80% Exercise, Part 2
Posted on February 10th, 2012
I apologize for missing my post Tuesday! I was preparing for and then traveling to a stressful work trip. I’d hoped to fit it in anyway, but the energy and mental focus were just not there. Also, I finished Jillian’s program Tuesday — and immediately hopped in a car to Chicago! I’m letting myself recover a bit and will soon evaluate how that went.
Since my “80% Exercise and 20% Diet” post, I’ve noticed a trend in my search terms for people to search for whether anyone else out there also says the same thing. People are checking for cross-validation, or to satisfy their curiosity. While I’m on the road, I thought I’d share a few follow-up thoughts.
It’s important to realize that the whole “80% diet/20%” exercise number thing that you see doesn’t come from actual research, of course. It’s one of those things someone started saying to make a point, and other people started repeating. In other words, they’re not “real” numbers. It doesn’t mean, for example, that 80% of your calorie deficit should come from diet and 20% from exercise. And it doesn’t mean that 80% of dieters succeed (in fact, over 95% of them fail over the long run), and only 20% of exercisers do (in fact, the only dieters who succeed are the ones who also exercise). And it definitely doesn’t mean that statistically, in a research study, 80% of the weight loss variance came from diet and 20% came from exercise. The phrase is merely using those numbers as a metaphor. And I turned them around myself as a metaphor, as well.
So I googled “80% exercise 20% diet” myself. Not surprisingly, everything besides my own blog post was on the side of “80% diet.” The very first link that came up was an online weight loss support forum. I read through the entire, lengthy conversation. People were assuring one another that it definitely is “80% diet.” Their proof? Either their dietician/trainer/doctor said so. Or, they exercised/ran for a month and didn’t lose any weight. Or, last year they went on a diet and lost 20 pounds, and even though they gained it all back, they know they just have to do the same thing again and they’ll be successful.
The definition of insanity, as they say, is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.
One guy was on there trying to stick up for exercise, and everyone else was shooting him down. More than one person insisted you can lose weight with no exercise whatsoever, as if this would be a desirable thing! (I happened to see my doctor in Chicago today, an extremely fit woman, and mentioned how people want to lose weight only through dieting. She exclaimed, “Eating is fun! Exercising is fun! I want to do what’s fun!” I have to agree.)
Not to be too cynical, but. If you take the forum people’s advice, you are taking advice from people who are still overweight and have not yet solved their problem! One person on there had experimented with a month of treadmill running, and she had not lost any weight. Not, you know, five years. She talked about the month-long experiment as if that was an enormous timeframe to give something. It probably felt like it was.
Research shows that overweight people actually don’t eat more calories than thin people (unless they are eating disordered). Many overweight people make this complaint themselves. Think about it: What’s the difference, then? In most cases, it’s movement. (In some cases, it’s other metabolic problems.) If you have ever gotten very busy — and sedentary — with a job and life and gained weight for no apparent reason, you have experienced this yourself. Exercise actually turns on switches in our genes that change our metabolism, our hunger, and our cravings. Our body wants different amounts and types of food, and burns it more efficiently. I know if I stop exercising and eat exactly the same, I will eventually weigh thirty to fifty pounds more than I do now.
I am also cynical about dieticians (as opposed to nutritionists), who will still tell you that a low-fat, grain-based, food-pyramid eating plan is the way to go. They will still tell you that fat is bad and eggs give you high cholesterol. I had one run-in with an American Heart Association dietician when I was in high school. I was running over forty miles a week in cross-country and was tired all the time. I was craving and eating about 400 calories of cereal each night, which seems perfectly reasonable now considering my youth and activity level, but made her gasp in horror. She put me on the same 1,500 calorie diet that you would put a sedentary, ill, middle-aged man on! Needless to say, I could not stay on it — and I was still tired all the time.
Of course, I assume I’m talking to an audience who already eats clean and is not supersizing their meals. That’s another problem entirely! And, I am in fact altering my diet now, since I’ve cut out sugar and limited carbs. But it was exercise that got me most of the way there, and diet I’m using to tweak the last 3-4% bodyfat to an athlete’s level. It’s not even particularly necessary.
My original insight in 2006 was that someone who exercises consistently for years at a time will eventually, inevitably change their body composition for the better.
You can find support for whatever you want, I suppose. You can even count hits or put it to a vote. But it’s in the living that you find out what actually works.