I know. I just violated the first rule of weight loss. For decades, we've been told losing weight is as simple as eating less and exercising more. Everyone "knows" this is true. And we all feel bad because we have no willpower and we fail.
This idea is based on the faulty equation: (calories in) - (calories out) = change in body weight. Although thermodynamically it makes sense, biologically it doesn't always. As it turns out, this equation is a gross over-simplification of how our body works. Our bodies have not evolved to shed weight easily.
In addition to pushing highly processed, carbohydrate dense foods, our culture has suggested that we need to spend hours each week on machines doing "cardio" to maintain a healthy body weight. Since most people already do their best to follow the faulty USDA food pyramid, they often focus on lack of exercise to explain their inability to lose weight.
When I gently bring up the idea of losing weight with my patients, almost universally I hear, "I know, I need to get back in the gym..."
Not only do I think exercise as a means to lose weight is unnecessary, particularly in my orthopedic patients, it will very likely be harmful. To take a joint which has been damaged by osteoarthritis and subject it to additional, repetitive, potentially high-impact activity will very likely worsen the symptoms and accelerate the degeneration.
And yet because the large lower extremity joints (hip and knee) experience forces of 3-5 times body weight with every move they make, weight loss can be helpful in reducing pain due to arthritis. Additionally, obesity is an independent risk factor for infection following orthopedic surgery. Worse yet, poorly controlled diabetes has a synergistically negative effect with obesity on infection. Clearly, weight loss is needed. Exercise is not the way to achieve it, however.
My previous posting began to explain how WHAT we eat may be more important than how MUCH we eat. My spontaneous 25 pound weight loss occurred without entering the gym once. As an orthopedic surgeon, I am on my feet all day in the office and in the operating room, and although I consider myself "active", I did not change my activity level at all during my nutritional experiment.
Lets look at the caloric implications of exercise for a moment. A pound of body fat contains 3500 calories of energy. An average person would burn about 500 calories during an hour of jogging. Assuming you could jog for an hour every day of the week, this level of exercise would burn about 3500 calories of fat by the end of the week. If this level of activity were maintained for an entire year, about 50 pounds of body fat would "melt away." Simple. Except for a few biological problems: Appetite is not constant. Basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy you burn at rest) is not constant. Not even highly trained athletes can sustain daily exercise with no rest days and not become injured. And lastly, exercise creates inflammation, which is linked to weight GAIN, and chronic disease.
There is excellent experimental evidence suggesting an increase in appetite and calorie consumption following exercise. The sense of entitlement that often accompanies physical exertion, can undermine proper food selection, because after all, you earned that dessert by running those 5 miles this afternoon. Studies have shown a reduction in basal metabolic rate as well as reduction in non-exercise activity thermogenesis (fidgeting) when energy expenditure exceeds intake. Cardiovascular exercise fueled by carbohydrates generates oxidative stress as sugars are converted to energy in our mitochondria. Additionally, stress hormones like cortisol can be released in response to exercise, and through a variety of pathways cause weight gain. Remember our brains evolved when food was not abundant. If our energy output exceeded intake for long we would not survive. We evolved to conserve energy, and to seek out calories. This probably worked very well historically when food was scarce but has become counterproductive in the modern world where highly processed, palatable, energy dense food is omnipresent. These concepts are further developed and supported in "The Calorie Myth" by Jonathan Bailor.
Please understand that I am not recommending becoming sedentary. I am simply suggesting that we think differently about attempting to use exercise as a means to lose body fat. I recommend remaining active. Take the stairs. Don't look for the closest parking spot. Walk around the block instead of watching TV.
If you really want to lose body fat, I recommend you focus entirely on your diet. I recommend a nutrient dense, low carbohydrate, high fat diet. This does not require calorie counting. You should not feel intense cravings or blood sugar instability. Consider this a longterm/permanent lifestyle change as opposed to a diet- which generally suggests temporary, unpleasant restrictions.
Future postings will explain why I believe this way of eating helps people to lose weight, and why even those who don't need to lose weight should do it anyway. I will also explain how exactly to transition to a well-formulated low carbohydrate, high fat diet, and what you may experience while doing so.