Does exercise actually hinder weight loss?

Or what’s the straight dope on this story?

I’m reading that article right now and I have to say, it is utter tripe. This is going to be 15 minutes of agony. I’ll give a full smacking after I finish.

Seconded. I didn’t see anywhere in the article a valid argument that exercising actually inhibits weight loss.

From here , that Gary Taubes guy appears to be one of those low-carb fad advocates that are trying to make a quick buck by enticing you to buy his books. Evidence from the link in the OP:

I don’t like this guy. It is obviously biased if you can look past the drawn out writing.

I will also present counter evidence: namely, me! I’m a bicycle racer and I eat tons of carbohydrates. My weight goes down during the spring and summer when I’m engaged in intensive exercise and it goes up in the winter when I do less. I tend to eat more when I exercise more but I always tend to lose weight during the spring and summer. I am very aware of how much I eat and exercise because I have to make sure I eat enough during races to not bonk. Let me tell you, there is a definite connection between eating, exercise, and your weight.

Of course! It depends on your calorie use. When I was a bike courrier I ate great gobs of carbohydrates because I needed the calories to do my job.

The article is also a little weird:

That doesn’t mention the food you eat. When I was a bike courrier, I consumed about 2,000 calories a day (minimum, and usually complex carbohydrates) to keep up with my energy needs.

I don’t see the logic in the article that suggests exercise inhibits weight loss.

Well, the low carb diet works for some people - myself included, but there are both short and long term reasons for it.

In the short term, (and please excuse my fumbling facts; I’m not a biochemist) carbohydrates are converted to glycogen and stored in muscles for ease of metabolism. Glycogen likes water, and IIRC, each glycogen molecule can attract and grab hold of four water molecules. When you go on a low carb diet, the body is forced to use up its stash of glycogen, and when it does so, it gets rid of the concommitant water. You start losing weight at once, but it’s primarily water. If you go off your low carb diet, you’ll immediately gain back the water weight as your body refills its glycogen stores.

In the long term, it’s a happier picture. Simple carbohydrates stimulate production of insulin. I don’t know if it out of proportion to the stimulation complex carbohydrates provide, but it’s definitely a quicker response. As the body can change fat and protein into carbs, even those will cause some insulin production, but it’s more in keeping with normal hormonal responses.

In time, if the body is given simple carbohydrates out of good proportion with complex carbs, fat, and protein, it will over-produce insulin and store the extra carbs as fat in adipose tissue. In more time, the body becomes tolerant to the hyperinsulemia, and must produce even more insulin to get the normal response. Too much insulin in the system over a long period of time leads to Type II diabetes. It exacerbates obesity, and in turn, is exacerbated by it.

That doesn’t, however, answer the question of exercise.

What irks me about this article is that the author completely ignores the other benefits of strenuous exercise - lowered blood pressure, muscle building, flexibility, stress relief, endurance, and all that. It also completely ignores what we now know about diet - that the nutrients we take in are just as important as the amount of calories. After all, someone eating a daily diet of 2000 calories in Hostess Twinkie Snack Cakes is bound to have more health and obesity issues than someone eating a balanced diet of complex carbs, proteins, and fats.

Yes, weight loss is a far more complex topic than most people believe. We still don’t understand the full interplay of hormones, environment, stress, diet, and exercise. That doesn’t mean, however, that exercise is somehow useless, and it’s a disservice to all the people out there who could and should benefit from regular exercise to say otherwise.

Er, do you mean 2K more calories a day than normal, because you were biking so much? Because 2K/day is about normal for an adult, isn’t it?

I agree and am a little confused as well. Since a 160 pound man burns roughly 500 calories sleeping for 7 hours, I would imagine a bicycle courrier would need upwards of 3500 calories or more a day simply to maintain his weight. Since no man in the world should ingest less than 1200 calories a day to remain healthy, and since a bicycle courrier’s job is one of the more physically taxing jobs you can do, this doesn’t add up for me.

That article is nonsense. Exercise helps burn calories which aid in weight loss. However, the person doing the exercise may do things which hinder weight loss.

For example, people may overestimate the calories burned and underestimate the calories in food. So they may walk a mile (-100 calories) and then reward themselves with a cookie (+200 calories).

I have also seen overweight people drinking Gatorade and eating Powerbars after their workout. They can easily take in more calories than they just burned off, thus completely negating the weight loss benefits of the workout, or even causing them to gain weight!. Energy replacement products like those should only be used if you are training for performance. If you are training for weight loss, stick to water.

You can’t look at eating or activity alone when trying to lose weight. If someone is eating 2000 calories but only burning off 1500, they are gaining 500 calories a day, which translates into a weight gain of 2 oz a day. If they start exercising and walk 2 miles, that’s 200 calories burned. But they’ll still have a deficit of 300 calories a day, which means they’re now only gaining about 1.3 oz a day. That’s better, but they’re still not losing weight. So they’ll continue to gain weight until they burn off more than they eat.

Generally, yes. There are variables to take into account: If you put on 1/4 a pound of muscle you will only lose 3/4 of a pound in total weight, but you will have really lost 1 pound of fat. If you eat 700 more calories a day because you are “exercising” it off, you will not lose 1lb of fat. Though you may lose 1/4 lb of fat and put on 1/4 lb of muscle regardless. You CAN lose fat and gain muscle over a long period of time while eating maintenence calories.

As for 2000 calories? For a woman perhaps, or a really small guy. At 5’9 and 190lbs I burn around 1900 calories just laying there (to maintain homeostasis. Add about 900 calories for my daily activities such as walking, thinking, typing, reading, etc. Any additional exercises I do adds calories on top of that. Running 3 miles a day is about 350 extra calories a day. riding a bike all day? I would guess that 3500 would be on the low end of the figure and 2000 EXTRA calories a day isn’t unreasonable. 8 hours of riding burns a lot of calories.

The style of this article is really annoying (wordy, poorly cited, etc) but there’s probably some truth to it. If you exercise but don’t watch what you eat, you probably won’t lose weight.

Although personally, I find it much easier to stick to healthy eating habits if I get some moderate exercise. After sitting at home all day I’m likely to eat something fatty and fattening. After moderate exercise I’m usually in a mood for something fresh and light.

Yes, sorry, that’s what I meant. I had to add about 2,000 calories to my diet. My BMR at the time was around 3,000 K (note: I was really skinny at the time). My total carloric intake was usually around 5,200.

I was on my bike only half-days. If I’d been riding full days I think I would have spent my entire evenings eating.

Pretty interesting article.

I think that he’s straw manning a little. . .arguing against a person who is claming, “all you need to do is exercise more and you’ll lose weight.”

In particular, he constantly brings up the fact that more exercise makes you hungrier. He seems to assume that “hungry” is equivalent to “eats more”.

Even if we’re all biologically/chemically programmed to be lean/fat, he never addresses the phenomenon that we’re, collectively, getting fatter.

He says this

Which sounds more faith-based than anything, and then concludes this

He likes to toss in that “assuredly”, somewhat sarcastically. It’s an insincere tone.

Then, he refers to calorie control with the phrase “you can starve a human, or a rat”. (right, that’s what we’re talking about, starving people) Then, his fatalistic attitude comes through again, “when we deprive ourselves of food, we get hungry”.

Well, yeah. But, there are also

  1. people who still have the power to not eat every time they get hungry, or eat just the right amount.

And, a considerable amount of fat people who

  1. eat, whether they’re hungry or not.

We might not be able to control weight through exercise as much as some people believe, but this guy comes across like there’s nothing you can do at all.

A lot of his studies sound cherry-picked for information. . .I find it very hard to believe that study where they trained people to run a marathon and they barely took off weight. Yeah, I know people who have finished marathons. Oprah finished one. You can run a marathon, and not make many drastic change. I doubt that any of the people who didn’t take off weight ran a sub 4 hour, and that’s not an irrational thing to believe almost anyone training for 18 months couldn’t achieve.


If you are going to gain 20 lbs this year based on your current eating/exercise trends, and you thrown in some exercise, you might only gain 10 lbs. Did exercise result in the scale returning a lower number during this span? Well, if you weigh yourself occasionally during this span, you could conclude that exercise doesn’t work.

Many people gather this type of anecdotal evidence and conclude exercise doesn’t work. Also, since it would take several hours of exercise to negate a couple of pieces of cheesecake, in the real world, for most people, exercise can’t counteract the effects of poor eating.

Eating the right am’t of cals is 80-85% of the equation.

Exactly, while getting a haircut, one of the stylists said she had to go to the gym after work to run for a half-hour to “burn off that piece of cake.”

So okay, she was about the same hieght as my fiancee, who weighs 120 lbs. Because we’ve compared treadmill results, I know my fiancee (because she’s lighter than me), burns only 500 calories after roughly an hour of quick jogging. According to Google, a slice of “Barry White Cheesecake” from the Cheese Cake Factory is 680 calories.

The exercise is not going to help a whole lot if you eat crap. If exercise makes you hungry, then eat. But don’t go eating cheesecake.

I used to have a friend who was a bit on the chubby side. One day she decided to go to a gym and see if she could lose some weight. After an hour there, she came home and weighed herself. She was surprised to find that she weighed a pound more. I tried to explain that the water she drank afterwards could have added that pound. I also tried to explain that there was no direct correlation between a single episode of exercise and weight loss, i.e. that an hour at the gym would not make you lose five pounds that same day.

Her response? “Exercise is bullshit, man! It doesn’t work!” It’s amazing how people can rationalize their preselected wishes.

But if you’re not eating that much else otherwise, does it make a huge difference if you eat one slice of cake? You might not burn off that cake, but you’ve at least exercised.

Jeebus, my weight can change a pound or three just depending on what time of day I weigh myself and whether or not I’ve gone to the bathroom yet. She expected to lose weight immediately? :smack:

Yep. She honestly thought that’s how it worked.

People can have really odd ideas about weight loss.