Chapter 16 Eat Less And Exercise More

Remember the 14th Century myth of sloth and gluttony?  There is another myth that is just as pervasive. They say, “All you need to do is eat less and exercise more.” The problem with this myth is that, unlike the sloth and gluttony one, it isn’t propagated by a church; instead, it is the very people who you turn to for advice that tell you to eat less and exercise more. And health and medical professionals should know better.  The medical community now has long term data from studies that have been done on the participants in the “World’s Greatest Losers”. Their “heavy biology” selves can be molded into leaner individuals if they have a host of exercise and diet specialists with all of the food prepared for them and 4-6 hours of exercise every day, plus their own personal trainer and psychologist.  You can imagine the thrill to be “almost normal”, but they really aren’t.  Their biology is unchanged.  In addition to that fact, their metabolism is now significantly reduced after all that weight loss and the leptin response is depressed.  So when medical health professionals suggest that overweight patients just eat less and exercise more they are choosing to be ignorant of the facts.  Even the popular literature such as the New York Times has clearly portrayed the science that supports the reality of obesity care and the tenants of this book.  So whether we are talking about a young person like Alicia at age thirteen or her mother Maria, they will need much more than the adage to “eat less and exercise more” to help them become healthy. 

 The Eat Less/Exercise More myth has two parts. But both parts have their basis in a misunderstanding of what a calorie means when it comes to weight gain or loss. Yes, the more calories you eat, the more weight you’re likely to gain, but a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to putting on fat. And while we do use calories when we exercise, the goal is to burn fat.

             So let’s take a closer look at both halves of this myth:

Eat Less

Have you heard of a diet that doesn’t count calories? Probably not. Have you ever looked at the label on the back of a package of food and thought it was healthy because it was low in calories? But then you discovered that the serving size was so small, no one would eat that tiny amount.  And what about those “diet” sodas with zero calories?  When the brain doesn’t recognize this as food, it is not satisfying, and you end up eating more along with the soda.  And you also want to remember that just because something is low in calories doesn’t mean your body won’t make fat while processing it if your insulin levels are high.

 In the biology section of this book, you learned that the body processes calories from various sources differently. You learned that excess glucose ended up back in the liver to be stored as belly fat. With a constant influx of sugars, cells become insulin resistant. This means that if the majority of your calories are coming from carbohydrates and sugars, you will get fatter more quickly than if your calories are coming from fats and proteins.

That is the reason that in diets such as the Atkins diet and Paleo diets, most people will lose weight eating as many calories as they can take in.  Because, first of all, fat and protein calories are more satisfying.  Secondly, they are not eating the carbohydrate calories that produce more insulin and cause fat to be stored in their bellies and organs.

If all calories do not affect the body in the same way, how could any healthcare professional tell someone to simply eat less and exercise more? Because instead of looking into the realities of how our bodies operate, they apply simple math to a complex system.

 Their logic goes like this, if you take in 200 calories and then exercise off 200 calories, you should be back at zero. It’s like putting 10 gallons of gas into your car’s tank, and then burning those 10 gallons as you drive. But our bodies aren’t cars, and they certainly aren’t fuel in/fuel out systems.

 The reasons why we gain weight are way more complicated than eating too much and moving too little. As you’ve learned, there are hormones, enzymes, different organ functions, gut microbes, and even genetics involved in whether or not we are heavy.

 Maybe our ancestors, who didn’t have processed foods, could burn as many or more calories than they were taking in. Their biology was finely tuned for survival. They lived in an environment that required vast expenditures of energy to get food. Mother Nature recognized the different sources of calories coming in, and anticipated the energy needed to burn the new calories.

 But for us, there is no way we can burn as many calories as we’re taking in, nor would we have time to, even if we could. For every chocolate chip cookie we eat, we’d have to jog 20 minutes, if all calories are the same. And that Big Mac you had for lunch would take four hours of biking to shed the calories.  And this math assumes we are at a normal body weight. But the average American has 100,000 calories of energy stored as fat. To get rid of that stored energy, we’d have to run for 200 hours straight.

Sugars, processed foods, and other carbohydrates are what make us fat. Proteins and fats, on the other hand, can be our friends. If you removed processed food and sugar largely from your diet, and you remained mildly active, you would lose fat. It really is that simple. And it has little to do with the number of calories you’re taking in.  So let’s shift our focus away from calories and focus instead on the types of food we’re taking into our bodies.

Myth #4: Just Eat Less and Exercise More

Exercise More

Think of all the people dieting and skipping meals. And then notice all the gyms in your neighborhood, and how full the parking lots are. And yet despite all this, they are still heavy. If it were simply a matter of cutting calories and exercising, we could simply starve ourselves to the weight we want and keep it off by exercising.

Our bodies can and will burn fat if we are not on a high carbohydrate diet and are not insulin resistant.  If we do have high insulin levels from being overweight and eating a lot of processed carbohydrates, our bodies cannot convert our fat cells into the glucose fuel that the muscles cells are looking for.  This is the “fat trap”.  Instead, we want to consume and store energy. And when we need to burn the stored energy, our bodies resist letting the energy go, choosing instead to sacrifice muscle in the short term. And finally, whatever we lose, our bodies seek to replace. 

With lower levels of insulin the fat could be converted to glucose with exercise.  This process is called lipolysis and it works well in a healthy body with normal levels of insulin. 

Exercise is definitely good for your body. To stay healthy, you need to stay active. But for those who have a heavy biology and are trying to lose weight, exercise has little effect.  It does, however, have other benefits. From the stress and cortisol chapter you will remember that weight control is easier when we burn up the adrenaline hormone caused by stress.

 Eat Less And Exercise More

A well done study found that adding exercise to calorie restriction did not cause additional weight loss compared to those who did calorie restriction only, but this study did show that people who exercised were able to maintain their weight loss better than those who did not exercise.

In addition, it also demonstrated that those who exercise and build muscle will have a higher metabolic rate than those who do not exercise and have a lower muscle mass.  So, once again, it becomes easier to keep the weight off once it is lost. Once we get rid of the “eat less and exercise more” myth, we can better address the results of the Clash and make intelligent corrections and accommodations.