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Exercise won't make you thin unless ...

Published October 10. 2009 09:00AM

According to research done by four universities entailing over 90 studies and reported by Bruce R. Posten in a July 6 Reading Eagle article, two out of every three people "tend to avoid information that contradicts what they already believe."

So join me. Become one of the one in three.

Consider sentiment you may consider sacrilege: John Cloud's article for Time magazine that appeared in print and online in August, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin."

Cloud's first contention is that exercise for weight loss is useless because exercise stimulates hunger. He cites a study performed at Louisiana State University and published from this year in the Public Library of Science, a peer-reviewed journal, that suggest this.

In the study, three quarters of the 464 overweight women subjects who normally did not exercise did so with a personal trainer for 72, 136, or 194 minutes per week. The other quarter was told to remain sedentary, and all participants were asked not to change their eating habits.

Despite the varying amounts of exercise, all groups, including the sedentary group, lost weight but the extra time exercising some did during the six-month study did not lead to extra weight loss. In fact, there were women in all four groups who gained weight some up to 10 pounds.

How could this be?

In Cloud's article, he cites Dr. Timothy Church, the supervisor of the study and the chair head of health wisdom at LSU, who says compensation, the act of rewarding yourself for doing something less than pleasurable (which is exercising for normally sedentary people) with something pleasurable (which is often eating for overweight people), occurred. But Cloud also suggests that the exercise produced additional hunger.

While Cloud's suggestion is plausible, other factors are more probable. First, it is well known that respondents to surveys often sugarcoat answers. In a survey conducted this summer by McClatchy-Ipsos, for instance, 82 percent of American adults felt that excess weight was either a minor problem or no problem in their families even though, according to government guidelines, two out of every three adult Americans are overweight and the rate for children is about a third of that and steadily increasing.

Combine this with the well-documented tendency of people who do not weight foods to grossly underestimate total calories of meals consumed, and you can see the fault in the LSU study. How can you rely on data generated on 464 subjects "asked" not to change eating habits?

Interestingly enough, another quotation by Church seems to undermine Cloud's premise. Church states that some of his wife's friends complain about not losing weight despite running an hour a day, yet their post-run ritual includes eating muffins at Starbucks.

Hunger is one thing. How you personally handle it, is another.

More on this matter will come later because it also explains another of Cloud's complaints: that "humans are not a species that evolved to dispose of many extra calories beyond what we need to live." Cloud compares humans to rats, so he is correct, but he fails to mention something that has been stressed in this column for years: the type of calorie a human consumes either helps or hinders the fat-storing process.

For more than a decade, I have been telling you of John Parrillo's theory of nutrient partitioning. Done correctly, it allows the bodybuilders to consume enormous amounts of calories (up to 10,000 a day for really big guys) to insure muscle growth while not adding the expected amount of body fat from such an excess.

The key is in the percentage of protein, complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, and fats consumed. Not only do the first two require additional calories to be digested and used for energy, but they also do not get stored as fat as efficiently as the latter two.

But John Parrillo is not the only one touting the merits of nutrient partitioning. Will Brink, author of Fat Loss Revealed, Bodybuilding Revealed, and dozens of health and fitness articles in publications as diverse Inside Karate and Penthouse, supports the idea though he doesn't necessarily use Parrillo's terminology. This August, he placed a story on his blog that shows John Cloud's article, "Why Won't Make You Thin" is absolutely correct if you go about eating and exercising incorrectly.

Years ago, a registered dietitian who was clinically obese asked Brink to help her lose weight. She needed his help because she wasn't losing weight despite a "perfect" diet and exercise plan.

The eating plan featured 80 percent carbohydrates, 10 percent protein, and 10 percent fat. All her exercise was done at low levels of intensity because that was the "fat-burning zone."

When Brink told her she needed more protein, far fewer carbs, and more intense exercise, she didn't like that. It was contradictory to traditional doctrine.

As a result, he never saw her again after her three prepaid visits.

The point is that, to some degree, John Cloud's article is correct. Exercise by and of itself will not make you thin. Not if you do it in the wrong manner or eat in a way that negates it.

In response to Cloud's belief that exercise stimulates the appetite, I can make these anecdotal comments. I tend to undereat after really intense exercise, and I tend to overeat a bit on recovery days, so maybe light exercise does stimulate the appetite a bit, but as I've written in the past, what's the problem with hunger?

If you are following a prudent eating plan and are patient when hunger first comes upon you, your blood sugar level soon reaches fasting level and the hunger lessens to the point where it is tolerable.

If this doesn't happen to you, if the hunger increases, it is a clear signal that you are not eating properly. It's what you're eating prior to and not your lack of food that is causing the hunger.

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