Diet vs. Exercise on Obesity: Salads or Marathons?

I’ve always been a somewhat cynical individual. I meet people and tend to make up my mind on someone too early. This was especially true of fat people earlier in my life.

I believed what society told me- or more specifically, the government- in that, if you wanted to lose weight, you just had to exercise more and eat according to their pyramid. Also that you were probably stuffing your face and being a piggy.

Many recent events in my life have completely changed that notion. For the past two years or so, I have been through periods whilst very sick and the medication I was put on had me craving very calorie-dense, unhealthy foods. And a lot of them. Because of my very large appetite, I tried eating healthy. Salads, fruits, lean meats, grains, and very little processed foods. This would be the “healthy diet” you’ll hear from the USDA and most people interested in health. Too bad it doesn’t work; I gained more than a little weight. The first time around I gained 70 pounds, the second time was 55 pounds. Oh and did I mention? I was exercising extremely hard. High intensity interval training, long runs, weight lifting, taking the stairs rather than the escalator, and it was all for naught.

Granted, I was consuming large quantities of food, which means even with the best of diets, I couldn’t have done much better than break even. But 70 pounds in 9 months is a staggering figure, as is 55 pounds in 6 months. But I have also shown a resiliency to lose this weight and this is why I have a slightly different perspective on obesity. Anyway, I don’t mean to focus on my 2012 and 2014. Let’s focus on fat people.

Survival Instincts are What’s Killing Us

I’m not going to get into calories here, simply because the math doesn’t work by itself. The sheer amount of calorie deficiencies and exercise to drop a pound of fat is considered an absurdity in the online health community, and to be honest, I agree with them. That’s not to say that calories are completely irrelevant, but it’s far more important of the qualityof the calories you consume the calories themselves.

Ridiculous! You might exclaim. Your food is “fortified” and has all sorts of vitamin & mineral additives, how could it not be as healthy as eating a tomato? Not that Ramen Noodles are fortified at all, but one drastic story to explain my point is the teen who had been living on solely Ramen for 13 years, since the age of 5. Her health at 18 is being described as as poor as an 80-year olds.

Ok, fine. Cheap shot. You don’t eat Ramen every day, but do you really feel safe consuming large amounts of dairy, meat, grains, and processed food products every day? Your brain loves it, sure; it simulates all that we humans used to look for in survival. Salty, fatty, and sweet (SFS) tastes encouraged our survival, simply because they were denser foods through which we could subsist on in the wild. Was it an everyday occurrence that early humans found a deep-fried sugary donut in the morning, a peanut butter jelly sandwich for lunch, and a slice of pizza with a salad for dinner? Impossible.

So our brains are hardwired to seek out these SFS foods, as our bodies are still in survival mode. And because these incredibly heavy foods are very nutrient-poor, we are hungry more often. Our stomachs also don’t fill up nearly as much from 400 calories in pizza as they would be from a salad:

So, to recap: we’re hardwired to seek out processed, calorie-dense foods (i.e. addicted) and they don’t fill up our stomachs fully (we go hungry or we get fat). Let’s move on to exercise.

Exercise

I have already written on exercise in the past as a means of becoming fit, however it is not necessarily needed to become skinny. Anyone running every day will of course slowly lose weight, but as it compares to diet’s impact on overall physique, the results are unmatched. No amount of exercise can compete with my current diet, especially for people who are not fit and don’t have the energy or stamina to put in 3 hours at the gym every day. Most scientists I’ve seen online say it’s 80/20 or 75/25 between diet and exercise in terms of effectiveness. One even went on to say “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” Another said, “It’s much easier to cut 500 calories than to spend an hour at the gym burning 500 calories every day.” While I think calories oversimplifies the issue, it provides helpful images like the one I shared above and can equate food with exercise in simplistic terms.

What exercise will do for you, however, is:

  • Strengthen your core
  • Improve bone density
  • Improve your mood and mental health
  • Drastically improve your circulatory and respiratory systems
  • Maintain existing muscle mass
  • Prevent injuries
  • Improve sexual performance
  • And even prevent cancer (although diet does a far better job if you’re strict enough)

Without it, you will lose muscle and bone density alongside fat as you eat well. So there is a great deal of value to being physically fit (through exercise) as there is to trying to lose excess fat (through diet).

However, as I indicated in my simplistic description of exercise on diet, obesity is caused almost exclusively by poor eating choices.

Okay, Let’s Blame The Excess Fat on Poor Eating Choices

Calling obesity a choice implies a level of education and ability to actually choose the right foods for consumption. In many cases, this is simply not the case.

First there are children who simply eat what their parents feed them. This is hardly the kids’ fault, and in fact, parents need to be held far more accountable. Next in line are those who are too poor to afford a proper alkaline meal. I don’t need to represent the numbers here but unless someone is incredibly careful about their expenditures, it is far easier to eat unhealthily than healthily from a cost perspective. Lastly are those who did not receive a proper education, or rather, self-education in wellness, as our government has completely screwed up dietary recommendations since the FDA issued its first version of the food pyramid around 1940:

This is nowhere near a prescription for an optimal human diet and reeks of either poor science or potential industry influence, even right around WWII. The recommendations continued southward from here, however, and the food pyramid I grew up was perhaps the most backwards:

With grains (sugar) at the bottom, the effective recommendation is almost half of your daily consumption to have no nutritional benefit. This is hardly a productive recommendation, and yet it was what I grew up with believing without question.

So before going too far into how poor a job the FDA has done for the average citizen, one can only imagine what seeing something like this does for their mindset on eating. Additionally, as they peruse the internet for low-fat diets, low-carb diets, and various diet fads like a cayenne pepper/lemon juice/syrup cleanse, it’s likely they will try a few things, find poor results, and quit.

The educational piece is what I’m trying to drive home here. Fat people are not a function of their choices in all circumstances. Yes, some chose McDonald’s over salad places, not arguing with that, but given the sheer quantity of misinformation on eating properly from the federal government on down, I have trouble blaming fat people for their choices. It is likely many of them are highly frustrated and I doubt very many would choose to remain that way if they knew how easy eating right can be. I simply think of them as uneducated and likely unwilling or unaware of the ability to educate themselves and pull out of the hole they’re in.

And of course, there is the rare occasion its due completely to something out of your control, such as awful medications or other health concerns. I’m inserting this plug for myself of course, but not every obese person can be blamed for it.

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