Thursday, 8 July 2010

Health and Fitness Myths

In the interests of that classic Asperger's Syndrome trait of honesty, I thought I put together some bits of information regarding health and fitness. I'm not the first person to ever say these things, but no-one wants to listen to the truth as well-packaged lies are always more alluring. These basic truths just get lost in a sea of disinformation, so if you're looking to lose a few pounds then read on and do with this what you will.

1 Why am I fat?

You eat more calories than you use.

When you take in calories that you don't expend, those calories are stored as fat. When you use more calories than you eat your body makes up the calorie shortfall by converting previously stored fat back into energy.

2 Spot Reduction

Spot reduction is the theory that working a body part makes that body part slimmer. Spot reduction is a myth, it doesn't exist.

Will sit-ups give me a flat stomach? No.
Even if I do 1,000 a day? Even if you did 1,000,000.
Will squats give me thin legs? No.
Will thigh/leg/bum exercises give me thin legs? No.

Think about what spot reduction is implying...if working an area reduced the fat in that area it is implying that your muscles somehow absorb the energy it needs from fat in the surrounding tissue. If that is how muscles work (which they don't) then how do you move your jaw to talk all day? How do your fingers work all day? How do your toes work? There is almost no fat in the surrounding area of those body parts so where do they get their energy?

Compare it with your car...chances are the engine is in the front, but you put petrol in the back however the car still moves. That is because your engine doesn't absorb petrol from the surround area through its is fed petrol via fuel lines that come from your tank in the rear. In the same way your muscles are fed oxygen etc from the blood pumping around your veins. Your muscles get their energy supplied via your body's distribution system, not the surrounding tissues.

Fat is just excess energy that has been stored, and you lose fat when that fat is turned into energy for your body to use. So how do you get a flat stomach, thin legs etc? The bad news is that you cannot control where you body stores or loses fat. Think of your body like a balloon. As you blow into it do you get to control the shape it takes? When you let air out do you control the shape as it deflates? Can you make it inflate or deflate more in one place than another? No...and your body is the same. When you gain weight your body decides where that fat is stored, and when you lose weight your body decides where the fat comes off. Rather than trying to target an area for weight loss, you have to aim for general weight loss and you lose it where you lose it.

Something else to think about...when women gain weight they tend to put it on the chest and hips, and when men gain weight it tends to go around the belly. These are also the areas the weight is lost from too. If where weight was lost from was a factor of what kinds of exercise you do then why do women gain/lose from the same areas and men gain/lose from the same areas? The reason is that where you gain and lose fat is not a factor of what exercise you do, it is dictated by your body and genes and you have no control over it.

3 Endless leg exercises

This is mainly one for the women and carries on from spot reduction. Observe most overweight women in the gym and they go from one leg machine to another, lifting very light weights on each. What good is this doing you? None. You now know that spot reduction is a myth and you're not losing fat on your legs, so what are you doing? If you are lifting a lot of weight and pushing your muscles then you're just building muscles underneath your fat which is going to make your legs bigger, not smaller. If you're not pushing your muscles by using sufficient weight then you're not building muscle, so what good are you doing? Honestly? None. You're spending the calories it takes to move your legs, you might as well just go for a walk.

If you're overweight and want to lose weight then resistance exercises (where you use weights) won't really help you much, you have to do cardio vascular work; you have to cycle on bikes, or row, or do anything that gets your heart beating. That is the best way to burn a lot of calories (see point 1). What happens to people doing pointless resistance work is that they never see any results so just give up going to the gym, and instead lament to their friends "oh I've tried everything, even the gym didn't work."

Why do women want slim legs anyway? Let's imagine for a second that spot reduction does work and isn't a you really want slim, slender legs but a bloated torso? Wouldn't that just look odd and imbalanced? So forget the endless leg exercises, get on your bike instead.

4 SlenderTone etc

These devices simply cause muscle contractions which use minute amounts of calories. Nowhere near enough to make a difference to your weight (see point 1) and the working of the muscles does nothing for the surrounding area (see point 2). Save your money. This also goes for anything that vibrates, shakes etc.

5 Toning exercises

Toning exercises don't exist, there is no such thing as toning. Being "toned" is a term given to the dual conditions of having muscle mass combined with having low amounts of body fat. Think about huge, husky men...they can have a lot of muscle but it is under a lot of fat so they just look fat. Think about lanky, skinny men...they have low body fat but look scrawny because there is no muscle under their skin. Being "toned" is the middle ground of lowish body fat over some muscle mass which gives your body an athletic shape. There are two things at play here...gaining the muscle and losing the body fat; they are two separate processes, no exercise both increases muscle mass in that area and also reduces body fat in that area (see point 2). If you want to be toned you need to work on gaining muscle and losing body fat as two separate tasks.

6 Excuses

I have a slow metabolism. No you don't.

Here's something that'll probably shock you...if you're fat you will have a faster metabolism, not a slower one. Fat is a living thing, it needs blood and maintenance just like everything else in your body. As well as your fat needing a blood supply, your skin is the largest organ in your body and it needs life too. When you have so much mass, so much area and so much weight your body is working overtime trying to keep it all alive. My resting heart rate is 60 - if you are overweight then take your resting pulse and I'll eat my hat if it is under 90.

Your biology is no different from anyone else's on the planet. You are not unique, you are not special. If you are fat, see point 1. Those women you see on chat shows saying "I've tried everything and nothing works...every diet, even the gym" are lying. Mainly to themselves.

7 Low-fat food

Eating low-fat food will help me lose weight. No it won't.
If something is low-fat it will help me stop putting weight on. No it won't.

Ever heard of a beer belly? It's well known that alcohol makes you gain weight and is very fattening. How much fat is there in alcohol? None. Zero. Zilch.

Your stomach is like a giant blender. It doesn't matter what form calories come into your stomach, they all come out in the same that is either used or stored. In terms of weight loss it doesn't matter if those calories have come from fats, saturated fats, non-saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, carbs, protein, really doesn't matter. They all go in your stomach and come out as calories, their original form is irrelevant. It is excess calories that make you fat regardless of where they came from. See point 1.

Have you seen foods advertised as low-fat? Have you seen foods advertised as low-sugar? Ever seen foods advertised as both? Things that are high in calories taste good (it is your body's way of tricking you into getting it fuel). Things that are high in fat taste good and things that are high in sugar taste good as sugar and fat are both high in calories. If something is "low-fat" then it will be high in sugar to maintain the taste, and if it is "low-sugar" then it will be high in fat to maintain the taste. Either way it is high in calories and that is what counts.

8 Should I do any resistance training?

I've mentioned above that resistance training with low weights is useless, and resistance with high weights just builds muscle under the fat you already have. However if you're looking to lose weight then a little bit of resistance work is still a good idea. First of all it gives you some wants to just huff and puff on a bike at the gym all day. It also helps your body maintain a good structure and posture, keeps things in place and a bit of strength is always good, and it can also help bone density etc.

The crucial thing that might well tip it for you is that muscle takes more effort for your body to maintain than fat. Just having muscle makes your body burn calories at a greater rate, even at rest and while sleeping etc. It helps raise your general metabolism too.

I don't want to do weight training, I'll get big and gross. No you won't.

If you're a man then it will take a lot of very hard effort over years to look like a "beefcake". You're not going to turn into Arnie with moderate weight training. If you're a woman you're more likely to use this as an excuse not to use weights, but here's another secret...see those butch women you see on TV shows with gross muscles? They’re injecting massive amounts of male hormones, steroids and all sorts of things. You will not ever look like that, ever. Not even remotely. If you're a man the same thing goes. Those guys on body-building shows...steroids. Stay off the gear and you'll never look anything like that.

9 Spending hours weight lifting

Let's say you're hitting the weights pretty hard, how much muscle do you think you build after one hour of weights? None. After two hours? None. Three hours? None.

You don't build muscle in the gym, what you do in the gym is stimulate muscle growth and that growth actually occurs when you are resting. Hitting the same muscles over and over and over in the gym is pointless. Work them then move on.

10 Big effort but little reward

You might kill yourself for half an hour on the bike or the rower and the calorie counter on the equipment is telling you you've burned off two bags of crisps, then wonder what the point is. Well for a start at least it's two bags of crisps, however exercising at the gym doesn't end when you leave. Exercise kicks your body up a gear and increases your metabolism for the hour or so after, so you're burning more calories in the hours after than you would have done normally. If you're building some muscle too then that's also helping on an ongoing basis (see point 8), and if you're pushing your heart and getting fitter then some time in the future you'll be burning three or four bags worth of crisps in the same half hour.

11 I hate running and jogging

Good. If you're training for a marathon then I'm afraid you have to run to get your body used to it. If you're not training for a run then don't run in the gym and don't jog either. Every step you land is a big impact on your ankles, knees and hips. Just imagine your whole weight banging down on your knees over and over and over. That is why those exercises are called "high impact" exercises.

Instead do "low impact" ones, ones with no big or sudden jolts. Try using the exercise bikes, the hand bikes, the rower or even just go swimming. There is no point in hurting your joints if you don't have to.

12 Getting on the scales

Don't use the scales, use the mirror. There is one saying that actually isn't a myth, and that is that muscle weighs more than fat. If you're working on your cardio to lose weight and also doing some resistance training for the reasons in point 8 then you're losing some fat and gaining some muscle. Your weight might go down, stay the same, or go up. Your weight is just a number though, go by what you see in the mirror. Do you look better? Yes? Isn't that all that really matters?

Don't obsess over the scales, especially when you start an exercise regime. If you do want to weigh yourself then weigh yourself when you get to the gym, not when you leave. Your arrival weight is your true weight. That weight will lower as you sweat (a litre of sweat is 1kg or 2.2lbs) and go up as you drink water. By the end of your routine it will either be artificially low from fluid loss (the weight will go right back on when you drink) or artificially high if you drank more than you sweated but that will also go when you go to the toilet. For similar reasons as point 9 you don't lose any fat when at the gym. Yes, you heard that right…none. What you do is use up the chemical energy that is floating around your body for instant use, and that energy is replaced by depleting your fat stores when you're at rest and that is when your fat goes. Just to reiterate…any weight difference between you arriving at the gym and leaving is down to fluids, not fat.

13 What is fat?

Here's something you might not neither gain nor lose fat. You have fat cells around your body (mostly under the skin) and those cells enlarge and deflate as fat is stored in them, or taken to be converted back to energy. So the cells themselves get bigger and smaller, but you don't ever gain fat cells or lose them.

So what happens when you have liposuction? When you have lipo those fat cells are physically lose them forever. The areas where you have lost those cells now do not grow and shrink like the areas where you haven't had lipo. So if you have lipo then put on a lot of weight you're going to look pretty odd indeed as you'll have patches and areas where you lack fat, and the surrounding area will be bloated like normal.

This is also why you can't just keep getting fat then having lipo. Fat isn't something that is introduced via your mouth (see point 7) and shoved under your skin for a surgeon to just come along and remove, then be replaced and removed again. Your fat cells remain consistent in number; it is their size that changes, so lipo should only be done in certain areas under certain circumstances.

It's not the panacea you might think it is.

14 Wait a minute...

So what you're saying is that diets are a waste of time? Yes.
Those exercise programmes I see in magazines to tone up for Summer are a waste of time? Yes.
Those products I see advertised are a waste of time? Yes.
So the entire health and fitness industry has been lying to me? Yes.

Think about it...if diets actually worked then the health and fitness industry would be over. What industry wants to bring about its own destruction? When that diet fails you go back to them to buy the next diet, and the one after that, and the one after that. When your SlenderTone doesn't work you go back for the Roller Ball, then back for the Twister Stepper and so on.

Have you also noticed how these days it is almost as if losing weight requires a PhD in nutrition? People talking about all of these chemical processes and scientific terms, and dictating that it's not how much you eat but what you eat, when you eat it, what it's chemical make-up is and yadda yadda. When you hear all of this mumbo jumbo science just remember one single thing...point 1. It’s not rocket science, trust me. Eat less, move more...that's all.

They want weight loss to sound complicated so that you think you're too stupid to be slim. They want your diet/exercise regime to fail so that you keep going back to them for the next solution that this time might work.

But why do people keep going back? selling you a product and that product failing, it is the product you blame, so the answer might be a different product. However, what if the problem wasn’t the product, what if it was you? If you finally woke up and realised that, you'd also realise that no product they sell will ever be the answer as it’s you that is the problem.

See point 1.


Anonymous said...

Food for thought where it comes to point 1 and metabolism...

I went through rigorous survival training for my job, including 10 days in the field. In those 10 days, I and the others in training received maybe 1000 calories a day, while hiking in mountainous terrain and doing various "survival activities" that were physically demanding. During the training, I noticed that I began to get more and more sluggish. When I needed to be alert or do things I was very alert and active, but as soon as no activity was demanded my body shut down completely. If I wasn't moving, I was asleep or barely awake. In short, my metabolism had almost completely shut down. My resting heart rate was barely 40 at these times, and my body temperature at rest dropped a full degree.

After 10 days in the field eating less than half of the calorie intake I was accustomed to, I weighed myself and found that I had dropped 1 lb. Somewhat shocked at that result, I polled 10 of my friends with similar body composition and found that their average weight loss was a full 8 lbs, with one rather hyper individual losing a full 14 lbs.

Note that my body's response was completely involuntary, and over the next 16 years I have found that when I reduce my food intake, my body shuts down before I start losing weight, and I simply can't remain awake. The only way I have been able to lose any weight was to eliminate processed carbohydrates from my diet while keeping overall caloric intake (and nutritional variety) high enough to remain alert.

As for your assertion that overweight people have heart rates over 90, my "ideal" weight is around 160 lbs but I currently weigh somewhere aroudn 195 lbs. My resting heart rate is 50-55, I can swim a mile in 30 minutes, and I run 1.5 miles in 13 minutes. I can sustain for hours exercise levels sufficient to raise my heart rate to 150+. I'm in fine physical and cardiac shape except for the 30 extra pounds of fat I carry around for no reason other than if I reduce how much food I eat, I simply can't DO anything due to a huge reduction in how much energy I have.

AS-4-L said...

Reducing calorie intake usually has undesirable results people don't appreciate when dieting. Reducing calories means your body thinks it is now in a calorie-poor environment and will alter how it functions. When you are in a heat-poor environment you'll notice how your body changes…for example your fingers go numb as blood is taken from your extremities, and all of these things happen without your input. When you are in a calorie-poor environment your body seeks to minimise energy output and maximise fat retention which is normally the opposite of what people want. When people want to lose weight it's important they know that severely reducing calorie intake isn’t going to have the effect they think, and is actually a bad idea.

As for the heart-rate issue, it's possible to be "fit" and overweight too. If you do regular exercise your fitness levels will rise and your heart will need to work less to circulate blood as it is stronger, so your resting heart rate will fall. However getting back to point 1 :) if you're active but still over-eat you will get fat. It's a simple equation. The blog was aimed more toward your "average Joe" with an average lifestyle that contains no real exercise.

Alan said...
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