Last updated on April 12th, 2017
From my personal experience, as well as my reading, I know that it simply isn’t necessary to exercise to lose weight.
I’ve lost plenty of pounds following my low carb, high fat (LCHF) way of eating without resorting to what Mark Twain called the “loathsome” practice of exercise. I wrote a blog post about it a few years ago, featuring Mr. Twain, which is one of my personal favorites even though no one else ever cared for it.
Maybe readers thought I was advocating a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, that sounds good to me, but I recognize that moving around and lifting things benefits our general health and well-being. I concede that regular physical activity is necessary for improving and maintaining our stamina, balance, coordination, and muscle mass. It can also relieve stress.
But exercise is not necessary for improving or maintaining our weight.
Get the diet right, and you can lose body fat reclining on a sofa or lying in bed. Get the diet wrong, and you can run up 30 flight of stairs without losing any body fat. Indeed, get the diet wrong, and even if you maintain a reasonable weight, you may not be as healthy as you think.
Our culture takes it for granted that people are obese because they eat too much and sweat too little. Popular TV shows are built around the premise; the audience apparently can’t get enough of watching 400-pounders huff around a track, sustained by concentration-camp rations. Sure, the subjects lose weight, but it’s an epic struggle. That’s the message. You have to sweat and suffer and starve, or you’ll be fat forever.
Indeed, you’ll deserve to be fat. It’s a morality play. You’re fat because you’re a lazy glutton.
But now an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says that “you cannot outrun a bad diet” and it’s time to bust the myth of a link between a lack of exercise and obesity. The authors cite research showing that levels of physical activity have changed little in Western countries in the past three decades, while the rate of obesity has sky-rocketed. Therefore, it isn’t a lack of exercise that has made so many people fat.
That puts a glaring spotlight on diet.
It also isn’t a lack of exercise that is causing the epidemic in metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Again, diet appears to be the culprit. But what you eat matters, not merely how much or how many calories. The editorial cites research demonstrating that calories from sugar contribute far more to the development of type-2 diabetes than do calories from fat or protein. [Update: the editorial misrepresents one of its statistics, over-stating the relationship between sugar and obesity, and has been at least temporarily removed from online publication. See Metabunk.org, but note the debunker’s admission in the comments that “there’s still quite a significant increase in diabetes prevalence correlating with sugar availability, just nowhere near what the language suggests.”]
In regards to eating, the editorial supports the view that “dietary carbohydrate restriction is the single most effective intervention for reducing all the features of the metabolic syndrome and should be the first approach in diabetes management, with benefits occurring even without weight loss.”
The idea that you can consume empty calories from foods with loads of refined carbohydrates and added sugars, and then work it all off in a blaze of running, jumping and lifting, without ill-effects on your long-term health, whether or not you ever become obese, is a myth that must be busted.
Be active, but be smart, too.
In the arena of health, being smart starts with how and what you eat. Outside of the manufacturers of junk-food and sugary drinks (and their ad agencies and lobbyists), who doesn’t believe that?
Last updated May 8, 2015.