Hard bodies and hard truths

Not only do I have a sister who’s a personal trainer and a brother-in-law who bikes across entire states— I also live with a husband who runs gazillions of miles a week,  whose family business is fitness.  Life can be SO unfair.  I definitely never signed up for this one.

Personally  I don’t need to sweat to feel satisfied.  At this point, I’d rather walk— to the beach (or to a bakery.)   And mostly I’m okay with my slacker attitude.  But sometimes I feel guilty– that I don’t exercise like a maniac so I can eat like one.  That my personal happiness can be in complete opposition to my body fat percentage.

I recently joined my sister and her husband on vacation.  While they spent two hours a day bonding over back-breaking bike rides,  I spent the same time bonding with brownies. So it was incredibly validating to come home and find this issue of TIME magazine.   My salvation was right on the cover.



Inside, it’s even better.

The title is a beauty.   I couldn’t have written it better myself.

If you can’t read the subtitle, here’s the important part:  “Physical activity….doesn’t always melt pounds—in fact, it can add them.”

That’s the gist of the whole article right there.  And it goes on to build my case very effectively.  Click to read the whole piece here.

The basic theme  is found in a sentence simple and short enough to fit on Twitter:  Obesity research shows that the role of exercise in weight loss has been wildly overstated.   The author, John Cloud, is my new hero:

A standard bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories.  If youre hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it’s easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds….From a weight loss perspective, you would have been better off sitting on the sofa knitting.

( How can you NOT love this guy?)

It’s no joke—his article is based on the very latest—and serious– research which indicates that the more you exercise, the more you eat.

It includes some complicated stuff about scientific studies—involving people and of course, rats.    Due to a particular substance in their bodies ( scientific name= “brown fat“)  rats have a far greater capacity to process excess calories.    Even when force-feeding them, scientists have discovered it’s very difficult to make a rat obese—unlike a human female who can gain 10 pounds merely by opening a container of Haagen Das.   The essence of these complicated studies is simple:   When it comes to losing weight,  exercise is good for you—- if you’re a rat.

I am not making this up.    Here’s what the experts say:

“In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,”  says Eric Ravussin, Chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher.

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m thinking it, too.  Louisiana State?   A state with probably one of the highest obesity percentages?    Not to mention (no offense meant)— are those the best academic credentials TIME magazine could come up with?

So here’s a quote from a guy at Harvard, Steven Gortmaker, head of Harvard’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity: “If you’re more physically active, you’re going to get hungry and eat more.”

The solution seems obvious:  be less physically active and you’ll eat less.   You don’t even need a Harvard degree to figure it out.

Even better—here’s the word from Yale.  Psychologist Kelly Brownell ran a lab treating obese patients, where he found that exercise did not lead to long-term weight-loss success.   Today, Brownell says : “I would probably reorient toward food and away from exercise.”

Harvard and Yale —that’s good enough for me.

Case closed.  All I can say is:   It’s about TIME.

(Can’t resist adding: ” I TOLD YOU SO“…. a message aimed only at certain family members, since there’s no place on my blog for hand gestures.)

Cross-posted on the Huffington Post and on Silicon Valley Moms blog.



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  1. Marla Wentner says

    As I started to read your blog this morning, I was going to leave you a comment telling you not to worry about your lack of interest in physical exertion. I had just finished reading the same TIME article and learned that exercise isn’t a weight loss solution. And I was going to share that news with you. Isn’t this a grand breakthrough?

  2. Anonymous says

    This is so true! The more I exercise, the more I eat. And I’ve always wondered how some of the skinniest people I know never exercise…

  3. says

    I figured this out long ago. I exercise. I get HUNGRY. Now, particularly if I’m on a diet to actively lose weight, I NEVER EXERCISE. I’ve had such a hard time getting any of my women friends to believe me!

    Of course, there’s that little thing called flexibility and strength, which I know matters as I get older. Bummer.

  4. says

    Amen! Thanks for the summary! I will be forwarding this link to all of my exercise obsessed friends who look down on me for not joining the local gym. I’m all about movement, but that kind of excessive strain on the body can’t be good for you in the long run! Besides, the billion dollar fitness moguls have enough money…I can walk around the block for free! Thanks for the smile :)

  5. says

    Does the article mention anything about how exercise does have health benefits or that it can make you live longer or prevent osteoporosis or ANYTHING? (Obviously I’m asking this question before I click over to read it, but these are the things I’m wondering). Cuz if not, I’m SO canceling my rarely used gym membership.

  6. says

    I have to admit I wrote this with tongue slightly in cheek (along with the chocolate already in my mouth). Obviously there are SOME benefits to exercise—all made clear in the TIME article. But Jennifer, you are completely right—that it’s about movement and not excessive strain—or SWEAT. It could all be a huge conspiracy to get us to spend more money on fitness and diets—which after reading this article, is like a constant circular Catch-22. So Margaret feel FREE to cancel your gym membership and walk around the block instead.

  7. says

    While this theory makes sense, I don’t think I am going to get a girly six pack or Michelle Obama’s arms without hitting the gym. 😉 Depends on if you simply want to lose pounds or actually tone up!

  8. Bob Beers says

    It wasn’t until the early seventies that a fellow named Nike in Japan invented exercise and at the time everyone was just getting into Japanese TVs and cars and it just caught on as part of that all things Japanese are better craze. Then a whole industry was built up around it and now entire small Asian countries have most of their GDP based on making tennis shoes, exercise outfits and water bottles that strap on to your arms. So to prop up their economies during the Cold War and prevent them from going communist the CIA started covertly preaching exercise is essential. Think about it, why do most health food store clerks look like they have malaria? Because in addition to living on an all-seed diets, they’re jogging instead of driving! Thank you Time magazine for finally bursting this bubble.

  9. says

    Pretty funny Paul. Was wondering when you’d get off the bike and weigh in here.

    Bob–you should be writing a blog. Or at least guesting like Paul.

    Kristen–Agree with you. Big difference between losing weight vs. working with weights.

  10. says


    This is ground breaking, but not necessarily a “new” perpsective. Those of us that have embraced fitness as simply a healthy lifestyle with a personal perspective, with regard to food and exercise, just live being a “mover” and eating as moderately as possible. As someone who has been athletic since popping out of my Moms womb, it’s just who I am. Fitness is holistic: physical, mental and emotional. I used to be more rigid about food, but now I’m enjoying my kettle chips, keylime pie and pizza, in moderation. Thanks for the conversation. You look awesome BTW. Happy 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Peace Out!

  11. says

    Thanks for your perspective. I think this subject touches a nerve for lots of people besides me. The TIME article was really about this perception that exercise helps you lose weight. Which is a relief for those trying to sweat off the pounds—-typically unsuccessfully.
    I might sound snarky about it but I’m not against fitness–how can you be? I love your description of fitness as holistic. That’s what each of us have to find for ourselves and in a way that’s the underlying message I took from the TIME story. Because clearly an enemy of fitness is STRESS—–whether it’s your mind or your body.
    I feel like I’m starting to write a whole new post here—so I’m going to get off the comments and maybe do that. But also want to say I appreciate your attitude of moderation–when it comes to all of it, including food. Except for chocolate—that’s an entirely different story.

  12. says

    Love this! This ranks right up there with Coffee being good for memory and perhaps as a combative agent for Alzheimer’s.

    Still working on having Chocolate reclassified as a vegetable!

    Never thought that sitting on my comfy sofa with my laptop could be the equivalent of going to the health club! Gotta love these studies. Well I better get back to my Blogaerobics!

  13. Susan Curtis says

    Some people exercise because they cannot sit still or get through the day without the exercise. Some love to exercise. Others exercise because they are told to do so by their doctors It is not about weight. My doctor told me to do aerobic exercise when I hit my late 50s even though I already exercised for an hour a day(much of it walking) for many years. I started then on doctors orders. It is very time consuming and not so pleasant, but for those of us who have to do it lest we fall apart, exercise is a fact of life.

  14. Gail Vinson says

    It neglects to mention that those who exercise briskly 4 or 5 times a week cut the chances of recurrence of breast cancer by 50%. I’m sorry I had to wait until I was in my 60s to learn to love exercise — not doing it but how it makes me feel afterwards. Cuts the side effects from my meds, too.

  15. says

    Thank you so much for your comments—which, along with the TIME piece— illustrate the value of exercise, whether or not we want to do it—for your health. No question about those benefits.
    I do think people sometimes feel the need to stress their bodies more than necessary (or healthy) and I’m relieved TIME cleared that up.
    I think the role of exercise should be to help with stress—not to cause it.

    As for the role of exercise in weight loss, that’s where the biggest misconceptions are and where TIME really nails it.

  16. marvin levine says

    Your aunt helen never exercised, and was always overweight. Almost 92 and still going strong.

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