Posted by: Paul | 08/20/2009

Fat vs. Fit

“The Myth About Exercise,” reads the cover of a recent Time magazine. As someone who hits the gym at least three times a week, I was intrigued.

Turns out it’s not a case against exercise per se. Indeed, the author notes that it definitely has various health benefits. Just don’t count on it to help you lose weight. Of course, considering that losing weight is the primary (if not only) goal of nearly everyone you see sweating in your local gym, this is a pretty serious claim.

Why, according to Time, does exercise not work as a weight-loss technique? Mainly because too many people are going to follow that trip to the gym with a muffin and a latte, or some other fattening treat. Indeed, they may feel that they’ve “earned” it, after all that hard work. They’re also more apt to be tired, thus lowering their willpower. What matters, they say, is what you eat.

True. But to anybody who does a modest amount of reading on the subject of good health, this really isn’t news.

It doesn’t take a degree in physiology to know that exercise and eating right are both essential to the weight-loss equation. You can’t lose weight without burning more calories than you ingest. So you use exercise to burn more fat, and, just as importantly, watch what and how much you eat to insure you’re eating better foods and taking in fewer calories.

The real problem, from a weight-loss perspective, is that too many of us eat lots of highly processed foods that compromise our health, let alone our ability to shed pounds. Like it or not (and most of us don’t), the grim secret to good health repeatedly boils down to eating more fruits and vegetables, and — alas — eating less meat. As Michael Pollan, author of “The Ominivore’s Dilemma,” notes in his book “In Defense of Food,” the essense of sensible dining comes down to this seven-word equation: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Easy? Forget it. Like many people, I have an incurable sweet tooth. My wife makes a maple pecan pie that I almost can’t have in the house if I want to control myself. Show me fresh brownies or chocolate-chip cookies, and my only question is: Where’s the milk?

But I also know that I don’t want to walk around looking (and feeling) like a big lump. That’s what got me to finally make a habit of the gym three years ago. Others, too, obviously: They don’t want a gut, or diabetes, or to drop dead of a heart attack.

And believe me, once you get started, you don’t want to regress. I know what it’s like to huff and puff through a session on the treadmill and feel good about burning, say, 300 calories. Then you look at the wrapper of the candy bar you’re about to eat and think: “270 calories? Wipe out all that work in just a minute of mindless chewing? Forget it.”

I’m no model, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’m always trying to learn more. But I’m around 25 pounds lighter than I was a few years ago. I feel better, too. So I must be doing something right.

Sure, I still have dessert. I just don’t make another meal out of it. As long as there’s no maple pecan pie around.



  1. Exercising builds muscle, which increases your metabolism, which burns calories more efficiently — thereby preventing you from consuming to many — and when you consume under your required amount (roughly 16 times your weight, if you exercise moderately), your body will use stored energy, i.e., fat. Exercising doesn’t necessarily burn fat, but it can lead to it if you diet well. Hence, “diet and exercise” are always coupled together. Keep up the exercise.

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