Posted by: elambend | October 6, 2007

Exercise won’t make you thinner

Gary Taubes has written an interesting article in New York Magazine on just how we came to have the conception that exercise makes us thinner. The idea is so pervasive in our society that the to most people it sound counter-intuitive that exercise does not make you thinner. The article is interesting, though I find it incomplete. One of the major points that Taubes makes is that exercise, particularly vigorous exercise, will naturally make you hungrier and that this seemingly obvious fact is overlooked. One point that he does not adequately make, though it was briefly mentioned, is that exercise only works with change in diet. Plenty of people work out quite vigorously, yet still carry extra weight because they eat the wrong kinds of food and too much of all types of food.

Taubes waits until the last three paragraphs of the article to really address the idea of diet and the role of insulin in the storage of fat in the body and the types of food that cause insulin to spike and the body to store sugars as fat. However, he downplays two other important aspects of exercise. First of all, he fails to address that exercise important benefits beyond the aesthetic. Further, he misses something about exercise and bodyshape, though it is right in front of him. All exercise is not the same. He gives an example of a man who has been running extensively for 30 years, yet is still self-described as fat. Taubes implies that only food intake and possibly genetics could alter this. What he misses is that perhaps not all exercise is the same. This is a consistent theme of Art Devany’s. Repetitive long term exercise loses any benefit because the body becomes used to it. It does not shock the system, it just wears out the joints. DeVany maintains a trim shape at 70 by a strict diet and by a form of exercise that requires two 40 minute workouts a week, with time to ‘play’, as he puts it.

Something that Devany consistently writes about is the aerobic focused hight calorie lifestyle that many pursue in the pursuit of ‘health.’ Just look at the people in the gym. Most likely, a lot of the people on the treadmills and bikes look a little dumpy as they shuffle along at the same rate for 30, 40 minutes. Once they get past the initial start of motion, the body ceases to gain much benefit from the constant motion. The would be much better served by doing a 30 second sprint followed by a minute of vigorous but slower pedaling and then repeating 6-7 times. Devany postulates that exercise that mimics out hunter-gatherer past, shot bursts of activity with long periods of rest, is the best form of exercise to combine with a diet that does not cause insulin spiking.

If read by someone who did not know about this, Taubes article seems to imply that exercise is irrelevant. Yet, not matter how trim you are from your diet, it will not help you in your later years if you do not maintain your musculature. No one wants to be a trim elder that can only hobble around. The good news is that this kind of exercise takes less time and is less repetitive and boring than sitting on a bike or tread mill sweating away.

Taubes article is interesting as it points out some obvious fallacies with conventional wisdom, but it doesn’t do enought to put people of the path of what does work and why. Perhaps, at best, it will encourage people to investigate further.

UPDATE: Apparently Taubes buried the lead in his article. Today the New York Times ran a review of his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” The review even includes this line: “For example, Taubes argues at length that people get fat because carbohydrates in their diet drive up the insulin level in the blood, which in turn encourages the storage of fat. His conclusion: all calories are not alike. A calorie of fat is much less fattening than a calorie of sugar.” Interestingly enough the reviewer does not accept this theory, though no doubt this is colored by her point of view as stated in her book.

Update II:  Art De Vany has linked to the Taubes Story and given his thoughts.



  1. […] elambend wrote a fantastic post today on “Exercise wonât make you thinner”Here’s ONLY a quick extractDeVany maintains a trim shape at 70 by a strict diet and by a form of exercise that requires two 40 minute workouts a week, with time to ‘play’, as he puts it. Something that Devany consistently writes about is the aerobic focused hight … […]

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