Does it seem strange that health experts are constantly hounding us to exercise to lose weight and stay healthy, and yet our country has some of the highest disease rates – including obesity – in the world?
What is not commonly known is that we are not gaining weight because we sit around too much. In fact, modern humans are more active than they ever used to be.
Here’s an example – one large study, the Minnesota Heart Survey, discovered that many people at least say they exercise regularly, but whether they do or not is another story entirely. The survey began in 1980, when at the time 47 percent of respondents said they engaged in regular exercise. When the survey concluded in 2000, that figure had increased to to 57 percent.
TIME Magazine featured an article last August about the obsession we have with losing weight through continual exercise, and still we are obese and ridden with degenerative disease. So why aren’t people losing belly, buttock, thigh, calf, or arm fat, or getting thinner?
Here are some statistics to think about:
- As compared to 1993, over 45 million Americans have a health club membership of some sort. Our spending on gym membership totals around $19 billion annually.
- A survey from the NHANES (US CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) conducted from 1975 to 2006 found that since that time, the number of inactive people has decreased from 50% to 24%. Based on this, is it safe to conclude that exercise is helping us to lose weight?
If our activity levels have increased over the last 30 plus years, why have obesity rates continued to rise in the same period? According to the general statistics, approximately one-third of Americans are obese, and another third count as overweight by standards set forth by the Federal Government.
Another important question to ask is this: would those who exercise regularly actually weigh even more if they weren’t exercising?
“In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a leading investigator in exercise research.
The problem with the exercise-makes-you-lose-weight premise is that just because you burn calories doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose weight.
Follow this line of reasoning:
- Exercise causes us to burn calories.
- We believe we must burn calories to lose weight.
- Exercise has a side-effect that is often overlooked: it can stimulate hunger.
So this overlooked idea – that when people exercise, they get hungry, is often not brought into the equation. When you burn calories, you need fuel – that’s a pretty simple fact.
So, if we eat more – we have two choices, we can eat foods that are good for us (real food), or we can eat processed, toxic foods. If you are eating real food, your natural weight should be easy to maintain. If you are eating processed foods as part of your regular diet, your weight will be a problem.
Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder. One of the aspects of exercise that could make it more difficult for a person to lose weight is that he or she may justify eating something unhealthy because of the fact that they just exercised.
Here are the findings of a study featured in the Time magazine article, from 2009:
“Earlier this year, the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE — PLoS is the nonprofit Public Library of Science — published a remarkable study supervised by a colleague of Ravussin’s, Dr. Timothy Church, who holds the rather grand title of chair in health wisdom at LSU. Church’s team randomly assigned into four groups 464 overweight women who didn’t regularly exercise. Women in three of the groups were asked to work out with a personal trainer for 72 min., 136 min., and 194 min. per week, respectively, for six months. Women in the fourth cluster, the control group, were told to maintain their usual physical-activity routines. All the women were asked not to change their dietary habits and to fill out monthly medical-symptom questionnaires.
The findings were surprising. On average, the women in all the groups, even the control group, lost weight, but the women who exercised — sweating it out with a trainer several days a week for six months — did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. (The control-group women may have lost weight because they were filling out those regular health forms, which may have prompted them to consume fewer doughnuts.) Some of the women in each of the four groups actually gained weight, some more than 10 lb. each.
What’s going on here? Church calls it compensation, but you and I might know it as the lip-licking anticipation of perfectly salted, golden-brown French fries after a hard trip to the gym. Whether because exercise made them hungry or because they wanted to reward themselves (or both), most of the women who exercised ate more than they did before they started the experiment. Or they compensated in another way, by moving around a lot less than usual after they got home.”
Does that mean we should forget exercise?
Exercise is good for us. It helps us to remove toxins from our bodies by sweating, heavy breathing (through the lungs), lymphatic elimination, and helps to make our muscles stronger, more flexible, and in shape. It’s a great way to be social with others, and do something we enjoy.
The issue here, doesn’t lie with exercise itself. There is a critical component being left out. And it’s not counting calories, fat grams, carbohydrate grams, measuring our BMI, or other useless efforts. Remember, if you are consuming processed, empty calories, all the exercise in the world won’t help because if your body can’t recognize what you consume, it will get stored in your tissues. And that can make a person appear to be “fat”, when in reality, it’s just a sign of the body’s inability to process something artificial that has been eaten.
Exercise and adrenal exhaustion
Exercising when we are not healthy puts extreme stress on two little organs in our body we don’t hear much about – the adrenal glands. When the adrenal glands are stressed, weight loss won’t happen. Did you know a majority of people in America suffer from adrenal exhaustion? It’s caused by the stressful lifestyles we lead – overbooked schedules, long hours, not enough sleep, and poor dietary support.
When our bodies are under constant stress, adrenal exhaustion happens and causes the following to occur: cravings for sugar and starchy foods, depression and mood swings, insulin resistance, and higher levels of blood cortisol. Adrenal exhaustion also has a major effect on hormonal levels in the body- especially thyroid. All of these conditions are a perfect recipe for weight gain.
So while exercise is not the culprit of our woes, it’s also not helping us to eliminate excess “fat” or weight. The foods we eat either help our bodies, or hinder them. When we eat foods that aren’t real and our body doesn’t recognize (processed foods from the Standard American Diet), those foods only have two places to go – out, as waste, or stored in our fat cells. When those foods get stored in our fat cells, they become part of our bodies. Do you really think a substance that is unnatural and toxic, stored in our bodies, is going to promote health? What about a food from nature – if it gets stored in our cells, will it promote disease, or health?
Here are some ways of thinking we’ve fostered that may not be quite so sound, after all:
- If you sit all day at a desk, does it seem like a good idea to go and do a physically-pounding activity like an aerobics class?
- If you go and work out for an hour, is it then okay to sit down and eat a processed, chemically-laden dessert? If you think about it, it seems ludicrous. Yet, there are people – I know them, I’ve talked to them – who say that because they spent an hour on the treadmill it would be okay (just this once) to have that hot fudge-sundae, or candy bar, or bag of chips and dip.
- When you are on that piece of exercise equipment or out running, do you really think that making sure you achieve a certain level of “burned” calories will help you reduce those excess pounds you’ve been carrying? And how much per day is enough? 200? 300? 500?
- If you are eating the Standard American Diet (including a lot of processed foods and refined sugar), do you really believe your exercise regimen consisting of an hour of rigorous physical activity 5 or 6 days a week is doing you much good?
Here are some truths that are widely ignored:
- No matter how much you exercise, if you are eating the Standard American Diet, you will probably not be able to maintain a healthy weight unless you just happen to be one of those people who doesn’t gain weight no matter what you eat – and even if you are among those people, it doesn’t mean you are healthy. I’m a good example of this. My entire life I’ve had trouble gaining weight, and I ate a lot of processed, unhealthy foods. People just assumed I was healthy and had a “fast metabolism”. But what I found out what that I was FAR from healthy, and had actually damaged my digestive tract to such an extent that I was no longer absorbing nutrients.
- If you are eating a diet with real, whole, traditionally-prepared foods, your weight should be at a normal level. Real foods make us full when we are supposed to be full because they contain real nutrients and the appropriate nutritional profile. Processed and commercial foods on the other hand are full of chemicals, preservatives, and are largely devoid of the real nutrients we need, so they cause weight gain and health problems.
- In the typical Standard American Diet, over 2/3 of our total calorie intake is the empty variety – that is, the majority of foods we eat contain little to no nutrients.
- Many of the foods we eat contain synthetic vitamins and minerals. They are processed – the real nutrients are stripped out, and fake ones are added back in. The human body does not recognize “nutrients” produced in a laboratory. If you are eating these kinds of foods, you are adding nothing of value to your body, and everything of harm instead. Those harmful substances can be stored just like fat. Then, when you gain weight, you wonder what caused it to happen.
- The raw craze has convinced people that they are getting more nutrients if they consume more raw foods. But in reality, most of the foods people are consuming raw contain nutrients that are either bound up (like vegetables, legumes, and grains which contain phytic acid – a nutrient inhibitor) or unavailable to the body unless they are fermented and traditionally prepared, such as in soaking, sprouting, and lacto-fermenting. The raw foods that bring the most benefit are the least consumed such as nutrient-dense raw dairy foods like milk, cream, cheeses, butter, kefir, and yogurt.
- We equate health to how much we exercise, how thin we are, and how many calories we consume. But if most of the calories we consume are empty, how can we be healthy?
- We obsess about losing weight, but don’t think about whether how we go about it has a positive effect on our health. If you are over weight and out of shape, the last thing you should be doing is embarking on a rigorous exercise program. Instead, you should be thinking about what you need to do to change your eating habits to nourish your body so it is healthy enough to lose weight.
- Even though we all know sugar is bad for us, we persist in eating it in many forms we are not even aware of that are still sugar (think processed foods that include grains, nuts, and “alternate” forms of sugar – of all kinds). One of the bad things about sugar (and there are many) is that the continued use of it causes an upset in the delicate environment in the digestive tract, which is the foundation of health. Sugar breeds yeast, and yeast causes a whole host of problems in and of itself. Yeast affects your ability to lose weight, causes constant hunger (for more carbohydrates), and will invade all the organ systems in your body if you don’t do something about it.
- If you crave sugar, it’s time to eat fat! Fat will abate your sugar cravings and help you lose weight. And it tastes so good! By fat healthy fat, I mean raw cheeses, sprouted nuts, good quality oils like olive oil and coconut oil, a big slab of real butter on sprouted bread, or real meat (or fat from meat sources like tallow or lard) from a sustainable source. Go on, eat it! You know your body is craving it.
So what can you do? Don’t despair! The answer is not a difficult one. Start focusing on being active – especially if you enjoy it – and eating real food to keep your health in top shape.
Some tips for regaining health and maintaining your natural weight:
- Eliminate processed, toxic foods from your diet. They are the reason you are having trouble losing weight. For more information on types of foods, which to eat, and which to avoid, read How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!
- Eat real food with real fats like fatty cuts of grassfed meats, butter, cream, and full fat dairy from healthy cows on pasture. Avoiding real fats puts our bodies in a constant state of not being satiated (can’t get full), mood swings, fatigue, weight gain, and many other issues. Find out why fats are essential to health and why fats and cholesterol don’t make us fat.
- If you are on a budget and can’t afford organic or sustainable everything – you are not alone. Many people who aren’t wealthy are doing the best they can simply by avoiding processed foods and making foods from scratch at home using real food and real ingredients. Start small by adding in some sustainable meats and fats wherever you can – those are the most important as they are stored in your cells. Don’t feel like if you can’t do it all, you can’t do anything. Baby steps are the most important aspect of becoming healthy and eating real food. Here’s an informative article that breaks down the cost of 7 meals for three people – and shows that is is cost-effective to eat real food.
- Begin a schedule of gentle exercise that you enjoy. It should be something that doesn’t over-tax your body. Over time you can build up to a higher level of difficulty if desired. If your body is unhealthy to begin with, strenuous exercise that makes you work too hard can be extremely dangerous – whether you are overweight or not. Walking is the best exercise to start with.
- Don’t compare yourself and your health goals to other people, your body and your needs are individual and should be tailored to fit your own life.
Find out why dietary fats are good for us and other information about exercise, health, and maintaining your natural weight: