- Exercise makes you hungry
- Exercise makes you tired so you might not be as active in the hours you're not exercising
- People "reward themselves for exercising with food
- Self control can get worn out
- Muscle doesn't speed up your metabolism as much as people think (only 4 calories per pound)
First, one thing the author stressed in the interview that is important to remember: Exercise is crucial to good physical and mental health, no matter what its effect on weight loss might be.
Besides, the body isn't a machine. No matter how much people want to focus on "Calories In, Calories Out," there are a lot of complex things going on with the body that we don't fully understand. Our bodies are made to avoid drastic changes -- they can waste calories if we overeat in the short term, or conserve calories if we seem to be living through a very difficult time. Most of these experiments were short, lasting six months or less. Who knows what changes might happen over a longer term?
I also just don't see the author's point that being inactive is good for weight loss being born out in the real world. We can see evidence that people who are inactive tend to be heavier than people who are very active just by looking around us. Look at the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" before and after they got on the show. We can also see that people who are inactive and thin tend to look "softer," and people who are active and heavy have a more rugged look. I used to attend Weight Watchers meetings, and the few women who made Lifetime who said they didn't exercise looked like an empty plastic grocery bag. They had been able to get thin by restricting calories, but they didn't look the way I wanted to look. The few people who are thin and don't work out and look good probably are city dwellers who end up doing a lot of exercise just living their lives -- shopping for groceries and carrying them home on the subway -- this is the "French Women Don't Get Fat" idea.
I think there is a lot we can learn from this article, though. Obviously, rewarding or compensating for exercise by eating more is a terrible idea. Using a calorie-counting application can really show you how much easier it is to take in a lot of calories than it is to burn a lot. I did a one-hour Pilates class, which was "worth" only 163 calories. If I rewarded myself with a post-exercise muffin, I'd end up eating more than double what I had just burned. I very rarely think of food and exercise this way anyway. There was the time I bribed myself with the promise of a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Twist to get in the pool, but that was a rare treat to overcome inertia and get back into the habit of swimming, not a regular practice. I generally do have a post-workout snack but that's because I have a small breakfast before working out so that I don't have food sloshing around in my belly. What happens more often for me is that I am careless about counting calories and tell myself it's OK because I work out. That's obviously something I need to change.
I don't find that I am less active when I'm working out: It's actually the opposite. If I sit around all day, all I want to do is sit around. If I get up and do something, I usually want to do more, unless I've overdone it. After Pilates yesterday, I had lunch and then spent an hour and a half pulling out two ugly privets from my flowerbeds and planting three hydrangea bushes. I find that after a few months of working out regularly, physical activity feels easier than if I am inactive. But the article is a good reminder to keep active and not spend too much time in front of the computer or the TV. For one thing, it's a lot harder to eat tortilla chips when I'm weeding the garden than when I'm watching Rachel Maddow.
Finally, I think that exercise does make a difference in my self-image. I weigh about the same now as I did at the beginning of this year, but I feel a lot better about the way I look. My body looks more toned. Even though I haven't dropped a clothing size, the size I'm wearing fits better. Plus, there is a huge benefit to setting goals for yourself and persisting in them through the difficult times. I watched Julie & Julia last night, and both of them started cooking because they wanted a project and a purpose, not because they thought they'd get famous. Training for a race can be the same kind of project -- it gives you a reason to get up and get moving every day.
Last but not least, I have lost weight through exercising and diet in the past, and I know I can do it again. I just have to remember that "and" and do it, no matter how much Oprah or TIME magazine might suggest otherwise.