In Part One, I applauded TIME magazines change of “heart” regarding their position linking dietary fat to obesity and heart disease. I referenced how in 1961,TIME magazine actually contributed to the obesity epidemic by featuring physiologist Ancel Keys, the pseudoscientist behind the low fat diet advice. Keys used media attention and a falsified study he authored to convince the American Heart Association (AMA) of his grossly oversimplified theory that Americans are getting fat because they are eating too much fat; the basis of Keys infamous Seven Country Study that he excluded fifteen countries worth of non conforming data to Keys desired outcome.
The AMA supported Keys and in turn influenced the USDA to publish, promote and perpetrate the low fat diet experiment embodied in the iconic food pyramid found in doctors’ offices, schools and adorning processed food packaging.
Unfortunately the low fat advice remains well en”grained” to his day, however I appreciate that after fifty-five years of gullibility TIME has finally acknowledged the low fat hypothesis was wrong. Sadly, Keys influence as it pertains to TIME magazine publishing false and misleading information adversely contributing to the obesity crisis didn’t end with his fabricated low fat and cholesterol recommendations. Keys’ is also directly responsible for oversimplifying how we measure obesity in this country.
In July 1972, Ancel Keys published a paper in the Journal of Chronic Diseases, resurrecting and renaming the Quetelet Index to the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a method to measure obesity.
I have written extensively on the inaccuracies of BMI and the absurdity that the most technologically advanced nation on Earth continues to measure obesity incorrectly with an antiquated linear height and weight chart conceived in 1835 that to this day excludes women and children and does not in any way measure body fatness.
I am clearly not a fan of Mr. Keys yet I will acknowledge that while he did state BMI might prove appropriate for population studies (it does not), he did actually cite that BMI would not be inappropriate for individual evaluation (it isn’t). This message was unheeded and BMI due to its simplicity has become ubiquitous as a global measure of individual obesity despite the fact that BMI it is 48% and 25% inaccurate in women and men respectively. PLOS ONE Study
TIME magazine once again fell victim to Keys misinformation with the 2009 cover story The Myth about Exercise, authored by John Cloud who suggests exercise won’t help you lose “weight”. If you have read my blogs or heard me speak publically you know that I do not personally use the term weight-loss, or measure success by scale weight or BMI because each provide absolutely no verifiable information about body composition and what exactly is being lost or gained (water, excess fat or lean muscle).
In the spirit of Ancel Keys, Mr. Cloud likewise oversimplifies data and attempts to mold generic terms like “weight” “exercise” and “calories / calorie balance” to fit his theory. The article is pretty much a contradiction and a complete waste of words aside from the acknowledgement that exercise is good for you.
Cloud describes himself as a habitual exerciser who has generally maintained a body weight of 163 pounds his entire adult life yet still has a fat gut that hangs over his belt when he sits. He acknowledges some benefits of “exercise”: “Sure. It does plenty. In addition to enhancing heart health and helping prevent disease, exercise
improves your mental health and cognitive ability”.
A study published in June in the journal Neurology found that older people who exercise at least once a week are 30% more likely to maintain cognitive function than those who exercise less. Another study, released by the University of Alberta earlier this year, found that people with chronic back pain who exercise four days a week have 36% less disability than those who exercise only two or three days a week.
The author instead fixates on scale weight; saying exercise will not help you to lose weight, and may in fact be responsible for people gaining weight. “Weight” is not the issue. Scale weight can increase with exercise due to increasing lean muscle mass. Muscle is much denser than fat, improves metabolism, skeletal structure, prevents injuries the list goes on. Neither weight nor BMI are acceptable methods to define health or exercise success. Most athletes weigh more than non-exercising people due to muscle density. What is important and not discussed is body composition, specifically the ratio of fat to lean muscle.
When discussing exercise, the author remains vague but seems to focus his efforts and his inaccurately measured expenditures on cardiovascular type exercise, which in itself is problematic, overdoing cardio does not contribute to fat loss, instead when the limited resource of glycogen stores needed to propel muscle aided by oxygen in the muscle are depleted, the next source of energy used is predominantly protein derived by breaking down muscle tissue (gluconeogenesis), not fat.
Weight training is by far the superior method of exercise to improve body composition (lean mass to fat mass ratios). While an important component of health, cardiovascular training as the name implies conditions your heart and respiratory system and does not build lean muscle or create shape. As noted above it can breakdown muscle tissue while sparing fat loss… the reason why commercials featuring treadmills and climbers mislead viewers by focusing on “burning calories”?
To further explain the idiocy of measuring exercise success by calories burned – the benefits of exercise should never be measured by calories. A calorie is a fictitious unit of measure that describes the amount of heat produced if you incinerated a nutrient in a metal oven called a calorimeter. The human digestive system is far more complex than a metal oven and nutrients are absorbed and break down at different speeds and elicit a variety of hormonal and chemical reactions that determine whether the nutrient will be used as energy, build a material such as muscle and or fat or pass through. Counting calories makes even less sense than saying the weight of the food you eat, equals the amount of weight you will gain, at least momentarily the latter is true.
Regardless Cloud references calories and the calorie balance theory (calories in versus calories out) continuing his vague, nondescript and unreliable theories. The calorie balance myth is another topic I have written on extensively. Humans do not burn calories, we burn ATP derived from nutrients and all foods are not created equal. If people who exercised specifically with a goal to “burn calories” actually knew how few “calories” or the amount of nutrient derived energy was actually consumed by exercise they likely wouldn’t do it. Despite the calorie counting mechanisms on cardio machines are generic and grossly inaccurate, what most people don’t realize is that during an exercise session if you hypothetically burned 250 calories, if you had instead opted to stand beside the machine instead of exercising on it you would likely have consumed more that 200 of the units, because the body is always at work maintaining function and using energy, exercise contributes very little to energy consumption, but has many more long term health benefits.
Perhaps strangest of all, the author seems to suggest that it is normal to use exercise as an excuse to “reward yourself” by gorging on junk food post exercise. If this is a habit of the author it seems likely that he is focusing his exercise efforts on long in duration cardiovascular activities which will deplete glycogen stores and break down muscle tissue, fat will not be accessed as a fuel during the activity and post consumption of “junk food”, all of the sugar consumed in excess of capacity to refill glycogen stores in the muscle will be sent to the liver to be converted to, and stored as fat. This likely explains the fat waist the author can’t get rid of.
To summarize, most of what people have been told about exercise and nutrition for the last half century is dead wrong. We need to metaphorically acknowledge that the world is not flat and change our perspective of the universe. To combat excess fat we need to change the message, beginning with the mind set “that exercise is good for you”. The belief structure and phrase we need to adopt is not… that exercise is good for you but instead it is that it is bad for you if you don’t. Regardless of age, gender, ability or present condition it is time to embracing the life enhancing body mind and spirit benefits of a comprehensive healthy lifestyle.
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