Sign up FAST! Login

Why you shouldn't exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies


Stashed in: Health Studies, Fitness, Weight Loss, #health, Nutrition!, Awesome, #lifehacks

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

#8 is particularly galling (and has been well documented here on PW), but exercise leads to so many other good outcomes that I'm willing to stick with it.

#8 is that energy expenditure may have an upper limit. Makes sense. 

The benefits of exercise are more long term. Helps our brain, our mood, our attitude.

It's important to have healthy musculature to support your bones, joints, organs too.  

Right! Exercise has lots of benefits. Just not weight loss. :)

But yeah, we cannot use exercise as an excuse to eat.

5) It's hard to create a significant calorie deficit through exercise

Using the National Institutes of Health Body Weight Planner — which gives a more realistic estimation for weight loss than the old 3,500 calorie rule — mathematician and obesity researcher Kevin Hallcreated this model to show why adding a regular exercise program is unlikely to lead to significant weight loss.

If a hypothetical 200-pound man added 60 minutes of medium intensity running four days per week while keeping his calorie intake the same, and he did this for 30 days, he'd lose five pounds. "If this person decided to increase food intake or relax more to recover from the added exercise, then even less weight would be lost," Hall added. (More on these "compensatory mechanisms" later.)

So if one is overweight or obese, and presumably trying to lose dozens of pounds, it would take an incredible amount of time, will, and effort to make a real impact through exercise.

6) Exercise can undermine weight loss in other, subtle ways

How much we move is connected to how much we eat. As Hall put it, "I don't think anybody believes calories in and calories out are independent of each other." And exercise, of course, has a way of making us hungry — so hungry that we might consume more calories than we just burned off.

One 2009 study shows that people seemed to increase their food intake after exercise — either because they thought they burned off a lot of calories or because they were hungrier. Another review of studies from 2012 found people generally overestimated how much energy exercise burned and ate more when they worked out.

"You work hard on that machine for an hour, and that work can be erased with five minutes of eating afterward"

"You work hard on that machine for an hour, and that work can be erased with five minutes of eating afterward," Hall added. A single slice of pizza, for example, could undo the benefit of an hour's workout. So could a cafe mocha or an ice cream cone.

There's also evidence to suggest that some people simply slow down after a workout, using less energy on their non-gym activities. They might decide to lay down for a rest, fidget less because they're tired, or take the elevator instead of the stairs.

These changes are usually called "compensatory behaviors" — and they simply refer to adjustments we may unconsciously make after working out to offset the calories burned.

I thought this article was excellent overall.  It's a bit long but I think anyone (even those not interested in weight loss) could get a meaningful shift in perspective from this, because it explains how the conventional beliefs about a seemingly simple subject are quite out of whack with what has been relatively well established by experiment... and so it can serve as a cautionary tale about how we think of cause and effect or living systems generally.

Caveat: I would disagree with the statement, "We have no control over our basal metabolic rate" after doing various Matt Stone and Ray Peat inspired self-experiments.  Going back to Broda Barnes work describing the importance of body temperature as a measure of basal metabolism and thyroid function, people have been successfully discovering how to raise their metabolic rate in various ways and documenting this with data.  I think there is also scientific literature linking all sorts of factors to changes in basal metabolism, although there this may be limited by genetic/developmental factors.

Perhaps there's no way to raise that metabolic rate that works for everyone. It's person-specific. 

Agreed that this article was excellent and it shifted my perspective.

I wish they had made a decent summary but I see how that would be difficult given the breadth of source material. 

Adam I am relatively sure there are ways to raise metabolic rate that aren't person specific.  Eating PUFA will lower metabolic rate in just about any organism, so one way is to not eat PUFA. 

I'm not sure what PUFA is.

Thanks, I will do more research. 

Another basic technique that I find works is keeping an eye on your liquid to salt ratio -- less liquid to salt is pro-metabolic.  But there are many agents... start paying attention to what makes you feel pleasantly *warm*.  I would recommend Ray Peat to anyone (or see Danny Roddy).

Thank you, I will check them out. 

While in some ways this article is a good summary of what Ray Peat recommends, it misses some key points.  First there really isn't a Peatarian diet per se, aside from some of the biggies like avoiding or eliminating PUFA, and things that increase internal CO2 being generally favored.  Rays views are anti-authoritarian, and skeptical of top-down dogma in general, while being very scientifically rooted, i.e. he is not so much alternative as non-mainstream.  This can be strange, if you aren't used to it. 

Peat thinks in most cases you should question dogma and experiment for yourself.  But it isn't just subjectivism, everyone is a special flower on all matters, i.e. extreme relativism.  He believes there *are* generally useful truths, but that in many ways, an authoritarian and institutional approach subverts reliable access to these truths.  Many also aren't generally known yet, because of the general ineffectiveness/corruption of mainstream science, so I'd say Peat would see a legitimate frontier for amateur individual scientific endeavor.  Also, some things really can be person-specific, or at least based on factors that can vary from person to person and time to time. 

There are certainly trends in the Ray Peat community, many of which are based on people's willingness to perform personal experimentation in a way that isn't top-down and questions dogma, and then share the results with one another... or influence one another through argument.  But you'll find lots of people who disagree on Peat on this or that, and unlike most nutritional communities, these things tend to be  debated/discussed intelligently, rather the "heretic" being ostracized or shouted down.  So that can feel a little surreal.  For example, you can easily find people like me, who does a lot of WAPF-type things that Ray doesn't necessarily promote (like eat soaked grains/beans in moderation) but if you look closely he rarely says you should or should not do x.  He will usually say, "Have you tried x?".  You are not going to find a lot of judgement or hard-and-fast "rules", although you may find Ray or people on the forums arguing that sugary fuels are generally better for starchy ones, or reporting their experience at changing the balance, eliminating one or the other, etc. 

All this being said, yes, the right kind of ice cream pushes the buttons for most people interested in Peat.  Peat (and most of these people) would tend to be much more concerned about the additives, like gums, emulsifiers, preservatives, and so forth than any of the ingredients in a basic ice cream.  The way I go in a typical grocery store is Hagen Dasz, for this reason.

One thing that trips a lot of people up is the level of scientific detail, including discussion of the ins and outs of processes happening within the cell, related to metabolism.  Many people throw their hands up and say "I can't deal with this, just tell me what to do"... but this misses the essence of Peatarian thought.  The devil is often in the details, getting into the real detailed issues is ultimately necessary to understand what works.. i.e. just "taking advice" or getting a summary is *not generally effective*.  If you look closely you'll find many of the people who you think must be PhD microbiologists or something are really just ordinary people who "got" the Peatarian approach and started slogging through these discussions -- even when much was initially incomprehensible -- until they learned where the interesting debates actually lie in how one can view human health and metabolism.  Or said differently, once these people learned enough to see how laughably broken the mainstream scientific models and recommendations are, they gain the confidence to see that not only can they understand the real issues for themselves, but in most cases can do a better job than some institutional mouthpiece who just took down whatever dogma was given in his her or her college class 20 years ago and just accepted it, and stuck with it. 

My best advice if you want to explore this community is, be willing to keep reading even much of a persons comment are initially "noise" to you; but if you read a comment/article/point that you don't get on the first pass, at least look up one of the individual terms/simpler concepts within it and read something about that. 

Peat lives in Mexico and is famous for answering emails from questioners (typically people with medical problems that mainstream approaches have failed for) for free.  But I would encourage you do as much of your own homework as possible before taking him up on that.

Danny Roddy on YouTube has some interviews with Peat recently, and in one of them he discusses the story of a project began not long after getting his PhD, when he realized how much censorship and political hierarchy was involved in mainstream science.  He and several other bright young talents went to Mexico City to start Blake College (still in existence). The story of what happened is just mind blowing... I won't spoil it here but many US intelligence agencies got involved.

There is a movie coming out about Peat soon... "On the Back of Tiger".  He is part of a whole lineage of "dissenting but hardcore" scientists, as I'd describe it, which includes e.g. Hans Selye, Broda Barnes, Albert St. Georgi, Gilbert Ling, Mae-won Ho, Gerald Pollack et al.  What turned me onto Peat was seeing how his work actually *responded* to the fact that the conventional cell wall/pump model is DOA since Ling's experiments. Ling won the Nobel prize... the defunct cell wall/pump model is still taught today in most circles, with minor modifications starting to appear.  I have experienced many personal benefits from studying Peat and the community around him.  If these ideas interest any of you, I hope you'll dig deeper into them. 

Definitely interested, will dig, thank you.

See below for more. 

Awesome, Geege.  Some themes to look out for as you look at these ideas:

a) The critical role of supporting metabolism, both in terms of cellular respiration and an aggregate effect of such as the organism level.  There are many indicators of the aggregate metabolism, including thyroid hormones (properly interpreted), feeling of warmth, morning body temp, etc.  Often the limiting factor for metabolism, at a cellular/chemical level is CO2.  See the Bohr effect (yes same Neils Bohr you know from elementary school -- I think). 

b) Moving away from naming all the particular ways or places that human health can break down to a view of energy flow through the human system.  Energy doesn't mean "woo woo " mystical energy, but real physical energy, in various forms (often chemically propagated within the body).  And a relationship between said energy flow and healthy (or unhealthy) structure and function being interrelated, as Peat says, "at every level", to produce a functioning organism (or not).  This moves Peatarian-type thinkers away from thinking about random cause and effect of each different random thing, and more in terms of things that work generally to support health (although there are still lots of contextual and personal details, and of course looking at specific conditions/symptoms isn't deemed totally unproductive). 

c) The key role of electromagnetic interactions especially in terms of water in it's 4th phase (now being much more popularized, thanks to e.g. Gerald Pollack).  And the idea that structured water within the cell is critical to how every electro-chemical reaction works within the cell.  Of course, mainstream biology has conventionally dried out its samples as a first step, destroying most of the relevant information.

Both the last two can sound like pseudo-scientific concepts, but they actually refer to real, mainstream-validated but in some cases just lesser known / more cutting edge approaches. Look up Pollack's list of NIH grants if you doubt this. The unfortunate reality is that despite this kind of credential, whole generations of scientists often have to die off before newer and better ideas are fully mainstream-propagated -- if they ever are.  I have been reading Ivan Illich who talks about how institutions, such as health institutions, seem to inevitably grow into taking actions that actively subvert their stated agenda.  If you want better answers, you'll have to sort it out for yourself -- which just boils down the point of my above comment :)  

I've come to realize how complicated this is. Figuring it out ourselves is not straightforward!

A nice Peat-y nugget of epistemology:

normalized-tmp-574759fcb9f36

You May Also Like: