Every person who has ever wanted to shed more than a few pounds has seen the commercials.
There’s the infomercials peddling Bowflex resistance machines and $3,000 Peloton bikes, complete with high-tech screens and biometric, personalized workouts—all promising to burn hundreds of calories every time you hop on …
There’s the workout videos that offer everything from Zumba cardio classes to kickboxing aerobics, the online ads enticing consumers with free memberships at local gyms … you get the idea.
But for the majority of people trying to lose weight, those exercise memberships might very well fall short of the mark, leading to frustration and possibly triggering further weight gain (there’s a reason why gyms are often packed just after New Years before thinning out in the months following). Perhaps it’s due in part to the fact that exercise alone has little effect on overall physique.
Scientists have been trying to combat the obesity epidemic, particularly in the West, as the numbers of those who fall under “overweight” or “obese” categories rise every year. They’ve initiated more comprehensive studies to find answers, and have come to some pretty surprising conclusions about why all of those incredible fitness programs aren’t achieving all that they promise.
Chest and triceps this morning. I like using the #bowflex as it gives good tension throughout the movements
— Garagegymfreak (@garagegymfreak) December 3, 2017
Weight and fitness don’t correlate like we think
In September of 2018, an enterprise reporter named Michael Hobbes wrote a longform exposé chronicling the correlation between obesity and heart health.
The perception, he explained, is that obese people are inherently unhealthy, and therefore, the only way to be truly healthy is to lose weight. In reality, though, the rates of ailments like heart disease among people who are considered obese are no higher than those of people in normal weight ranges; the biggest problem, Hobbes explained, is that doctors treat obese patients so differently.
They are more likely to overlook things like heart disease and cancer in patients who are obese, because they pass off symptoms as the effects of being overweight, so the fatality rates among obese individuals are much higher.
With this revelation, Hobbes explained that being thin does not always equate to being healthy—which goes a long way towards explaining why exercise alone doesn’t always help an individual lose weight.
Individuals who are obese have more body mass to move when they exercise, and if they have excess fat to shed, it’s possible that they will lose the weight when they exercise without doing much else.
Ninety-five to 98 percent of all weight loss journeys fail largely because metabolism slows down as the human body loses excess fat. When an individual is a certain weight, their body’s metabolism operates at a certain rate to burn the calories needed to get through the day; as they lose weight, their body no longer needs to burn as many calories, and therefore, their metabolism slows down significantly.
The result? As an individual loses weight exercising, their body compensates and needs to burn less energy to get through the day. That brings in the biggest mistake most people make: their body has changed how it operates, but they haven’t changed the way they feed it.
Weight loss through exercise only works with good diets
According to a study published in Women’s Health in November of 2014, many women who try to exercise to lose weight without any kind of diet plan end up failing because they continue eating the same way they did before they started their fitness journey.
As a body starts to lose weight and become more efficient, it needs different nutrient levels to thrive. Many people start to burn more calories, but then eat more to compensate for how much they’ve exercised—and don’t actually lose weight after all. They also eat the wrong types of foods, either providing their body with types of fuel that encourage burning muscle instead of fat or providing their body with easier-to-burn sugars that leave their fat deposits entirely untouched.
This can be incredibly frustrating. A woman trying to lose weight may see herself go from huffing and puffing through half a mile jog to running a 5k with increased ease, but doesn’t see any change in her overall size or weight. The secret, though, is in treating diet the same way that you treat the gym, actively working to eat the right kinds of foods while also actively working to engage muscles and burn calories.
A study done by anthropologist Herman Pontzer of Hunter College in New York City showed some surprising revelations about why the earth’s remaining hunting-and-gathering tribes look so much fitter and slimmer than westerners.
Surprisingly, the caloric expenditure of the Hadza tribes in Tanzania isn’t all that much higher than that of the less-active, more-sedentary Western world, despite the fact that the Hazda people are constantly on the move and many Westerners spend their days standing or sitting in a single location. The difference, Pontzer realized, was in diets and portions; with the Hazda tribe eating far less at each meal (and consuming fewer trans fats and other far-from-useful ingredients in their unprocessed foods than Americans and Europeans), they were treating their bodies better and avoiding obesity.
The exposé by Hobbes revealed similar information. It was the “what” in the diets of most Americans that was causing obesity, not their fitness levels alone—so despite the exuberance and enthusiasm seen in gym ads and fitness promotions, there’s a lot more weight loss benefit in changing what you put on your plate than in how much time you spend on the treadmill.
Diets still need good fitness levels
Of course, the opposite is true as well.
It’s extremely difficult, for the majority of people, to remain truly healthy when they just make changes to their eating habits. Cardiovascular exercise can help with heart health—the American Heart Association recommends that the average adult take a minimum of 10,000 steps a day and take at least 250 steps every hour to keep their bodies moving—and weight training can help your body turn calories into muscle instead of fat.
Those who choose to only eat properly while continuing to neglect their bodies from a health standpoint put themselves at a disadvantage, as well. Not only are they less likely to improve their metabolisms while losing the weight, they’re likely to find themselves less healthy even if they do get slimmer—something that Hobbes found true, as well.
As part of his effort to help people change the way they look at obesity, Hobbes revealed the story of a young woman who suffered from an eating disorder despite still wearing plus-sized clothing. The amount of food you put in your body, he explained, doesn’t necessarily improve your weight or health if you aren’t taking care of everything equally.
— Garagegymfreak (@garagegymfreak) September 29, 2017
Weight loss is far from an easy journey, and no one person has an answer that will work for everyone who is looking to shed a few pounds.
Luckily, though, huge strides are being made to ensure that everyone who wants to be happier, healthier, and sometimes slimmer has a chance to do so. Remember that the next time you glance at the treadmill and consider throwing yourself into an intense running program; if you get moving and eat right as well, your goals will seem a lot closer to being achievable in the long run.
The above information is based on studies by recognized experts in health and medicine but does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Epoch Times.