Friday, November 25, 2011

Being Alpha: Thin, A Fitness Tale

If you've got a big gut and you start doing sit-ups, you are going to get bigger because you build up the muscle. You've got to get rid of that fat! How do you get rid of fat? By changing your diet. -Jack Lalanne

You can't get rid of it with exercise alone. You can do the most vigorous exercise and only burn up 300 calories in an hour. If you've got fat on your body, the exercise firms and tones the muscles. But when you use that tape measure, what makes it bigger? It's the fat! --Jack Lalanne

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” -Hippocrates

“Walking is man's best medicine. ” -Hippocrates

Are you fat?  With 70% of North Americans overweight, odds say that you are. Compared to the rest of the world, the United States had the highest average Body Mass Index in the world of 28 with overweight being classified as anything above 25.  While it may be tempting for the rest of the world to consider this an American disease, worldwide the percentage of overweight people has nearly doubled over the last thirty years to 10%. Surprisingly, modern research questions the effectiveness of one main means that we use to control our weight, exercise.

Imperial London College - Obesity has doubled since 1980, major global analysis of risk factors reveals

Being Alpha

Being Alpha is dedicated to the little tricks that lead one towards a happier more fulfilling life. In this installment of Being Alpha, JohnQuincy examines what relationship, if any, exercise has to do with weight loss.  Other installments in this series include:

Thinking Happy
The Slow Knowing Smile

Fat Plague

It is startling just how rapidly that Americans have become overweight:

 During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. In 2010, no state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-six states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of 30% or more.

Center for Disease Control - U.S. Obesity Trends

The below graphics comparing U.S. obesity rates by states between 1994 to 2010 starkly bear this out:

Slim Gym

When most people think of losing weight, the first image that comes to mind involves exercise. Unfortunately, facts do not bear this out:

Why exercise won't make you thin - The Guardian UK

Well, science has some bad news for you. More and more research in both the UK and the US is emerging to show that exercise has a negligible impact on weight loss. That tri-weekly commitment to aerobics class? Almost worthless, as far as fitting into your bikini is concerned. The Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical research establishment in the US, reports that, in general, studies "have demonstrated no or modest weight loss with exercise alone" and that "an exercise regimen… is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss beyond what is achieved with dietary change."

This article raises several pertinent points:

No Pound of Flesh - The Energy Gap

If you repay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Express'd in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
-Shylock Quote from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice

While it does has many other benefits, Exercise is a horrible way to lose weight. Most people do not comprehend the amount of physical exercise that it takes to burn off weight. For example, do you know that one needs to burn on average of 3,500 calories to burn off one pound of body fat?  3,500 calories equates to 4.5 hours of jogging for a 200 pound man or the equivalent of a marathon.

You can calculate your own estimates for various activities  with this handy calorie estimator:

Calorie Burn Calculator

It is handy to couple the calorie burn calculator for activities with this calorie estimator for various foods:

Calorie Counter

For example, you will find that the regular cheeseburger that you scarfed had 359 calories and that you will have to chop wood for 30 minutes to work it off. For those of you who have never chopped wood, all it takes is about 5 minutes for the average person to collapse into a quivering mass of sweat while watching the skin on your palms blister and then slough off.


In the below abstract, health researchers concluded that heavy to moderate exercise did not contribute to weight loss and in many cased actually resulted in weight gains. It seems that people who try and exercise to lose weight tend to treat themselves for their efforts by increasing the amount of food that they ate. These same people also tend to cut down on physical activity in other areas to offset the exercise.

Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference and Compensatory Responses with Different Doses of Exercise among Sedentary, Overweight Postmenopausal Women by Church, et al. based on research conducted at the Cooper Scientific Institute

Case in point the NYC Pizza Run: a challenge in which participants aim to complete a 2.25 mile run while stopping to eat three slices of pizza at checkpoints throughout the course

NYC Pizza Run on Nick Sherman's Excellent Pizza Flickr Album

Rather than heavy to moderate exercise, other more effective means to lose and maintain normal weight exist.

Caloric Explosion

In 2006, Professor John Speakman published this explosive paper on obesity:

Journal of Obesity - Physical activity energy expenditure has not declined since the 1980s and matches energy expenditures of wild mammals

In it, he came to this startling conclusion:

In other words, overeating not lack of physical activity has resulted in the skyrocketing obesity rate. While physical activity has not markedly decreased, caloric intake has increased 30% since 1980.

Recommended Sites
Financial Times - Losing weight by increasing exercise ‘impractical’
John Speakman, Professor, Energetics Research Group, University of Aberdeen

Portion Distortion

“It’s always best to get up from the table a bit hungry”. - Folk Wisdom

If you don't clean your plate, you won't get any dessert. -Momism, Things Moms Say.

While the reasons we overeat are complex, they can be easily summed up: Humans suck at portion control. To simplify things, we do not have an innate idea of proper portion size and tend to eat everything that is placed before us.

Here is a good summary of this:

Obesity Prevention: The Role of Brain and Society on Individual Behavior By Laurette Dubé, Antoine Bechara, Alain Dagher, Adam Drewnowski, Jordan LeBel, Philip James, Rickey Y. Yada

Here are two of the best studies on the subject of portion control:

Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake by Brian Wansink, James E. Painter, and Jill North

Unit Bias - A New Heuristic That Helps Explain the Effect of PortionSize on Food Intake by Andrew B. Geier, Paul Rozin, and Gheorghe Doros, University of Pennsylvania

Dinner Troughs

FACT :: The average American dinner plate has grown from 9 inches (JohnQuincy Correction - actually 8.5 inches) in diameter to 12 inches since 1970.

FACT :: As a result, we’re now consuming more than 300 excess calories per day.

JohnQuincy: An increase of 3.5 inches, while it may seem modest, is actually a whopping 41 percent increase in plate size:

Circle Calculator

Alex Bogusky, Author of the 9 Inch Diet

Dinner plate sizes.....?

Today at a antique fair, there was a lady selling vintage 1950s dinner sets (you know, matching plates and bowls....I'm not sure the right term for the sets). They were so much smaller than the standard sizes of today. She had multiple sets, and all were similarly sized. The biggest dinner plates were the size of standard salad plates today, and the serving bowls were no where close to the bucket sized ones everyone uses now. Also in the 1950s, people tended to have large families, so obviously the serving sizes were smaller in proportion to what they ate off of.
-Yahoo Answers

Yes, our sense of portion control sucks and we tend to eat everything that is put before us but this is nothing new so it does not explain how we have become fat so suddenly. For answers, we have to look at the vehicles used to serve our food, our dinnerware.

Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption by Brian Wansink, PhD and Matthew M. Cheney, MS in the Journal of the American Medical Association

Kitchen Cabinet Envy

Shockingly, the pig troughs that we currently serve our food on no longer fit into normal size kitchen cabinets:

You would be quite surprised at how often a person who has remodeled their kitchen or built a new home with their dream kitchen moves in only to learn their plates are too big for the cabinet door to close tightly. The old standard measure for upper cabinet shelves was approximately 12" deep. With everything becoming oversized, including our dinner plates, the plates have grown but the standard cabinet shelf depth has remained the same. If you were to look at your grandmother's dinner plate, you would think it was today's salad plate!

Designing Your Deram Home - Mistakes to Avoid: Dinner Plate Storage

Fast Food for Fatties

Here is another excellent abstract dealing with the explosion of fast food portion sizes:

Portion Sizes and Obesity: Responses of Fast-Food Companies by L I S A R. YOUNG and MARION NESTLE
Recommended Sites
Numskullery - The Psychology of Dinner Plates
Eastern Panhandle Mom's - The Size of YOur Dinner Plate Matters
Wikipedia - Small Plate Movement
JAMA - Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption
Web MD - Slideshow: Secrets of Healthy Eating and Portion Control
Wired - Why do people eat too much?
Penn Dining - Proper Portions
The Great Plate Debate: Does Plate Size Affect How Much We Eat?
Nutrition Diva - Why We Overeat

Recommended Books
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Body Image Distortions - Fat Pride

While media is often demonized for pushing unnatural standards of waif-like  beauty, in reality, social norms have been skewing heavier for the last couple of decades. The below paper provides a mathematical model that show connections between economic, biological and social factors and weight gain:

Social Dynamics of Obesity by Mary A. Burke and Frank Heiland

Importantly, this paper demonstrates the importance of the social multiplier effect on weight gain. How as average weight has increased that peoples perceptions of appropriate weight has also increased. It suggests that weigh norms are flexible and not based on set ideals of beauty or even medical ideals.

Science Daily - American women have gotten fatter as it has become more socially acceptable to carry a few extra pounds, according to a new study

Web MD - Is Fat the New Normal?

CDC - Mean BodyWeight,Height,andBodyMassIndex, United States1960–2002

QuickStats: Mean Weight and Height Among Adults Aged 20--74 Years, by Sex and Survey Period --- United States, 1960--2002

How women's bodies have been transformed in the past 60 years...

Recommended Reading
U.S. Trends in Feminine Beauty and Over Adaptation, Journal of Sex Research, Alan Mazur, Aug 1986
CIRPEE - Peer Effects, Fast Food Consumption and Adolescent Weight Gain
The World Has Curves: The Global Quest for the Perfect Body
The World is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fatteningthe Human Race
The 9-Inch Diet

Eating Alone - Death of the Family Dinner

This section still under construction.

Conditioned Hyper Eating

This section still under construction. It will discussed food triggers for overeating

Video - End of Overeating

The End of Overeating: Dr. David A. Kessler from Commonwealth Club on

Eating Thin

This section still under construction. It will discuss eating strategies for losing weight.

Recommended Links
Natural News: Five appetite control foods that suppress cravings without adding calories.
Slow Burn

This section still under construction. It will review recent findings that relatively relaxed exercises such as walking are the best for losing weight and keeping it off.
NYT Magazine - What’s the Single Best Exercise?


Good Blogs Focused on this Topic:
Small Bites - Great Nutritional Advice
Eve Underground - A Lady's Perspective on Living a Balanced Life

No comments: