What is Real About Weight Loss and What Isn’t! (Part I)

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26 Aug 2013

Diet and exerciseSome of us are STILL searching frantically for some quick fix-magic pill in order to attain a healthful weight.  Here we go again—and yes, I don’t tire of writing about this subject for the following reason: Dr. David Niemen is a professor and director of the human performance lab at Appalachian State University. He states, “some obese people may still be able to live active lives and move relatively well. Others may have heard in passing of the “latest” study that downplays the health problems that they’d been told would befall them. A third group, perhaps younger, has the natural sense of immortality. Regardless, their inertia will not help them in the long run. Next to smoking,” argues Nieman, “being obese because of bad diet and exercise habits carries the heaviest disease burden.”

Heather Mangieri, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees. “Next to smoking, excess weight due to poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle has a greater effect on everything from your major organs and body systems, to your hormones, bones, joints and even your sleep.”  There have been countless studies on the deleterious effects of obesity on overall health. A definitive paper, “Education Initiative: Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults,” conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Education Examination Survey, has said it all.  Being overweight and obese is dangerous to your health, and that is why I continue to address the issue.

In order to lose weight, we must make changes in our daily habits—because there is no shortcut.  But let’s address what is NOT true about being overweight, so we can maintain a realistic picture of what to concentrate on when approaching the problem.

First, don’t talk yourself into the SLOW METABOLISM theory.  Low metabolism has little to do with obesity.  “On the contrary, as body weight goes up, so does your metabolism,” says Dr. Nieman, “Big people have high metabolisms, and small, thin people have low metabolisms.”

Sonya Angelone, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, affirms that low metabolism is not a significant factor in obesity. However, she emphasizes the importance of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.

Broadening the definition of exercise to encompass the activities of daily living—ranging from cleaning the garage and gardening to standing while working on the computer—was the defining aspect of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revolutionary 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Never before had any national institution suggested that even humdrum physical activities could have a cumulative benefit by raising one’s metabolism.  “We’ve known for decades that resting metabolism isn’t the cause of obesity,” explains Dr. John Jakicic, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Data from as far back as the mid-1980s has shown the relationship between weight and basal metabolic rate.”

The fact is, a study in 1986 published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined 130 non-diabetic, adult southwestern American Indians from 54 families. (It is commonly known as the “Pima Indian” study.)  The researchers found that persons from families with lower resting metabolic rates were no more obese than persons from families with higher metabolic rates. Subsequent research has confirmed these results.

Second, don’t presume the EXERCISE can be used to undo overeating.  It simply won’t work.  Exercise, while great for your health, is light artillery against obesity.

Many factors control weight gain or loss. “It is true that any overweight person can lose weight if they increase their energy expenditure over a sustained period of time, and that regular exercise can help them lose weight,” explains Dr. Mark Mattson at the National Institute on Aging. “However, there are many factors that influence whether or not an individual becomes obese, as well as whether they are able to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Such factors that have been established by scientific studies include genes, early life experience, learned behaviors, cultural and socioeconomic factors, and motivation.”

Therefore, it’s not surprising that there’s a huge variability in the amount of weight lost among people doing the same routine.

“In the battle of the bulge you have two fists–diet and exercise. You jab with exercise, but the knockout blow comes through control of the diet,” Nieman says. And, while he supports exercise for its myriad health benefits, he feels that “adding 30 minutes of walking per day to your lifestyle, for example, typically results in very little weight loss for the average obese person.” He believes that the engine of weight loss is “eating less and keeping food intake low or moderate.”

And, while it is possible to burn more calories than you can eat, as Dr. Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council in Great Britain, recently told The Observer, “you have to do an awful lot more exercise than most people realize. To burn off an extra 500 calories is typically an extra two hours of cycling. And that’s about two doughnuts.”

Perhaps the most surprising experiment that dispelled the myth of exercise as champion obesity fighter occurred at the University of Louisiana in 2007. Led by Dr. Timothy Church, the study followed the progress of hundreds of overweight women on exercise programs for a six-month period. One group worked out for 72 minutes each week, a second group for 136 minutes, and a third for 194. A fourth group kept to their normal daily routine with no additional exercise.

The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were shocking: There was no significant difference in weight loss between those who had exercised—some of them for several days a week—and those who hadn’t. Some of the “worked-out” women even gained weight.

An 18-month study focusing on childhood obesity published in the journal Obesity in 2008 returned similar results. Researchers found that, when the children in their experiment exercised, they ended up eating more than the calories they had just burned, sometimes 10 or 20 times as many.

Again, everyone MUST EXERCISE because it is vital to your health and it certainly assists us in our weight loss effort, but you must learn proper eating, and to do that, see a reputable registered dietician.

In Part II of this column, we will take a good look at how genes play (or don’t play) a role in weight loss and why “going on a diet” is usually detrimental to your long term success at losing weight.



Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@alanfitness.com Check out the his web site –www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.