more reactions to the TIME article:
Response to the Time magazine article Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin (08/09/09) from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association
Experts Debunk Myth About Exercise, Weight Loss from the American College of Sports Medicine
10 Reasons Why Exercise Makes You Thin (Or Why Time Magazine Got It Wrong from Fitness Magazine
Hey, Time, ‘Exercise won’t make you thin’? What were you thinking? from the Los Angeles Times
Time Bomb from Tulsa World