Sunday, May 15, 2016

Read Between the Lines and Past the Headlines

The title of this post is a paraphrase of a recent statement by the nutrition and wellness doctor on whom I frequently rely, Dr. Mark Hyman.

It's been a busy few weeks in the headlines for eating well and exercising. For example, "The Biggest Loser" study. Good heavens. Where do I begin?

A "reality" show based upon this incredibly unrealistic pretense: People compete for a million dollar payday by removing themselves from their everyday lives for anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks, restricting their diets to a thousand calories a day, and exercising with trainers up do seven hours a day (complete with screaming and puking - I cannot envision ANY scenario in which screaming or puking is appropriate during exercise, not sorry to say). It is a bizarro world in which this is deemed a successful weight loss strategy.

So a six year follow up study of contestants from season 8 indicates, according to the headlines and some of the conclusions from physicians quoted in a New York Times article on the study, that obese people are doomed to failure because their metabolic rates are ingrained at a slow rate, and the rates get even slower when they lose weight.

Good heavens.

Good heavens. I'll say it again.

Restrict your calorie intake to 1,000 a day and see how you feel. Even if you're not obese. Go ahead. Starved, that's how you'll feel. Especially if it's a low fat diet. Metabolic rates will slow under starvation conditions, not news.

Now, go exercise seven hours a day after consuming perhaps one half of your basal metabolic need. If you're obese, that's more like one fourth of your basal metabolic need. Yep, that's seven hours A DAY. Every day. For three to five months. Exhausted. Beyond exhausted. Holy crap. But hey, you want to win that million.

Once you win the million and complete the publicity tour and go back to your normal life, with it's usual distractions, expectations and judgments, temptations and pressures, not to mention your emotional baggage... please try to continue maintaining your starvation plan and your insane exercise schedule.

The way you eat, the way you exercise, and the way you lose weight when do you lose weight matters when it comes to maintaining weight loss. Read between the lines: "The Biggest Loser" study found that "The Biggest Loser" method of weight loss is great for winning a contest, but crap for maintaining weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Color me surprised.


The New York Times wellness blog headline sums up a study of high intensity interval exercise in this manner: "One minute of all out exercise may equal 45 minutes of moderate exertion."

Know what all-out exercise means? It means you're getting pretty darn close to collapsing or - yes - puking. Your lungs or your legs or both feel like they are bursting into flame. If it doesn't fall into the category of feeling VERY VERY HARD then it doesn't rise to the level of high intensity.

Know what one minute means in the construction of the study protocol? Do a brisk warm-up, go all out for 20 seconds, exercise at a low boil for a minute or so, go all out for another 20 seconds, simmer again for a minute or so, go all out for another 20 seconds, simmer down and then cool down and then you're done. Well, you're done with your cardio. There's no resistance training in this study.

What does that equal in time spent exercising? About 10 or 12 minutes total. Pretty efficient compared to 45 minutes for us busy U.S. residents. What else does it equal? Similar benefits in VO2max improvement, calorie expenditure, insulin response, and cardio-vascular impacts like blood pressure improvements.

Will 10 minute cardio workouts prepare you for tolerating the foot-fall shock of running a marathon, or the butt-burning of cycling 62 miles, or for winning a 200 meter butterfly at a swim meet? Will 10 minute workouts achieve the moving meditation you crave when your life is filled with work, meetings, errands, commutes, disputes, and drama? All by themselves, probably not. You can incorporate shorter, high-intensity workouts into any training plan. But your training plan needs to be appropriate to your goals.

There is always a higher risk of injury associated with high intensity activity. Your training plan has to be appropriate to your risk tolerance and your health profile.


The Forbes headline says, "Why You Can't Exercise Your Way to Weight Loss."

If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times, you cannot exercise your way out of a lousy diet. Forbes just got the memo, I guess. Does that imply somehow that it's not worth it to exercise if you do want to lose weight? I am kind of hoping it implies that you should eat clean along with exercise to lose weight. And follow a training plan that enhances your metabolism, improves your quality of life, and is appropriate for your goals.

Questions, comments, and concerns are welcome.