Now, while we all know that trying to objectively discuss any issue with someone for whom personal experience is playing a role in their belief system is an utter waste of time, it was interesting to hear the ideas of some of the people I know, rather than merely engaging with virtual peers in various forums like I usually do. It's probably not an experience that I'll be in any rush to repeat though, since even though one tweet conversation maintained an air of civility and collaborative sharing, the other was primarily fueled by black/white temper tantrums (not my end, you understand). Add to that the extreme limitation character restriction adds to the mix, you don't get much time to explain yourself fully, especially when the person at the other end is doing their best to see what they want to see and paint you in the wrong. Snore.
So anyway, I found the TIME article very thought-provoking, corroborating much of the studies I have been engaging with in the past year. While it relies a little too heavily on shock-value to encourage readership (TIME is a commercial venture, after all), the message that it's what you eat that determines fat loss success still rang fairly clearly.
However, I have trawled the Internet over the course of the day, reading input from all sorts of people - and, of course, ignoring comments that screamed "ARGH THIS IS SO STUPID, IT MUST BE WRITTEN BY A FAT GUY WHO JUST WANTS EVERYONE TO BE LAZY LIKE HIM! Chuh. Thankfully, for every person who was trying to write off the article (and the research supporting it) as sensationalist and backward, there were intelligent commenters who threw their intellect into the ring, offering similar and alternate interpretations of research, other studies, as well as the questionable personal experience. A popular comment ran along the lines of: I lost all of my weight through exercise, it's really not that hard - can't you people read nutrition labels? Obviously some people remain ignorant to the vital role played by diet (which means long-term typical food intake, not temporary food intake restriction/change, by the way) even when it comes to their own experiences.
So here are a few lingering points of my own that have been inspired by my research up to this point, the TIME article, and commenters around the world:
* If you are fat, you are fat not because you haven't been exercising, but because you have been overeating, and this overeating may have been driven by greed, sure, but more likely it was driven by hormones, genes, or the good ol' 'eat more grains' health recommendations courtesy of Western governments.
* It then stands to reason that to reverse this fat storage, you will need to tackle the contributing issue. Genes are tricky to 'fix' (though not impossible), hormones (especially insulin) can by brought under control by cutting carbs to regulate blood sugar, and the hearthealthywholegrains mindset can be corrected progressively with effective education.
* Now, assuming overeating (whether past or present) is under your own control, you can use the arguably flawed theory of energy balance (calories in, calories out) to create a caloric deficit which will encourage your body to metabolise fat and therefore burn your fat stores. If you eat more than you burn, you will not lose fat.
* This is when some people turn to isolated exercise (as opposed to their everyday level of activity), thinking it will speed up their fat loss since it burns calories. Problem is, it doesn't burn all that many calories - just ask Dr Briffa:
Before we look at the evidence, let’s challenge the notion that exercise speeds weight loss from a theoretical perspective. While exercise burns more calories than sitting or sleeping, it doesn’t burn that many. A 30-minute jog will burn about 290 calories. However, just sitting watching television will burn about 40 calories in the same time, so the additional calorie burn for half and hour’s worth of jogging is 250 calories. Imagine doing this 5 times a week. The total calorie burn from exercise for the week comes out at 1250 calories (250 x 5). Now assuming that all of those calories will be lost in the form of fat, and that we don’t eat a bit more as a result of expending more energy (more on that in a moment), then the amount of fat lost over the week from our jogging endeavours is about 140 g (less than a third of a pound). Not exactly dramatic, is it?
* The less agreed-upon problem with exercising for fat-loss purposes, particularly if you are hoping that exercise alone will do the trick and that you will just keep eating whatever you have been eating without going overboard, is that exercise (particularly strenuous exercise) makes most people hungrier. This effect may be physiological or psychological, it's hard to say, but it's often stated that for every 5 calories you burn, it makes your 6 calories hungrier. Before you cry out that your self-control and will-power is better than that, consider that you don't have many extra calories to play with, and the unpleasant sensation of nagging hunger (coupled with low blood sugar) is going to be hard to ignore. Perhaps you will be caught obsessing over whether you can get away with just one extra slice of frittata, or a few more sautéed veggies... Suddenly, you're spending the calorie deficit you saved. However, this blanket boo-boo scenario ignores the fact that many dieters also have to put up with hunger pangs in order to achieve caloric deficit (not so bad if you're a low-carber and you can dole out your dietary fats effectively). It also ignores that for some people, exercise actually suppresses appetite, so as long as you exercise in the evening and don't end up diving for late night snacks, this could be a way of increasing your deficit.
* There have been some terribly interesting studies done that have found that bed rest taken while on caloric restriction resulted in the same (or more) fat loss as that achieved with regular exercise on the same caloric restriction. This blows my mind and I'm sure scientists are still trying to make sense of it. Should we use this as an excuse to sit on our butts while we lose weight? Perhaps, but it won't do anything for our overall health. Since body composition is the end goal, we shouldn't ignore the role played by an active lifestyle in building muscular and bone strength, two vital factors in continued quality of life.
Here's a quick link list to other blogs/sites that I already follow, with posts that have either responded to the article or to the topic at other times:
Begin 2 Dig
Personally, I don't rely on an exercise regime to ensure I am achieving a caloric deficit. In fact, even when I have a particularly active day, I don't change my intake levels. Refusing to tabulate how many calories I may have burned in my day's activity helps avoid the potential psychological temptation to reward myself or even indulge in a few nuts because I can 'get away with it'. Additionally, there's nothing to say that my body hasn't already compensated for the extra activity by hitting the energy breaks whenever I was at rest. (That's in bold since it was one of the major points no one else seems to have raised in any of my conversing and browsing today). And finally, I don't actually know how many calories my system truly needs on any given day. After 8 months of tracking and measuring, I have a vague idea, but this is a dynamic need, not a fixed window.
Somehow, expressing these ideas seems to suggest to some people that I (and others expressing them) are somehow against exercise, or don't believe that exercise can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Not even the TIME writer suggests that. What is being said is that, for the majority of people, exercise alone will not cause fat loss. Fat loss is 80% diet, 20% activity. Some go as far as saying it's closer to 95%/5%. You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. Not everyone's body works exactly the same way. There is no one plan that will work for everyone. Do what works for you. Ringing any bells? ;) Once the fat loss is done, the hard part begins - maintenance. For some, control over food intake for life will do the trick. For others, adding some formalised exercise has shown to be effective. The key ingredient - a permanent lifestyle change, to never return to your old ways. Overall, the old ways were the problem, so unless you want to just end up back where you started, it's about finding a new, healthful lifestyle that works for you.
The fat loss vs. body composition message is loud and clear:
1) Exercise alone will not make you lose weight.
2) Exercise can make you look HOT and feel GREAT!
What worked for me today?
Breakfast: one lamb sausage, fried in lard.
Lunch: one lamb sausage, friend in lard.
Afternoon tea: Cabbage, sautéed in coconut oil, and two handfuls of almonds.
Dinner: organic beef skewers, interspersed with green capsicum, Italian sausage, and a smidge of haloumi to complete the pizza-on-a-stick-ness.
I also cooked up a lamb chop, thinking that the meat on my two skewers wouldn't be enough, but I was wrong. So there's lunch for tomorrow!
And finally, Mark Sisson's Primal Challenge is still going strong, with contests popping up almost every day. Most have been video challenges, which I can't be bothered with, er, I don't have the equipment for, but others are daily mini-contests with nifty prizes. These tend to be open for just 24 hours, and since I have been falling behind in my reading, I have missed most. Ones I have been up-to-date to catch have tended to involve US-specific prizes, so I have avoided those. However, today's contest - send in a photo of your nice, fatty breakfast - piqued my interest and while it's a US-specific prize, I was still tempted to enter and show off the delicious breakfasts I've been enjoying since going Primal. Imagine my surprise when I continued reading the contest information, and reached Mark's breakfast examples:
This one’s pretty self explanatory, but just in case you don’t know what a breakfast looks like… My breakfast:
Girl Gone Primal’s breakfast.
Well! While I do wish Mark picked a sexier picture, I guess my mid-cooked bacon and eggs shot does have the desired appearance of fattiness he's pushing for, as well as the amateurish photographic ability which will doubtless encourage the more shy of potential contest entrants. Still, a lovely vote of confidence from a top Primal bloke (c'mon, the dude wrote the book for goshsakes...).
So to further share my tasty Primal breakfasts with Primal Challenge followers, as well as to earn back the teeny shred of photography cred I have (I know, it's not much, I only have a camera phone, albeit a pretty sweet Sony Ericsson C905), here are some of my prouder morning menus:
My trusty day-starter (at least when I'm eating dairy) - ham and cheese in an egg omelette, oft-served with bacon:
They go with everything!! Yolks must be runny. It's a rule. Then you dip stuff in the yolk. Whites are eaten last. I've had my eggs this way since I was little. I had pneumonia when I was 6 and I had fried eggs with runny yolks for breakfast & dinner. Shame about the toast, but hey.
Just click on my carnivore label in the right navigation bar and check out what I was having for breakfast each day. And it didn't have to be a breakfast-y meat - I tried ground beef, pork chops, steak, chicken... Yum!
And then there's...
Grain-free granola, served with fruit and a bit of cream (or eaten as-is, yum!)
Omelette with a bit o' everything
And no breakfast list would be complete without a shot of the Primal Pancakes seen 'round the world:
Ah, it's enough to make you long for the sun to rise...