Overweight and Obesity: Diet or Exercise?

Read time: 2 minutes

I blog about intermittent fasting (IF) for becoming lean and staying lean.

As such I blog far more about diet than about exercise because getting lean is based on how we eat, not how we exercise, as any public gym can testify with the shear number of long-term members who shake their bootie for years but still jiggle in places they’d rather not.

In fact, most personal trainers can tell you how many of their long-term clients can lift more, run faster, and jump higher over the years, but never got any lighter.

Exercise has its place for better health and improved function, and I believe that, on rare occasions, it can contribute to weight loss because it burns calories. But that’s just the problem — the calorie expenditure can easily be negated by that second helping at dinner, or by that afternoon snack.

There’s evidence that the rise in obesity rate in the past several decades is not caused by physical inactivity; in fact, the fitness industry has grown exponentially through the same period. And overweight and obesity are observed even in people in manual labor jobs.

This evidence suggests that obesity is a result of not physical inactivity but of overeating.

The abundance of cheap calories fuel corporate profit and public obesity. People today simply have too much access to calories, and energy consumption might outpace energy expenditure. Physical activity, in other words, can’t seem to keep up with today’s overeating.

While many individuals may have the genetic propensity for weight gain, in the end it’s still the overeating that triggers this genetic expression. Further, this obesity gene didn’t just appear only 35 years ago at the start of the rise in obesity. It was the abundance of food that appeared.

Portion size has changed dramatically. Compare the hamburger of the 1950s to that of today, not to mention the supersize-everything within the same meal. Or compare the size of a soda pop bottle enjoyed by the previous generations to the Big Gulp clutched in the pudgy hands of today’s teenagers.

Meal patterns have also changed. Grandma smacked our hand from the afternoon snack, demanding us save our appetite for dinner.

Now so-called pop-nutritionists and weight-loss zealots warn that if we don’t snack between breakfast and lunch, and then between lunch and dinner, then our metabolism will slow and we’ll gorge at dinner (a combination, by the way, that makes little sense — a slow metabolism typically induces a low appetite, so there would be no compulsion to gorge. But really, a slow metabolism occurs only during sleep, while in a coma, or after long-term severe calorie restriction. Just more industry gibberish).

While obesity has dramatically increased in the past 3 decades, physical activity hasn’t diminish. Numerous studies show that physical activity remained the same through the past 30 years, yet health and fitness professionals continue to blame obesity and overweight on physical inactivity (yet more industry gibberish).

So it appears that physical inactivity does not cause obesity, but that overeating in a culture of food abundance may be the culprit. Additionally, evidence shows that exercise is often not effective for weight loss.

Exercise can, however, increase many health markers, improve physical function, and help prevent weight gain (or weight regain).

In the end, it’s overeating that seems to be the greatest contributor to weight gain; and on the flip side, it’s under-eating that’s the biggest contributor to weight loss.

Intermittent fasting makes under-eating achievable and sustainable… aside from the health benefits, the fat-burning metabolic profile, and proper energy regulation.

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60 Responses to Overweight and Obesity: Diet or Exercise?

  1. Great article Johnny. I agree that the way we eat, both food quality and quantity plays more of a role than exercising when it pertains to weight loss and keeping it off. However, like you (and the workouts that you do), at the intensity level, frequency and volume, all done in an intermittent fashion (much like our eating style), I believe that it is these brief but hard/intense and infrequent workouts performed at random is what shapes our bodies. Most people in the gym or on the road for that matter, are still prescribing to steady-state cardio which, as we know, is catabolic and only makes us crave more food (usually carbohydrates at that), completely negating the calories burned from doing the exercise. Following a workout like yours and/or an Art DeVany-esque approach (power-law training) where our workouts are geared towards smart and sensible heavy lifting, some sprinting and lots of walks all performed at random, coupled with the IF lifestyle, would certainly get most people feeling and looking as they so desire. The old adage of “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” rings so true however, constructing a workout that builds muscle mass and strengthens not only our muscles, but or bones, ligaments, tendons, etc. and keeps us strong and flexible into old age, coupled with IFing, might just allow us to enjoy a “larger than normal” piece of cake coupled with a glass (or two, three, uh, maybe four) of wine every now and then. Always look forward to reading your stuff, Johnny. Keep em coming!

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks (again) for shedding light on the use of personal trainers regarding weight loss. Eating less WILL result in weight/fat loss. I see many, many people in my gym working out with trainers 2-3 times a week and never looking any different because they don’t change how or how much they eat. Spot on for this post!

  3. James says:

    Awesome post. Just emailed the link to a bunch of my friends. I have never lost as much weight as in the past few months since following your blog. Well done.

    • Johnny says:

      Thanks for sharing your progress, James. Keep it coming!
      And thanks for sharing the blog with your friends.
      I hope they find it useful, too.

      Best,
      Johnny

  4. Nic says:

    Great points!

    I hate the whole eat every 3 hours bunk that people have been perpetuating. Its funny to see people with 25lbs or so of fat freaking out that if they miss a snack their body will start cannibalising its muscle.

    Isn’t the reason our body stores fat anyway is in case of famine it will live off its own reserves? Why would a body that wants to preserve itself, after 4 hours of no food start to metabolise the very muscle that keeps it strong. Yes, if it is protein starved it will, but that would take over a week or so of no protein.

    I hear it takes over 72 hours before your metabolism starts to drop, and even then, it is only a tiny bit.

  5. Bangkok Jay says:

    Excellent reminder, Johnny. It’s been a year exact for me and I’ve lost a total of 18kgs or 40lbs to weigh 162lbs currently. I attribute that to VLC paleo and IF to help me eat less.

    And I can attest to what you’re saying about exercise. In hindsight I’d say I’ve done very little with no access to a gym using only a few exercises: pushups, bodyweight squats, chinups, and occasional dumbbell work for arms. But most of that was in the second half of the year when my fitness improved dramatically.

    I would certainly call myself very inactive with minimal walking even. But the resistance exercise was to preserve lean muscle. I was obsessively scared I’d lose what I convinced myself was my muscle mass (mostly fat than muscle) in my chest and arms. But as the weight came off, my arms did shrink but only the fat layer; the muscle became better toned. Now I look like I have even bigger arms since I didn’t lose any lean muscle tissue but only the fat everywhere.

    And doing a daily intermittent fast with just 2 full meals is the easiest way to ensure I’m in caloric deficit. Eating mostly fats and proteins for the meals ensure that I feel sated and not hungry for hours on end.

    I never really took that adage to heart that our body (composition) is at least 80% attributable to nutrition (eating) …until this past year. Having gone from fat to normal in the first year, my second year’s goal is to go from ‘normal’ to lean. Currently at 12-14% bodyfat I’d estimate but 10% (or less) is the ultimate goal.

    Turning 43 this month; childhood/adulthood chubbiness; easy to gain fat & muscle; ecstatic to realise my fat genes may be a myth but also ecstatic to know how to conquer it. – Jay

    • Johnny says:

      Jay,

      Congrats on your improvement and successes. This is the kind of comment that delights me. Happy birthday — and you’re only getting younger.

      Best,
      Johnny

  6. hi Johnny. this was a really interesting article and a reminder to avoid dull boring routine to which our bodies adapt all too quickly. variety and surprise mimic the lifestyle of our ancestors and that’s what our DNA is designed for. I’m a personal trainer myself and to differentiate myself I’ve nailed my colours to the paleo mast and insist on nutritional instruction with my clients. In fact, I tend to call myself a Wellness Coach or Consultant more often as there is a negative association with PTs. I also never work in regular gyms with their rows and rows or chronic cardio torture devices that do nothing to improve wellness. thanks for the constructive post – I look forward to reading more

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Mark,

      Wellness coach is a term I’ve used on occasions. Great idea — I’ll have to bring it back to my practice. To be fully committed to the health and wellbeing of our clients, we ought to go beyond the typical responsibilities most “personal trainers” are comfortable with.

      Best,
      Johnny

  7. Richard says:

    IF is fantastic. Today I’m only going to eat one sit down meal. It was mushroom pappardelle and it was absolutely divine, I really enjoyed it! Throughout the day I have had dribs and drabs of calories such as from tea and coffee, 3 or 4 small hard boiled sweets and 4 or so black olive crackers to treat the taste buds. No more than 250 calories I estimate.

    Cravings? Zero.

    This evening I wont be having anything. Its almost 6PM and I’ll be in bed at 10PM. I still feel incredibly satisfied from the pappardelle. I’ll probably have a diet coke or two later on and that will keep me going until bed quite easily. Total calorie intake for the day? Probably not even 1000. Basal metabolic rate? 2200. Deficit of 1200 accrued with consummate ease!

    This weekend we have a hockey game, but unfortunately I am injured so I wont be taking to the field, however, with that deficit accrued today I will be able to indulge myself in a few beers with the guys on saturday, hopefully after we’ve won!

    I wish all IF’ers a great weekend!

    Cheers,
    Richard

    • Johnny says:

      Richard, sounds like you have a smart dietary plan that’s conscientious. It takes thoughtful planning to manage body weight and health in today’s world. Good stuff.

      Best,
      Johnny

  8. Jordan says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I want to thank you for your post on your workout routine. I wanted to ask you on that some questions… Do you have ideas to replace the medball slam and russian twist exercises with other exercises that can also offer an high metabolic workout? Mostly exercises which can be done with bodyweight or some weight (like the burpees or with a kettlebell/dumbell swings but I want to vary a little) since I train at home.
    Also, I noticed that you do any chest exercise or isolation exercise (but you talked about working the biceps/triceps only, maybe you can tell a little more on that?). So my question is, are those muscles are working sufficiently compared to the shoulders or back (push press, deadlift, pullups), in order to have a proportioned body?

    Now, my questions on diet, which are more related to this article. We talk a lot about weight loss, health, eating habits but…for adults only! What about children?
    I have a little brother who is 6, almost 7, and who is a little chubby (like I was younger). I really don’t want to see him fat all his childhood and struggle as I did to lose weight painfully with tons of cardio, and different diets. Which advice(s) can you give me and that aren’t “dangerous” for a child and his growth? As you know, kids eat mostly cereals, cookies, cakes, chips (etc.), so really processed food and heavy on carbs. Also, it will be crazy to put a child at this age on IF and really difficult on eating mostly wholefood…(Maybe for me I don’t know if it’s ideal for growth…I’m almost 18 what’s your thoughts? Is it ok to go on IF and paleo? It won’t hurt my growth?)
    Finally, what about taking Omega 3 supplements and a multivitamin or magnesium, vitamin B supplement? Hard and stressful studies are waiting me and I don’t want to lack of “any” important vitamins/minerals.

    Thank you in advance Johnny!

    • Johnny says:

      Jordan,

      Keep your workouts simple. Hit the body parts that you want to emphasize more. Although arms are involved in most pull and push exercises, I want to emphasize my arms more, so I hit them periodically with some direct arm work. Simple.

      Get your younger brother to eat more wholesome, calorically sparse snacks, and less calorically dense food. At his age, he shouldn’t really focus on intermittent fasting but on developing a good eating habit comprising mostly of wholesome and nutritious food that’s not heavily processed and calorically dense.

      Best,
      Johnny

  9. Jordan says:

    Thank you Johnny, it helps!

    PS: I forgot to ask you, with weights you go on between 1 to 5 sets of 1-5 reps. Which ranges you recommend when training with bodyweight exercises? Is it ok to go high reps, like to failure on those exercises (I train for a proportioned and functional/strong body not for BIG muscles)?

  10. Yannick Messaoud says:

    People need to layoff the processed foods, the junk, the darn candy machine, the energy drinks and last but not least the caffeine.

    One of my friends did the protein diet for 3 months he lost 30 pounds , he is now a slim 180 pounds at 6 feet tall, he looks great, he manage the regain 5 pounds not bad, he is now eating very healthy, 3 times per day, he does snack on fruits.

    If your total cals for a day are 2000 it does not matter if you eat then in 1 meal or 8 you need to stay in that range.

    At my old job i met a girl who was 29 and the only way she manage to lose weight was to eat 6 smalls meal per day, she manage to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks that way, the only thing is that she was always cooking food, she never relied on supplements. For me eating like this is just not conventional and more of a hassle then none.

    I have now beaten severe anemia , eating horse, bison, calf liver and adding black strap molasses to my diet, i have also cut back on high glycemic carbs, added pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, almonds and a mix of lentils and beans. At 38 i have never felt better. Cut out the fruit juice and now drinking unsweetened soy milk and goat milk as well for calcium.

    Also green tea is a double edge sword, at some point it acts like a diuretic and removes calcium from the body, and iron. I used to drink a lot of green tea , my old and incompetent sport doctor told me so, but my new sport doctor told me differently and my whole diet is changed.

    Meat is very important you need it, b-12, iron, protein and a lot more is in meat.

    I just hate the nutrition marketing today, and the bad rep red meat is getting along with milk, my grand mother as been eating red meat, drinking milk and eating molasses for 88 years and she is doing fine.

    I now fast for 12 hours a day i know i should shoot for 15 but i also have to eat all my required foods to stay healthy amazing what a good diet will do for you and your body as you get older.

  11. Jordan says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I want you to ask if you can do an article on how to MAINTAIN the weight/shape once we get to where we want. By the way, I posted a question before, on bodyweight training and if it’s ok to train to failure and will not cause disproporioned or too big muscles compared to my height.

    Thank you in advance!

  12. Audley says:

    As a personal trainer, when it comes to weight loss goals, diet is always the first topic discussed. I had a client who worked hard in the gym, was gaining some muscle (getting larger in the right places) and strength, but would complain he wasn’t losing his gut. Each time I would tell him to get rid of sugar, grains, and eat less. He finally admitted he wasn’t totally following the advice. Then a few weeks ago, he decided to give up the sugar, grain, and eat less, lost 3 pounds in a week. He is now inspired to keep going.
    My trainees don’t like to run into me at the grocery store. I always inspect the wagon to see what they are really eating!
    I usually see my trainees once or twice a week for a 25-35 minute weight workout, mixing in some kettlebells and Olympic type lifts here and there.

  13. Audley says:

    Friend of mine sent me this link to a story on Hershel Walker posing nude at age 48 for ESPN magazine. Says he eats once a day. Sound familiar?

    http://www.collegenews.com/index.php?%2Farticle%2Fhershel_walker_0044334422%2F

    • KevinT says:

      Cool article. This has some more info on it as well:

      http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/10/11/herschel.fitness.martial.arts/?hpt=C2

      Interesting part is he doesn’t eat any protein at all and goes days without eating … when he does eat, it’s salad and bread for dinner. And he trains harder than ever for MMA now.

    • Yannick Messaoud says:

      This man is a true athlete, involved in MMA right now, i saw is first fight with strikeforce a few months ago. I love Hershel Walker, can’t wait to see is next fight. He is an inspiration. Great article.

      I am not against eating once a day as long as all your bases are covered, calcium needs, protein, iron and fibre and all. And as long as you don’t feel weak all the time.

      Diet is everything, you can train for hours on if you eat to much you will never lose weight.

      • Yannick Messaoud says:

        Point here is to get proper blood testing and see if fasting or eating one time per day is good for you or not. To my big surprise being active like i was, eating fairly good and drinking plenty of green tea i was suffering from anemia, i was always tired, and sleeping.

        Its good to be a vegetarian and cut out the meat, but you still have to make sure you get your supplies of iron, protein at least 60g a day as Brad Pilon says in ESE and all your bases covered.

        Changing my diet was the best thing i ever did, i have been suffering from thinning hair since i was 25 years old, now at 38 my hair is growing back, thicker then ever? i have beaten anemia but that made me aware of how eating good foods is important.

        Its not about the next magical diet, low carb, low fat, high protein, its just eating less and getting the most you can from the calories you eat.

        You will lose weight eating once a day at mcdonalds, a bigmac and fries, but what nutrients did you give your body that day.

        Suffering from anemia opened my eyes, on a lot of things, and as made me a bit septic about a lot of things with dieting.

        I still try to be fasted for 12 to 15 hours a day. I still eat a few times in my window, right now for me its what’s working best.

        Fasting can be used for a lot of other benefits then losing weight, last year i had a huge indigestion problem and acid reflux, each time i hate. I started doing ESE fasted for 24h twice a week and everything came back to normal.

      • Johnny says:

        Yes, agreed. Getting your nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) covered is why I emphasize a diet comprised mostly of whole, real food.

        In the end, the over-consumption of processed food (dense in calories and low in nutrients) seem to contribute to much of the modern diseases, inflammation, insulin resistance (central and peripheral), and obesity.

        Simply, processed carbs are a canvas for added calories of all kinds, not to mention the aggressive flavors and mouthfeel that overstimulate the addiction center of the brain, the nucleus accumbens.

        Best,
        Johnny

    • Yannick Messaoud says:

      Great article but i feel they might have mustered it up a bit, i am a fan of Walker for sure, i really want to see where he ends up in is MMA career being an older man myself at 38, its pure inspiration.

      I have a hard time to believe that Hershel does 1400 push ups in the morning and nearly 2000 sit ups, that is bull right there, anyone who as training in karate kyokushin will tell you has well, the hardest karate, and conditioning, the most we did in a class was 500.

      Note eating for 3-4 days and training 7 hours a day, well i have trained fasted a few times, for 24 hours or so and felt great, but i would never get in a MMA, BJJ, Muay thai class fasted for that long, anyone who trained in MMA knows how hard it is on the body, and eating a salad with bread won’t cut it.

      I would be curious to have Brad Pilon point of view on this as well.

  14. Gary Katch says:

    As one who has read Good Calories, Bad Calories, I can spot two possible flaws in the article.

    “Further, this obesity gene didn’t just appear only 35 years ago at the start of the rise in obesity. It was the abundance of food that appeared.”

    Really? There wasn’t enough food before then? I find this indefensible. I don’t remember people starving in the sixties.

    “In the end, it’s overeating that seems to be the greatest contributor to weight gain.”

    That’s a tautology, because if you’re fat you’ve overeaten by definition. It also assumes that overeating causes weight gain. It could also be possible that weight gain (fat storage) causes overeating. In any case, it fails to explain why one might “overeat”. If one has eaten enough to satisfy caloric requirements, why would one continue to eat? And if one does continue to eat, why doesn’t the metabolism increase to compensate, as happens in lean people?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Gary,

      First of all, you’re using a straw man fallacy of logic. No one here said that people were starving in the sixties.

      The abundance of cheap calories arrived several decades ago, when industry turns to sales and profit of food-convenience, and post-industrial families begin to outsource the preparation of their meals. McDonald’s, fast food chains, conglomerate food corporations, and other food manufacturer grew wildly from that time on — and still are today.

      Further, I’ve read Gary Taube’s Good Calories, Bad Calories twice, and I’ve searched for nearly half of the references he listed at the back of the book (many of them obscure and old).

      I won’t argue and debate for or against the information in Gary’s book, as many others have already done a great job at demonstrating much of the cherry-picked information to be flawed in the greater scheme. I personally believe that not everything about GCBC is flawed but not everything is correct, and therefore I won’t debate this topic on The Lean Saloon.

      Instead, I’ll continue to write about a dietary method (IF) that has allowed numerous previously overweight and obese people to achieve leanness long-term, with potentially significant improvement in health.

      Finally, if you read Good Calories, Bad Calories critically, then you already know that the entire premise is a hypothesis no more proven than that of the high-carb Pritikins diet.

      Best,
      Johnny

      • Gary Katch says:

        I take it your contention is that as an abundance of cheap calories became available, people started to eat more because the food became cheaper to buy, and the population became fatter. I think that’s incorrect — and it still doesn’t explain why people would eat more.

        Suppose everyone in the country had access to food for free — an all-you-can-eat buffet. Further, let’s say it’s the types of food that you eat in your diet (good food). Do you think people would get really, really obese because they could eat all they want? I don’t think so. A healthy diet and a healthy metabolism regulates appetite, satiety, and the weight of the animal. My point is that before the sixties, many people could in fact eat as much as they wanted, and we didn’t have the current crisis in that subpopulation. In fact, obesity tends to show itself in poorer subpopulations!

        But if you give everybody a free buffet of crap food, they probably would fatten. Taubes’ main point is that it’s not the amount of calories in food that is driving obesity, it’s the quality of those calories.

        Now if you subscribe to his theory, that refined carbs drive insulin which drives fat storage which drives hunger, the paradoxes disappear.

      • Johnny says:

        Gary,

        I’ve written many times on this blog that cheap calories are not only calorically dense but also stimulate appetite, in turn causing overeating. The regulation of appetite, eating behavior, and energy expenditure is based on central processes more complicated than just a single macronutrient. If you believe (from your reading of GCBC) that carbohydrates drive insulin which drives fat storage which drives energy dysregulation which drives more fat and ultimately leads to “laziness,” then you’re basing it all on an unproven assumption, or at best on an incomplete model. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before and it’s something I won’t put stock into currently.

        For one, I’ve personally seen people who adopt a strict Paleo diet but many didn’t lose weight (while some got heavier). 6 handfuls of almonds and a stick of butter with a steak can still blow the daily calorie allotment. For another, there are cultures who eat diets upward of 80 to 90% starchy, high-glycemic carbohydrates like potatoes but are lean and healthy. And further, there is evidence that protein can drive insulin just as much as carbohydrates, yet a high protein diet has been shown to be an effective weight loss strategy.

        The whole premise that carbohydrates drive insulin which drives fat which drives energy dysregulation which drives “laziness” needs to be reassessed before anyone trolls the internet to complicate a weight loss strategy that is in the end quite simple. Eat mostly whole, real food, and eat less of it.

        Here’s some reading material to balance the one-sided view one may gain from reading Gary Taubes’s book GCBC:

        Appetite control

        Insulin’s Undeserved Reputation 1

        Insuline’s Underserved Reputation 2

        Insuline’s Reputation 3

        In the end, I don’t think that the information in GCBC is such an evil thing, but I have a problem that it’s interpreted and spread as proof rather than hypothesis –especially when there’s evidence that a diet extremely high in carbohydrates in many populations and in cultures has not transpired into metabolic disorders and diseases for which we like to blame a single macronutrient like carbohydrates.

        Johnny

      • Yannick Messaoud says:

        Well the only thing people eat today is processed foods, its not complicated why cancer is at an all time high, obesity too.

        Even fat free diet products are loaded with sugar. When i first started a new job last year the vending machine had some apples, and pears, fresh milk and sandwich (whole wheat bread and eggs), for a reason i do not understand now the vending machine, has fat muffins, 450 calorie cookies advertised to be good because they contain omega 3, leaving out the 60g of sugar, no more fruits, guess they where replaced by gummy bears with whoooo added vitamin C.

        Its not over yet, my feeling is that its just the start, think Wendy’s just came out with the new baconater that is around 2000 calories or something like that and PFK take the cake.

  15. Lillea says:

    I totally agree with you Johnny. Thank you for helping people understand the truth about calories, meal timing, and exercise!

    I’ve stayed slim for my entire adult life by paying careful attention to calories, primarily. Exercise is secondary. I am quite active, so that allows me to eat more and remain slim compared to most women my size, but not by as much as people would like to believe – only 500 calories more a day at most at my most active. Intermittent fasting + the “Paleo” foods I focus on now make staying slim easier thanks to reduced hunger and better energy levels overall.

    For a while I have been doing a daily fast of close to 20-22 hours. I eat my day’s intake within 2-3 hr period before bed. As long as my calories are in check, I stay slim. I love it. πŸ™‚

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Lillea,

      Not as complicated as people make it out to be!

      Are you like me and feel guilty at how simple getting and staying lean is, while others read big-volume books on dietary hypothesis and presume they understand the multifactoral issue of overweight and obesity?

      I feel guilty sometimes, like winning a small lottery.

      Best,
      Johnny

      • Lillea says:

        Hi Johnny,

        Yes, truth is magic to me. πŸ™‚ I am so grateful that my dad, who is very sensible and scientific, told me about the simplicity of this when I was a teenager. Off I went to get a good calorie book and could quickly see why I was heavier than I wanted to be at that time – I was definitely eating too much! lol πŸ™‚

    • Gary Katch says:

      “I’ve stayed slim for my entire adult life by paying careful attention to calories…”

      Hi Lillea,

      I don’t know how old you are, as your photo is quite small, but let me assume you are 27, so you’ve been an adult for 10 years. During these 3,650 days, eating maybe 2000 calories a day, you would have eaten about 7,300,000 calories. Let’s further assume you’re within 2 lbs of your weight at 17, so within 6000 calories. If true, then over ten years what you are claiming is that you have been able to consciously match your intake to your expenditure to an accuracy of 0.08%! It’s just impossible.

      No, the real reason you are still the same weight is because you have a healthy metabolism, consisting of a complex system of cellular interactions controlled by a complex hormonal system, finely tuned by millions of years of evolution to maintain a balance. It has nothing to do with your caloric judgement!

      • Lillea says:

        Hi Gary,

        I don’t agree with you based on the better research, but I am not here to debate, only to share my experience.

        James Kreiger has excellent articles on this subject and more here. He does a good job of explaining where Gary Taubes made errors in his book:

        http://www.weightology.net

        I’ll be 40 this year. I look young for my age. Yes, I actually have been quite meticulous about weighing and measuring my food, not eating out much (or at all now), and doing all of the things that most people don’t do when tracking calories that throw them off. I know very few people who have been this careful with calories outside of professional bodybuilders. I am happily obsessive compulsive about it. I love it. Love my digital food scale, which I calibrate. πŸ™‚ Also, I learned which foods were best for satiety for me so my appetite doesn’t drive me crazy, making it easier to eat less.

        I have deliberately gained weight by overeating fat and protein and being low carb to test the idea that a person can do that and not gain weight, and I gained weight. lol I didn’t want to get fat, so I reduced my calorie intake again, and lost the weight.

        I’ve used the calorie model to lose or gain to be the weight I prefer, yes. I am capable of gaining weight, and there are heavy people in my family. I like to eat, so that’s why I must be careful. When I allow myself to eat without measuring, I will gain weight and have to lose it again. But when I have tested that, I have made sure to lose the weight as soon as I could so it was never more than, say, 7 lbs tops.

        I have not always had good health, and probably will never have great health. In fact, I have been hypothyroid in my life which should have made weight gain more likely, but I simply compensated by eating even less and exercising more.

  16. Wood says:

    Is it normal, that on fasting days I fell incredible pump in my muscles?

  17. Jordan D. says:

    “Taubes’ main point is that it’s not the amount of calories in food that is driving obesity, it’s the quality of those calories.”

    I think it would be more accurate to state that it’s a calorie surplus that drives weight gain, and it’s the consumption of high calorie, aggressively flavored, inexpensive, and abundant processed foods that drive much- but not all- of the calorie surplus. Yes, they’re easy to overeat (although as Johnny pointed out, it’s certainly possible to overeat high-calorie whole foods like beef, pork, cheese, nuts and seeds, and foods prepared with lots of butter,) but they have to be *overeaten* to cause weight gain.

    • Gary Katch says:

      “…but they have to be *overeaten* to cause weight gain.”

      You’ve assumed causality here, which is unproven. You assume that overeating causes weight gain. It’s also possible that weight (fat) gain drives overeating, which is another of Taubes’ hypotheses.

      In either case, thermodynamics are not the issue, only cause and effect.

      • KevinT says:

        Hey Gary … I read through some of the posts on your blog (the water pump analogy was pretty interesting … my wife is a chemical engineer & works with public water systems).

        I’m curious, what’s your “2 minute elevator answer” to how to lose weight. How have you personally lost fat or maintained from gaining it?

        I like Johnny’s “Eat real foods just not too much” but there does seem to also be some mental battles going on too – which are pretty tough to shake.

      • Jordan D. says:

        Gary, it’s not an assumption. People are gaining weight because of their excessive calorie intakes, and they are creating those calorie surpluses by eating lots of high calorie, highly palatable, highly available foods. No need to complicate it beyond that.

        Congratulations on losing 15 pounds in three months! That’s wonderful, especially given how long you wanted to accomplish it. I also lost 63 pounds, including about 55 pounds in six months, eating my favorite foods, just less of them. So good for both of us! We’re all different, and there’s nothing wrong with taking different routes on our weight loss journeys. A calorie deficit is necessary to reduce body fat, and however one chooses to create that deficit is their choice. You have your way, I have mine. πŸ™‚

      • Gary Katch says:

        Hi all,
        I felt I did not do a great job presenting my case for the causality of weight gain. Rather than clutter Johnny’s comments further, I wrote a longer treatise in my own blog. If interested, please comment there.

        http://gkdietandhealth.blogspot.com

        Best,
        GK

  18. Jordan D. says:

    “I am happily obsessive compulsive about it. I love it.”

    Lillea, that’s so great that it works so well for you, not just physically, but psychologically, too! πŸ™‚ It’s wonderful to see someone so in control of their diet, rather than their diet controlling them.

    • Lillea says:

      Thanks Jordan! It is definitely possible, which is so awesome. πŸ™‚

      I really look forward to my meals every day. I only eat foods I like the taste of, and I know the foods that are likely to trigger appetite in me (false hunger, I mean) so I limit or avoid them. It took me many years to figure some of that out, but along the way, I was good about calories and figured out how to minimize hunger (for example, back in my lowfat semi-vegetarian days, I would eat lots of fibre and have several mini meals – the hunger would drive me nuts if I didn’t do that – LOL!). Oh, I had all kinds of tricks that worked to keep the calories down, but what a pain. Healthwise, Paleo is the best for me by far. Satiety rocks! πŸ™‚

  19. Gary Katch says:

    @KevinT: I think my advice is the same as Johnny’s, which is a fundamental one: eat real food (I would leave out the “not too much” part for a healthy individual, because fat is regulated naturally). Of course then you have the very difficult problem of deciding what constitutes “real food” which is another hot debate!

    Three years ago I went paleo, and dropped 15 lbs. in six months, effortlessly. I had been trying to lose those pounds for 25 years (I’m 54 now) using the low-fat/watch portions/exercise method.

    When I became lean (I was always considered “thin”) now at 18% body fat, I wanted to know why I lost weight. This was without exercise, and involved no weighing or measuring or counting. In the fall of 2007 Taubes’ book came out, and it provided many possible answers to my questions. I feel he is definitely on the right track, only the details still have to be worked out.

    • Johnny says:

      Gary, fat may be regulated naturally in some people while not in others. Some people naturally fidget, while others do not — even stated in GCBC — whether they’re obese or life-time normal weight. As far as I understand it, this energy-regulation phenomenon is not clearly understood, and can be attributed to morphologic categories based on genetics (which still doesn’t say much).

      In any case, I’m not arguing against a low-carb diet; I naturally eat a low-carb diet containing mostly fibrous vegetables and some fruits. There are many studies that show low-carb weight-loss diets are metabolically healthier than traditional weight-loss diets. But this is a comparison to traditional low-calorie diets WITHOUT intermittent fasting. I personally believe that a low-calorie diet based on intermittent fasting is metabolically superior to traditional low-calorie weight-loss diets (with no IF).

      The difference between the intermittent fasting diet and the low-carb diet may be the lifestyle and eating liberation — the health benefits observed in both are hard to compare without further data.

      Best,
      Johnny

      • Yannick Messaoud says:

        It all comes down to genetics, i feel that they where wrong when they devised the body in 3 types.

        The Ectomorph, the Mesomorph, the Endomorph.

        They did not take into account that the body might change with age.

        I started my life as an Ectomorph, i was very skinny and a true hardgainer. Now at 38 my body as changed and i put on bodyfat a lot faster so my body typing would have changed to the extreme an Endomorph.

        That does not make sense at all. Also the 1 diet fits all fails miserably too. One of my work buddies was eating tones of crap, donuts, cappuccino with sugar and fast food, yet he was a very slime 140 pounds with an 8 pack as abs. He used to really make me angry because i was eating the right way and was always smooth in the mid section never seeing my abs.

        For me a high protein diet makes me lose tones of weight, when i switch back to regular eating i gain it all back and more. I have mixed reviews on insulin and fat. Lyle Mcdonalds as written some very good studies about this. But then again high protein low carb is simply not for everyone.

        As i said before my body and my diet as to have meat, anemia in my body did not just appear out of no where, so it was clear that my body was missing a key component right there.

        Other people might not develop anemia even if they are vegetarian.

        I am glad that i found my new sport doctor when i did and that with is help i was able to fine tune my diet, blood test are crucial to find out if your body is missing on something.

        What works best for me is a mix of lentils, meat , some frozen fruits , goat, soy and cow milk, blackstrap molasses and a mix of nuts.

        But this way of eating might not be suitable for someone else.

        Its all about how we feel. Also at 38 i have been weight training for a very long time nearly 22 years, so my body as build some bodymass, at 5 foot 10 i weight around 215 pounds, my BF% is 20%, i would have a really hard time dieting down to 180 pounds, cutting calories that low at some point i will be missing on nutrients that my body needs, right now i eat very close to 2000 calories a day image and that keeps my in the range of 215 pounds.

        I do consider my bodyfat to be pertty good since i have seen people weighting 160 pounds having close to 18% bodyfat.

        Of course there is always place for changes and my ultimate goal is to get my BF at around 15%. But that takes fine tuning and is another story.

  20. Jordan D. says:

    Gary, you wrote at your blog: “For instance, why caloric restriction and exercise are so ineffective as a long term solution: it does not correct the underlying imbalance.”

    Any dietary strategy can be problematic in the long term! For example, I lost weight on a low carb diet several years ago. I went from 267 to 202 lbs. Then I plateaued at around 205-208 for eleven months, then I slowly crept back up to the 250’s. Oops! lol. Weight loss is relatively easy, long term maintenance is the real challenge.

    Another example: recently, I went from 255 to 193 lbs. via calorie reduction, but guess what? I’ve been off my diet for three months! I overate pretty significantly for the first two months, gained several pounds back. Fortunately, I regained some semblance of control, and have basically been at maintenance level for the past month, hovering around 202. (Dieting is pretty easy for me, but starting the diet, or starting it up again, is so hard!) So not only do I have to lose another 25-30 pounds (which apparently may be harder than the previous weight loss,) I have to keep it off for the rest of my life. No one said it was going to be easy!

    The point is that any diet can fail, or be difficult to maintain, whether it’s low carb, Paleo, IF, vegan, or simple calorie restriction. But really, it’s not the diet that fails, it’s the human that fails. I take responsibility for my failures. We all should. No more blame games! Our failures aren’t the result of a hormone, or a macro-nutrient, or a type of sugar or fat, or corporations or restaurants or the government, or the culture at large. We are all responsible for our weight gain/ loss/ maintenance.

    While I still have to prove to myself that I can keep it off this time around, and I’m certainly under no illusion that it will always be easy for me, I do believe that I can do it now because I finally understand that it’s all about a calorie deficit, not carbs, or fat, or insulin, or saturated fat, or fructose, or anything else. I believe that that will help keep me on track. Even when I suffer a setback, as I have recently, I know I can get back on the horse by regaining control of my calorie intake.

    So, whatever strategy I choose to use (and who knows, maybe I’ll try a whole foods approach eventually; at the very least, it would be more nutritious,) I know it’s the underlying principle of a calorie deficit that matters in terms of weight loss/ maintenance.

    (My apologies for the length of this comment. lol.)

    • Lillea says:

      Wow, that’s a great summary of what it takes Jordan. Excellent points. I appreciate your honesty about mistakes you made along the way. I wish more people would look at their habits/behavior so clearly as you have.

      I’ve changed the kinds of food I eat over the years to move toward better health and satiety, which can help a lot with maintenance I find. But I truly like what I eat. If the foods and way of eating during a “diet” are really far from what a person would ever want to do day in and out, the odds are probably quite high that they *won’t* be able to maintain their loss after the losing phase is over.

      I’ve had challenges along the way. For example, I could sometimes be an emotional eater during stressful times, so I had to come to terms with that. It doesn’t mean I will never do it again – I probably will – but it’s much more manageable now because I stop myself sooner. And even at my worst with it, I would do my best to lose any weight I gained during the bad week I had.

      I personally like the whole foods approach because I feel better on it, but I managed to stay within a few lbs of the weight I prefer eating some crap in the past. πŸ™‚ I used to love pure sugar candies, for example, like jellybeans. Over time I realised that I would just get far too hungry after eating stuff like that, no matter how much of it I ate, so I reduced how much of it I ate, then cut it out completely and rarely miss it now. I counted the calories in the candies, of course, so I didn’t gain massive weight on them, but the hunger challenge that followed would drive me insane. Why suffer if you don’t have to, right? πŸ™‚

      Also, I discovered some nasty food intolerances. I had no clue I had them until I started to do some experiments and realised how much better I felt w/o those foods, and that some of them tended to make me bloat a bit with water. I didn’t jump into how I eat now (Paleo) cold turkey, it was a process/progression. I never would have imagined eating this way a few years ago. πŸ™‚

  21. Bangkok Jay says:

    Short comment. Against the proliferation of commercially oriented blogs to promote “new” programs in fitness/diet/stubborn fat loss, etc., I’m grateful for blogs such as yours, Johnny, that provide a voice of reason with enough bits of supporting science/research. Kudos to your growing site and gratitude for the beacon you provide. – Jay

  22. Audley says:

    It’s great to see intellegent discussion on a subject that becomes very heated in some circles. I have family members that get quite irate about diet.
    The hard part with the diet issue is finding out what works for you. I am a reformed jogger, as running 5-8 miles 2 or 3 times a week may not sound like much to a marathon runner, but my knees told me otherwise. I would read the magazines and follow the pasta, pasta, pasta diet. My bodyfat was high, but I looked lean, typical of many runners. After type 2 diabetes reared it’s ugly head 6 years ago, I changed to the no grain/no sugar diet. Carb withdrawal is no joke, I went through 3 weeks of hell before I started feeling better. How many people would have given up ? I almost did, but the thought of taking meds the rest of my life kept me going. (I haven’t taken a pill or insulin ever). Now IF has entered the picture; I have done this slowly, first giving up the snacks, then a meal here and there. I like the lifestyle for many reasons, I don’t miss making sure I have snacks to take along. I will be curious to see what my A1C numbers will look like next time I go for bloodwork.
    I do suggest this for other diabetes. Would this work for others in my situtation? Most likely yes. Will they do it? That answer lies with each person.

  23. Jordan D. says:

    Thanks, Lillea. Maybe that was too much information, I dunno, but it’s out there now! lol.

    Yeah, it has to be sustainable. Adherence is key. I’ve always ate foods that I like when I lose weight, but maybe I like them a little too much! haha. We just have to keep learning new things as we go along, and refining our approach. Easier said than done, but that’s the journey, warts and all. The main thing is commitment. I’m fully committed and won’t give up, so I feel pretty optimistic because of that.

    Since processed foods tend to provide that deadly combination of highly palatable + high in calories, I do think it would be worthwhile to reduce or eliminate them. I’ve certainly reduced my intake, otherwise I wouldn’t have lost the weight. But I have thought about “taking a break” from those foods, maybe for a month or so. Try to flush them out of my psyche, so to speak. Maybe over time my “relationship” with food will improve to the point where I can have a slice of cheesecake or a cup of peanut butter cup ice cream a couple of times per week without it snowballing into something out of my control. Get into a better place mentally, and “habit-wise,” and then move on to moderation from there. Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t, but I’m willing to give it a shot. I’m open to trying out some things and see what works.

    Sure, whole foods taste good, too, but why do people put barbecue sauce on meat? Why do they fry chicken in oil and breading? Why do they eat processed meats like bacon and sausage? What do we overeat, plain chicken or fried chicken? Exactly. As I like to say, we’ve designed our foods to taste too good for our own good! It’s like we haven’t developed the coping mechanism to handle these new foods- or should I say, new flavors. πŸ™‚ The temptation overwhelms us.

    Re: food intolerances. I don’t know if I have any, but I do tend to get red, flaky skin on my nose. It has improved with treatment (it used to be on my forehead but that’s practically gone now,) but it hasn’t completely gone away. I have no idea if it has anything to do with food intake, but it’s something I’ve thought about. If so, that would be reason enough to make a change, regardless of weight loss. As Mark Haub has proven, weight loss is possible while eating junk food, but if a dietary modification would benefit my skin issue, it would be worth it. It’s a pretty minor issues, but still gets on my nerves! πŸ™‚

    • Lillea says:

      Hi again Jordan,

      Yes, so true that if food tastes good, whether it’s “healthy” or not, it can be overeaten! I’ve overeaten healthy foods myself. I went to town with Tropical Traditions coconut cream concentrate, for example, which is simply ground up organic coconut, nothing else added. Nutritionally quite excellent but wow, high calorie! It tastes a bit like fudge (well, to me) so of course I just *had* to keep tasting it. LOL. Because it was just too hard for me to limit consumption, I don’t buy it any more. Or, if I want it, I’ll buy one small package of another brand instead of the big TT jar. πŸ™‚

      I use seasonings (herbs, spices, salt) and flavorful fats to make the foods I eat tasty, but they are still not as “tempting” to overeat them as some of the foods I used to eat, so I know what you mean.

      Yes, perhaps your skin issue might benefit from a change. I can understand your annoyance with that. My skin is much better on Paleo. Not perfect, though. Ah well. πŸ™‚ Have you ever been checked for psoriasis? It has many forms, and is often misdiagnosed. Some people find that diet helps, but wow, skin issues can be far too mysterious, can’t they?

      • Liam says:

        i have found, over the last 6 months or so, that i never get pimples if i dont eat grains. Im 22 and have always had pimples (though not bad anymore), but since eliminating them, my skin is clear.

        When i do eat sugar or bread or processed foods, i get my pimples back. Its strange, when i went on Roaccutane (hardcore acne drugs) in my youth, the dermatologist made mention of how diet does not affect acne, people are predisposed to it. Turns out there was a slight problem with my diet lol

  24. danrivera says:

    Where in nature would one find the combination of sweet, salty, and fatty?
    Where? What fruit? What animal? A sea creature, perhaps? Say you’ve got some fruit and you’ve killed your wild boar, and now its time to sit down and eat. Do these things taste good together? Do they scream “just can’t have enough?” when both are in your mouth at the same time?
    Processed foods are designed by scientists to taste good to you. I liken it to how cocaine is processed from coca to get you high; We take corn syrup from corn, we take white flour from whole grains, we take peanut butter from peanuts. The modern unhealthy diet is a fattening concoction of extracts. It’s not a hard concept to understand.

  25. Jordan D. says:

    Lillea, that coconut cream concentrate is very good! πŸ™‚ I agree, it can be more practical to just not buy something than to attempt to dole it out a little at a time. I was able to practice moderation for the six months or so that I lost over 60 pounds, and I was pretty proud of my willpower, and even got some compliments about it! lol. But obviously that effort came to an end eventually. I don’t know if I want to try it again, or take another route.

    Liam, I’ve heard that from quite a few people. Of course, I’ve also heard vegans make that claim when they switch their diets, so who knows! Maybe it’s whole food diets, in general, that help. My main focus is weight loss, but improving this minor skin problem would be a lovely bonus. I’ll see what happens.

    Dan, exactly! It’s not a hard concept to understand at all. Although I will say that there are certain meats that can be very easy to overeat. For me, it would probably be country ribs, without sauce. If it’s cooked right, it’s so tender and so good! I could eat a ton of that, nothing added. So there are individual differences that have to be taken into account. Like Lillea mentioned about coconut cream concentrate, we have to be wary of any food that overwhelms our self-control, whole or processed. There’s no one path for everybody.

  26. Lillea says:

    Dan: yes, exactly! The chemists who mastermind some of the processed foods out there know what they’re doing, often to our detriment. I remember reading the book ‘Fighting the Food Giants’ by Paul Stitt. He used to work for one of the big companies, and in his book he shares some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.

    Jordan: I have been known for my will of steel too πŸ™‚ and you’re so right, it’s hard to have that kind of total control every day, forever! I think the best that people can do is not try to be “perfect” with diet, but instead try to manage things in such a way that any ‘slip ups’ can be made up for quickly, so they aren’t really slip ups in the end. With that coconut cream concentrate, I gained about 1.5 lbs in a week (I’m small, so that showed on my body more than it would on a larger person) thanks to overshooting my daily needs. I was still weighing and measuring, so I knew just how much I was overdoing it, and sure enough, the scale reflected that. lol. Sheesh. πŸ™‚ I came to terms with the emotional reason I was pigging out on it, but I stopped buying it too, because I knew I was too susceptible to it’s charms. πŸ™‚

    Liam: Both grains (including rice) and dairy seem to lead to acne for me so the Paleo type diet helps me a lot. Dairy is the worst for me. And I was having very high quality dairy because I used to be a WAPF chapter leader. I was making my own yogurt from whole goat milk and things like that. I may try ghee at some point, because Loren Cordain and other researchers I pay attention to say that it’s the protein in dairy that is the problem, and testing via Enterolab showed that I’m sensitive to casein (one of the main milk proteins). High quality ghee, like the stuff that Pure Indian Foods makes from 100% grass fed cows, is pretty much pure fat (with only tiny traces of protein at best) and many people report they do well on it. Ghee can be made at home, but it’s trickier without commercial equipment to remove as much of the casein oneself.

  27. Mike says:

    A friend that I’ve mentioned IF forwarded this to me, any thoughts on this?
    http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/080215.htm

    ——————————
    The first study analysis showed that consuming a one-meal-per-day diet, rather than a traditional three-meal-per-day diet, is feasible for a short duration. It showed that when the volunteers were “one-mealers,” they had significant increases in total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol and in blood pressure, compared to when they were “three-mealers.”

    The changes in cardiovascular disease risk factors occurred despite the fact that the one- mealers saw slight decreases in their weight and fat mass in comparison to when they were three-mealers. Those findings were published in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

    Further analysis of the study group showed that when the volunteers were one-mealers, they had higher morning fasting blood sugar levels, higher and more sustained elevations in blood sugar concentrations, and a delayed response to the body’s insulin, compared to when they were “three-mealers.” Insulin is required to lower blood sugar levels. Those findings were published in the December 2007 issue of Metabolism.
    ——————————

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Mike,

      Glad you posted the link. Here’s my response:

      – The authors (of the studies and the article) are under the old assumption that cholesterol (good or bad) causes heart diseases.

      – Appearance of cholesterol and other lipids in the blood doesn’t indicate whether they’re “coming” or “going” — that is, whether they’re being stored into tissues or liberated out of tissues.

      – In one-meal-a-day subjects, morning fasting blood glucose may be high due to the single larger meal eaten the night before, which naturally takes longer to digest and assimilate.

      – In fasting subjects, sustained higher level of blood sugar may be due to the body’s preferential utilization of fatty acids, or the liver’s increased manufacturing of glucose as a response to greater release of chatecholamines such as glucagon, etc. , and not a failure of tissue’s utilization of glucose.

      – In fasting subjects, the body’s response to insulin is naturally slower; in fasting subjects, the body has little need for insulin, and the insulin ramp-up period is slower — as learned the hard way by soldiers who fed concentration camp prisoners whose insulin ramp-up could not clear the sudden on-slaught of blood sugar.

      – I don’t recommend a one-meal-per-day fasting regimen as a regular eating patterns, not because it’s necessarily bad but because it’s obsessive and not sustainable for most — even though quite a few people do this very successfully.

      Best,
      Johnny

  28. Jordan D. says:

    Lillea, that’s what I’ve learned about myself through all this. Dieting is pretty easy for me, but starting or re-starting a diet is tough! After dieting for about six months, I wanted to take a break for a week or two, and now it’s been three months! lol. Once I get used to eating a certain amount, I resist changing that amount.

    This has actually worked to my advantage though, because once I got used to eating less, eating much more than that became less desirable. My overeating now isn’t nearly as bad as my legendary binges in the past! We get used to eating more, and we get used to eating less. This is probably the only reason why my weight has stabilized in the low 200’s, despite not dieting strictly. I’ve overeaten, but not like I used to. But obviously it works to my disadvantage, as well.

    So yeah, I need to get better at managing those slip ups and getting back on the horse much more quickly. That will be my next challenge. πŸ™‚

    • Lillea says:

      “once I got used to eating less, eating much more than that became less desirable. My overeating now isn’t nearly as bad as my legendary binges in the past! We get used to eating more, and we get used to eating less.”

      Me too! It’s good that it doesn’t just work one way so eating less can become the new normal for people, if they just allow a bit of time to transition.

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