METI’s Column - Is exercise important for weight loss?

By Dr Walter Vermeulen 11 February 2024, 1:00PM

People have been conditioned to think of exercise as a key ingredient — perhaps the most important ingredient — of any weight loss effort. Think of the ‘Fika Fou’ program we have been watching for years on our Television screens and the National Daily Preoccupation with Zumba.

But in truth, and sorry for disappointing some of our readers, the evidence has been accumulating for years that exercise - while great for health (and we have repeatedly emphasized that point in previous columns) - isn’t actually all that important for weight loss.

As obesity researchers highlight, one underreported fact about exercise is that even when you do a big workout, the extra calories you burn only account for a small part of your total energy use or spending (also called ‘energy expenditure’).  

Let me explain. There are three main components to energy expenditure: 1) the basal metabolic rate, that is the energy that is used for basic functioning when the body is at rest; 2) the energy used to break down food; and then 3) the energy used in physical activity.

What is important to realize is that we have very little control over our basal metabolic rate: we have practically no control over how much energy we expend on using our brain, heart and lungs for example, but it takes the lion’s share of what energy is available: in fact, between 60 to 80 per cent of total energy expenditure. Digesting the food that you eat accounts for about 10 per cent.

That leaves only 10 to 30 per cent for physical activity, of which exercise is only a part: because physical activity includes all movement, not just exercising but also such as doing your routine household chores and just walking, fussing or playing around.

To put that further into perspective: while your food intake accounts for 100 per cent of the energy that goes into your body, exercise only burns off less than 10 to 30 per cent of it. The truth of the story is that if you are overeating (which is obvious if you are obese), it will be a lot harder to shed these extra pounds by just exercising.   

And then there are the psychological factors that further make it even harder to lose weight: it is not uncommon, after a good workout to ‘celebrate’ your achievement… and increase your food intake after exercise. Several studies found that people generally overestimate how much energy they burn by exercising. And that extra doughnut or ice cream representing about 250 calories will undo the benefit of an hour’s workout…

The problem is that these obese individuals, wanting to use exercise as a way to lose weight, invariably are eating the fatty, Western animal-based diet that puts a large number of calories in their body, 50 per cent of which come from the fat in their food. And of course, any calories that are not used for the body’s maintenance are converted into fat and stored under the skin.

In theory, it is possible to burn these extra calories by exercise but you would have to do an awful lot more exercise than people realize. As a commonsensical alternative, which we have mentioned so many times, by switching to the whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet that METI promotes, the pounds –almost miraculously- will start melting away – in a matter of days… How come? It is simply that the WFPB diet is low in fats, only 10 per cent of the total energy intake. This decreases the total amount of calories that you take in a day. There is only so much you can put in your stomach… we tell the participants to eat as much as they want of the four food groups that are allowed: vegetables, fruits, legumes (that are peas, beans or lentils) and grains. By doing so, they eat as much –in volume- as they ate before, but this time the food is less heavy on calories - about 1000 calories less a day.

So, you face the stark choice: Either follow the WFPB diet and lose weight without the need for exercise, or continue to eat the fatty Western animal-based diet and get rid of those extra 1000 calories that such a diet would put in your body, you would need to run… ten miles every day to get rid of these extra calories!

We want to finish this column with a sobering story. It is that of one of the ‘exercise gurus’, who rose to fame in the 70s and 80s, the American James Fixx. He wrote books that boosted the exercise movement in the USA. Fixx died in 1984, at age 52 of a heart attack during his daily run. The autopsy revealed that atherosclerosis had blocked one coronary artery 95 per cent, a second 85 per cent, and a third 70 per cent.

A review of his medical records revealed that an unhealthy lifestyle was to blame for his demise: he had been a heavy smoker before beginning running at age 36, he lived a stressful life and had gained extra weight on a standard animal-based American diet. No amount of exercise can undo the damage caused by such a lifestyle.

As always, we invite you to visit METI’s Healthy Living Clinic at House No. 51 at Motootua (across from the Kokobanana Restaurant) and attend our weekly Health seminar and cooking demonstration that will help you to become acquainted with METI’s whole food plant-based diet. You can call us at 30550.


By Dr Walter Vermeulen 11 February 2024, 1:00PM
Samoa Observer

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