“Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” – Analyzing This Time Magazine Article

October 2, 2009

I am going to dissect a recent Time magazine article called, “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin”. I do agree with parts of this article, but think a lot of this is bogus. The author simply isn’t taking a strategic approach to exercise and seems to be complaining for his lack of results. That being said, I do agree with a few of his points. Let’s dig in!

why exercise won't make you thin

[While staying lean and losing body fat is largely about diet, you can magnify the effects of a good diet with the right types of exercise. Note: The photo above is a good example of eating smaller portions of your favorite foods.]

A Brief Overview of the Article in Time Magazine

Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin <---click here to read the full article (opens in a new window). In this article, the author John Cloud complains about how he has been stuck at the same weight his entire life. He claims that no matter how hard he exercises he just can't get rid of the gut that hangs over his belt. He believes exercising "makes" him overeat and does the same for just about anyone who exercises. The rest of the article shows studies that try to prove his point. Some of the Problems With the Article and Studies He Cites

It is a pretty well written article and could sway someone who doesn’t know better, which is why I felt compelled to address it on my blog. The biggest flaw in the article is his notion that exercise gives you no choice but to over-eat. There are certain types of exercise that increase cravings and I talk about them in this post (Cardio Compensation), but how you act upon those cravings is entirely up to you. This reminds me of a study that claims that diet soda makes you fat (because people who drink diet soda tend to eat bigger portions of food)…another misleading study. It is the food that makes you fat, not the diet soda or exercise!

“Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?”

This is a quote from the article and John explains that he typically eats more on exercise days than on days where he doesn’t exercise. He then goes on to show that exercise stimulates hunger. He also quotes Steven Gortmaker, who heads Harvard’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity…”If you’re more physically active, you’re going to get hungry and eat more.” Unfortunately people will just take Gortmaker’s word as gospel because the guy is at Harvard…so he must be correct…right? This is complete non-sense if you ask me.

…But I Do Agree That Exercise Won’t Make You Thin

Like I recently stated in Vacation Body Blueprint and several times on this site…it is mainly diet that dictates your ability to lose fat. You can create a much stronger calorie deficit with diet than you can with exercise. Exercise only “works its magic” when someone is dieting properly. Once you create the perfect storm with diet…then exercise can help in a major way.

Common Mistakes When It Comes to Exercise and Fat Loss

Many people reward themselves after working out. They figure that since they workout they can “get away” with eating more. Other people will exercise more to “make up” for eating too much. Brad Pilon calls this Fighting More With More over on his blog…and like he says…it doesn’t work! Other big mistakes…eating more “to repair damaged muscles”…eating more to get enough protein to build muscle…eating more to insure that you get the post-workout meal…eating more to have energy for the workout, etc. You get the idea. It never pays to “eat more” if you want to lose fat!

Diet ‘As If’ You Aren’t Going to Exercise

The quickest way to lose weight quickly is to diet as if you weren’t going to exercise at all…but then make sure and exercise! Don’t compensate or change you diet at all, even if the workouts get tough…even if you are sore. Your mind will play tricks and justify this extra food…”since my muscle are sore they ‘need’ extra nutrition to heal”…don’t let your mind justify eating more food. If you increase your calories as you increase your activity level, you are just spinning your wheels.

Note: If you don’t get the chance to read that post called “Cardio Compensation” I will summarize it in a couple of sentences. Studies have shown that prolonged steady state cardio is what increases food cravings. Recent studies have shown that Interval Training actually reduces the appetite. So stick with the intense intervals most of the time (bodyweight circuits, HIIT, kettlebell circuits, etc.)…mixed with low intensity activities like walking.

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

FitJerk - Flawless Fitness October 2, 2009 at 7:03 pm

I remember reading that article… I’ve never read such a huge pile of dog s*** in my life.

I mean this is what he said “many people eat more — and eat more junk food, like doughnuts — after going to the gym.”
Uh that’s not many people buddy, that’s just YOU.

It was VERY evident why this dude never lost weight and will never lose weight in the future. His fundamentals are all messed up. He doesn’t have a basic understand of how the body uses food at all. Pathetic.

“Diet ‘As If’ You Aren’t Going to Exercise” – I think that’s a very accurate statement. It pretty much sums up what you should be doing in the first place.

Michael - The Fat Loss Authority October 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Well put Rusty.

I can see how people could be convinced by this article definitely (Reputable magazine, Harvard studies, etc.). If nothing else this article became a great talking point about the negative side-effect exercise can have on your diet. You know the line…. “Oh i exercised today so I can reward myself with this double-fudge sundae”…

Mike

Ogg the Caveman October 2, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Good post and a great response to the Time article… exploring further rather than merely dismissing the article and John Cloud, like too many rebuttals found on the internet.

Though it’s irresponsible for an article to spin the facts for the purpose of magazine sales, it is perhaps even more irresponsible of health and fitness professionals to discredit Cloud without thorough investigation and discussions. Only by further inquiry can we start a more informed dialog rather than merely dismissing something that happens to challenge the status quo. And perhaps this dialog will result in an increased number of people who’ll finally understand that exercise offers health benefits along with improvement in body composition that have nothing to do with the numbers on the scale. And perhaps this will free everyone else from the wishful thinking that exercise makes them lose weight, and they can finally acknowledge the improvement in the way they feel and look with exercise, even if it doesn’t net them a greater total loss of weight.

And finally, people may actually begin to put more thoughts into responsible eating if they want to see weight loss!

Earl Cannonbear October 2, 2009 at 8:31 pm

In the summer when I’m regularly logging over 40k a day of intense cycling I definitely eat more but still get leaner than over the winter months. However, summer or winter, I never get fat and I attribute that to eating paleo.

Rock on!

baz October 3, 2009 at 2:51 am

Rusty i miss the pictures that had nothing to do with the article, like a really hot girl that you wouldnt see anywhere else, you don’t use them enough anymore.

Theres a simple solution to this guys problem, EAT LESS. Just becasue excercise makes you want to eat more, it doesnt mean you actually should eat more.

Is it true that eating 5-6 meals a day will increase metabolism and speed fat loss or is it enough to eat the same amount of food but over 3-4 meals?

Jason G October 3, 2009 at 3:24 am

Rusty,

I always pick my calorie deficit without considering exercise. I mean a lot of people at the gym are lucky to burn 1500 calories in a week. I can cut a thousand calories from my diet in one day and when I was larger I cut out more than 1500 calories a day from my diet.

That being said this article definitely has an audience. It’s an article designed to target the weak. I have realized that I am effective at losing weight because to some sick level I think restricting food is fun. It requires discipline. Right now I am eating the same four meals every day:

Breakfast: Quinoa/broccoli/3 eggs/Pomegranate Juice= 600 calories

Brunch: Blueberry shake with whey protein: 400 calories

Lunch: Spinach with apple cider and sardines: 300 calories

Dinner: Whey Protein/ almonds/Sea Weed: 500 calories

Most people cannot stick to a strict eating schedule. Most people will not fast. Most people will not eat healthy. Most people do not read good sites or books about nutrition and weight loss. When it comes to eating most people are like wild animals. Most people are overweight.

Aditya October 3, 2009 at 3:44 am

Rusty,

Your article cannot be more true than this. It definately is the diet that makes us thin and not the cardio, completely. I think its best to follow ESE. And when we need to get defined for something we should do ESE with a Paleo Diet for a period of time. Otherwise even if we eat normal during ESE, we steal lose fat. Is that right? If we do Cardio it will just speed up our fat burning, although not in a very major manner.

Rusty, do you eat Paleo all the time with ESE or you eat normal day to day food with ESE? Isnt it like, when we want to get sharp for some event, we can follow Paleo for a month? I know Paleo is a lifestyle for a lot of people, and its a great diet. Also, can we stay sharp eating normal food while following ESE or we really have to follow something like Paleo for that?

Jason G October 3, 2009 at 3:44 am

Barry,

I wanted to apologize for being so argumentative on the last article. Mechad is a little to pumped up. My girlfriend also likes Ryan’s body better. In response to your comments on my training I should of said that I never train in the 6-12 rep range when dieting, and that I was planning to bulk up a little later. Your training advice would of been dead on for most people. I however am larger than Ryan. Thanks again!

Scott Young October 3, 2009 at 4:47 am

I’ve also noticed that diet, specifically caloric intake, is a bigger factor in overall weight than exercise.

But, not to discredit exercise, the advantages it has for weight loss include being able to increase your resting metabolism. Whereas, if you only diet, your body will lower it’s metabolism, providing an obstacle to weight loss. Exercise, particularly strength training, increases your resting metabolism so you burn more calories per day, even when you aren’t exercising.

And I completely agree with the hunger fallacy you point out. If that were true, how could any diet possibly work, because when we aren’t eating our full calories, we get hungry?

Anyways, just wanted to say you have a great blog, from another blogger.

Best,
-Scott

baz October 3, 2009 at 6:38 am

Ps- i do know about ESE but i dont follow it becasue im on a plan right now and i dont want to stop and start a new program before i see any results.

Also do i really need to count my calories? What if i eat 1500 one day and 1200 the next day? Even though im still in a calorie deficit each day do i constantly need to eat the exact same number? It just gets really time consuming weighing food for the right amount and having to cook 6 times a day.

Daniel October 3, 2009 at 7:38 am

I read the original article – It was on another fitness site, I cant remeber which one. I cant believe how dumb this author is. You cant get in good shape by exercising? ah right, thats why professional sports people have amazing physiques. The solution is to simply control what you put in your mouth. This guy also needs to contol what comes out of it as well, judging by the drivel in that article.

Victor Hugo October 3, 2009 at 8:29 am

The article makes a valid point, but I believe the author only skims the surface and doesn’t present a well written nor well researched argument. This article from the NYTIMEs (http://nymag.com/news/sports/38001/) is much better researched and written. Bottom line; 1. We just don’t burn that many calories from exercise. 2. The caloric expenditure we achieve through exercise can be undone relatively effortlessly by eating. 3. Exercise makes us hungry.

Josh October 3, 2009 at 10:51 am

Great Post!
Exercise is not a cure all miracle tonic. It is an important piece to the puzzle, but it has to be combined with a good nutrition strategy. I believe that interval fasting combined with strength training and some form of HIIT is the sweet spot. Eat less, move more. It is a simple formula that has been working for years. I love the eat stop eat style, but some people will never adopt it. Weight Watchers, Paleo, Zone ect.. All works. Eat less, move more. Common sense rules the roost.

becs October 3, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Great article Rusty. I’ve been reading a lot about how much excercise is overrated but I think this has been taken to extremes and being used as a means to justify not excercising or eating crap.
Thanks for the time and effort you put into writing your blogs ay its so fantastic to have it available

Baz October 3, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Just on what you wrote at the end of the article on HIIT, does anyone actually know or has tested how many extra calories HIIT burns. It’s said that it increases metabolism which in turn burns more calories, how does the metabolism boost interpret into number of calories burnt. If an average person burns around close to 2000 calories just living their life each day, how much extra does HIIT burn?

Anyone know?

Jason G October 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm

baz,

You don’t need to eat the same calories every day. That why some people follow Eat Stop Eat. The trick is to get a large enough calorie deficit each day without getting miserable and then quitting. Variation in calories each day can keep people from getting miserable. I eat the same calories each day so that my body will adapt to my new eating habits faster.

Counting calories is not hard. Just count the calories once of meals that you eat regularly and then keep the portions the same each time you eat that meal. If you just eat less, without considering calories, you might slowly eat more calories each day or become a victim of mindless eating. People also do not estimate calories that well. Sit down once and treat each meal like a math equation that you need to get right. Then write it down some where. A good policy is also two round up by fifty or so calories for each meal.

In my opinion eating six meals a day complicates things. Just eat three well calculated meals, and perhaps a protein shake. It’s my experience that you lose weight better when there is a part of your day where you are running on fumes. I do not eat from 2:00pm to 11:00pm. Then I have a small 500 calorie dinner that’s comprised of mainly protein and a little fat. I then go to bed a few hours later and have another eight hour fast.

Barry October 3, 2009 at 5:44 pm

jason G- You weren’t aergumentive (therfore no need to apologize) , judging by your comments you know a lot more about fitness than I do. My short term fitness goals are to be able to do 30 pullups and Run 2.5km in under 10 minutes. I am struggling to do 30 pullups,at the moment I can only do 6 and have been stuck at this number for a week( I have been pullup training for four weeks in total when I started I could’nt do any). Could you suggest any thing I could do to improve my pullups?

Sue October 3, 2009 at 8:46 pm

The Time article wasn’t well written but what I get from it is that diet is key. If you are an average person (not an athlete) you haven’t got time for 3 hrs daily exercise. You can concentrate on the food and do half an hour of exercise that gives results – that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Obviously its not cardio.
Do we really have to go hungry while dieting? Some people have a lot of willpower and can get through the hunger but others find it too difficult. Could not a good diet that doesn’t leave you hungry also give you good weight loss results?
Or should we just suck it up in the short term whilst losing weight?

Yash October 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm

I think this may be a beginner/inexperience phenomenon. A beginner’s body has a HUGE adaptive response when a person begins to get active, so the body reacts to this new energy drain by triggering hunger. When you’ve been at it for a while, this tends to subside. I’m not saying that people who train regularly don’t get hungry after training, but more experienced trainees are used to the hunger and know how to control their diet based on their goals [ie, take advantage of the hunger if you’re trying to put on muscle, smaller or delayed meal if you want to lose fat]. Also, those with more experience won’t misinterpret their thirst or other fatigue factors as hunger. Conversely, the Time article addresses something that’s inherently subjective. I, personally, feel like my stomach is shrunk during exercise and I’ll get filled up by relatively little after training, even if it’s just a liquid. Even if some other people said they felt similar, it would be unreasonable to extrapolate those experiences and say, “It is impossible to gain muscle through weight training, because people can’t eat as much after lifting, and you have to eat to grow”. We just know that’s not true. I’m all for guys in fitness bucking the stupid trends we seem to have gotten ourselves into, but you’ve gotta have big brass ones to say that exercise inhibits weight loss.

Yash October 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Sue: I think your latter option is the better one. Fat loss should be the short term, and general maintenance should be the long term goal. In that sense, it’s a bit of a sacrifice, but dialing in several key factors to lose fat efficiently over a short period of time while giving up a few luxuries like eating every few hours is the better alternative to a diet that lasts 3-4 times as long, has 3-4X slower fat loss, and requires about the same amount of planning and such. Think about it, if I go on a 3-4 week fat loss phase, and really dedicate myself to it, my hands will be tied and I’ll be uncomfortable during that time, but its better than going on a 2-3 month diet, where all the same limitations exist, but the chance of getting pulled off track are larger because the diet last longer. If i’m losing a few pounds a week for a few weeks and have maybe a cheat meal once every week or every other week, I won’t be vastly derailed. Also, I’ll keep myself in check during that cheat because I’ll say “I’m already halfway through this diet, why go overboard and waste my effort now?”. In a longer diet, where you lose the weight slower, you’ll be tempted to have a hefty cheat because there diet just started two weeks ago and there’s still so much left and … you get the point. Plus, in diets where you’re sacrificing less, and thus losing weight slower, a cheat will impact you more heavily since you only lost a pound that week or something, so a bad day could set you back a week.

Sorry to go on a fairly long rant, but the point is: a shorter term of more focused dieting will be harder, but yield better results. Plus, if you get through it, it serves as encouragement for the next time you have to do something hard.

Jason G October 4, 2009 at 3:20 am

Sue,

What I like about dieting hard as opposed to the slower less aggressive approach is that you see results so quick its harder to lose motivation. I lost twelve pounds my first month of dieting. I got addicted to seeing that kind of success. It turned into a sixty pound drop in a five month period.

Sue October 4, 2009 at 5:11 am

Thanks for that Yash.

Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness October 4, 2009 at 9:05 am

Rusty,

When the Time magazine article first came I posted the exact same thing as you over at my old blog! (http://thefitnessadviser…exercise-wont-make-you-thin)

Naturally, having written the same thing I think your post is great. 😛

Cheers,

-Rafi

Baz October 4, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Jason g, thanks for the tips I really appreciate them alot. Can I just asked based on your experiences what would you recommend. My current routine consists of strength training 4 days per week. I do 2 days a rest day then 2 days then 2 rest days. It is a very demanding workout, very little rest and is very intense. The workout itself has no problems. What my problem is, is trying to figure out in what days to do my cardio. I don’t want to over do it doing it on my rest days and I have no energy to do HIIT after my weights session. The only thing I can think of is moderate intensity walking on an incline after my weights insead. Would this be a waste if time or not? I can throw in 1 HIIT session on a rest day as well but not on all 3 rest days. Othe than that my diet is a low carb 1500 calorie diet so I need to be burning a lot more to be getting my bf down from 12 to 7. Is incline walking a good idea after high intensity strength training or is it just a waste of time if its not HIIT.

Thanks guys

Helder October 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

That article is pure BS IMO, it’s sad that a trusted and respected magazine with so many readers allow something so bad to be published.

The only thing true is, if you exercise and have a bad diet you’ll never get lean, the other way around is possible, but the best thing is to workout right and eat right.

Guys like the one who wrote the article are responsible for misleading thousands and thousands of people into failure. Those guys who don’t know a thing about fitness play as if they were experts and the results are as seen so many times by all of us, those guys really make me angry.

Kat October 4, 2009 at 4:21 pm

So many times fitness advice is confusing and contradictory. I’m what is called a “hard gainer.” So the mainstream advice is to eat more to build muscle. But if you say to act as if I’m dieting and then workout, isn’t this the opposite? I feel stuck.

Jason G October 4, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Barry,

I would focus on increasing the weight you lift for both wide-grip and close-grip lat pulldowns. These exercises work the same muscle groups as pullups. Adding one pullup when you do six is a large leap believe it or not because it represents something like a 15 percent improvement. With weighted lat exercises you can focus on five percent increases until you get into the twelve pullup range. Then I would get into a pullup routine where you do pullups every couple of days while trying to progress until you reach 30 pullups. If you are not very thin then dropping some body fat can help add a few pullups. If your gym has a weight assisted pullup machine that can be a very useful tool. Another method you could try is doing pullups with a weighted vest or weights added to your legs. After a couple of weeks take them off and see how many regular pullups you can do. Ultimately the advice a lot people give is just do pullups. This advice however is not optimal in my opinion until you are over twelve reps. Making it to 30 pullups is probably a year long goal. You will need additional muscle development in your lats, rear delts, and traps.

Jason G October 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Baz,

Honestly you sound like you don’t want to do the HIIT. Adding the HIIT one day a week might burn anywhere from 150 to 400 calories. It will definitely affect your recovery. If you don’t want to do the HITT, but you are not currently losing the weight that you want you could drop your calorie intake to 1450 calories. It comes down to what you would find easier and more enjoyable. Would you find eating 50 less calories a day to demanding or would you prefer to go to the gym one extra day. I would say that the walking on the incline is probably a waste of time. Another option is to wake up in the morning and do HIIT by running around the block. This might only take twenty minutes and you wouldn’t have to commute to the gym. Or you can do five minutes of HIIT on your training days. This would add up to an extra couple of hundred calories burned each week. I will say that I only did one month of cardio in the five month period that I lost sixty pounds. My calorie deficit was around 1500 calories as well and I worked out six out of every eight days. Since then I have developed a bigger appreciation for rest and recovery and seem to get better results, while on deficits, doing weight lifting less often. If it was me I would skip the HIIT altogether if my weight lifting routine was super intense. I don’t know what your body weight is but am fairly certain that you will eventually reach your goals with a 1500 calorie diet in less you are under 140 pounds.

CR October 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Rusty,
I am in total agreement with you and feel the article was irresponsible at worst and ignorant at best. It was so ignorant, I didn’t think it really needed commentary. This article flys in the face of military training and all nutritionists everywhere.

Shifting to a healthy lifestyle when you are overweight is a behavioral change to begin with, otherwise you wouldn’t be overweight.

Then there is the fact that you have to wait for your stomach to shrink to its optimal size, which it will do rapidly if you follow a healthy diet.

Then there is the failure many of these types of articles fail to mention. Exercise is part of a synergistic process to lose weight. It is not just, what you burn directly but also the fact that you are increasing your metabolic rate 24/7.

By eating water rich foods as a snack replacement, even with dressing, you are also allowing the body to focus all of its energy on burning fatas opposed to digestion. Being hungry to the point of having to overeat should subside in no more then a week as long as you are providing your body with adequate nutrition.

I believe it was an irresponsible feel good article or worse yet, funded by the food industry in a backlash to the health consciousness that is overtaking the country.

I have written a basic set of principles to follow at length in my Common Sense Eating and Exercise Blog.

Rusty I have really enjoyed your blog over the past few months. Keep up the excellent work. I am working on qualifying as a Barbarian now.

Yash October 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Baz,

I’d have to agree with Jason on the recovery, except for one thing. Your recovery is hugely dependent on your experience levels and age. If you’re young [teens or twenties] and inexperienced, and have a decent amount of weight to lose, then your recovery is going to be much faster than you think it is. Also, if you’re just starting out, you can make incredible strength gains with surprisingly little rest. I’m not saying add more resistance training, but if you really want to lose the weight and can slowly work in some fasted HIIT into your routine, building up the volume, it wouldn’t hinder your recovery too much. Also, [and I know rusty’s not a fan of this =P] if you simply think the HIIT isn’t an option, you should work in some leg work to get more bang for your buck. Deadlifts and squats will melt the fat. you’re trying to lose weight, so no matter what you won’t put on much size in that area. I’ve done both during mass gain phases and I still feel that my legs have maintained normal proportion.

Baz October 5, 2009 at 1:05 am

Awesome thanks alot. My weight is 167 curently and yes my weights sessions are very intense so I think I’ll try to appreciate the recovery alot more instead of the cardio. Hopefully the calorie deficit will get me to my goals

Baz October 5, 2009 at 1:24 am

Oh and just on the calorie thing, how do you go from say 1500 to 1450? What I mean is, I’ve tried to calculate the calories in the things I eat but different sites give different nutritional value which can make a couple hundred calorie difference in the end which makes it difficult to calculate an exact daily calorie deficit.

Rahul October 5, 2009 at 2:45 am

Hey Rusty,

Great job with this post. Obviously, since the dieting+HIIT worked for me there is no way I am going to jump to conclusions about the futility of excericise after reading someone else’s research (in any case, i have seen too many research reports giving exactly opposite resulst over time) but it’s really sad that such stff is being published in such a respectable magazine.

Reading this article sounds like it would be used as the perfect excuse by someone who is anyway unmotivated or has not been doign things right to give up on their excercise program. It’s kind of sad. Rebuttals such as this post are absolutely required.

Regards,
Rahul

Jeffrey343 October 5, 2009 at 10:09 am

I actually bought a copy of this mag just for this article (although I did read the whole mag to make sure I got my money’s worth). Like the vast majority of folks on here, I agree that there is a lot of misinformation in it.

I’ll admit that I get quite hungry after a long & intense cardio session (I’m currently training for a marathon for some crazy reason…). And after a 15-mile run, I’ll chug a 32-oz Gatorade (200 calories) and perhaps eat about half a watermelon and more fresh fruit. If you get cravings, you need to be smart about what you eat to satisfy them. Don’t use exercise to justify bad eatiing choices. That is key.

I don’t have any crazy cravings after a more reasonable run (like four miles). After the marathon in 10 weeks, I’m cutting back down to a more normal weight-lifting / running regimen.

I’ve proven on myself that losing weight (fat) and getting a better physique is a triangle – eating better, cardio, and strength training. All are important.

Jeffrey343 October 5, 2009 at 10:14 am

Baz,

I think the idea of hopping on the treadmill after lifting weights is a good one. I’ve had good success with running after weights. The weight lifting will deplete glycogen stores so that you’re ready to burn fat a lot sooner. I’ve surprised myself with being able to run quite well after weights. Walking on the treadmill on an incline can be every bit as challenging as running.

Rusty has covered a similar topic before based on doing HIIT followed by steady-state cardio. Weights followed by cardio is similar. I wouldn’t follow weights with HIIT because that is pretty demanding. But some good steady-state cardio would be effective in burning fat.

Jake October 5, 2009 at 10:21 am

Is it normal for your lower stomach to poof out? I am thin. I really don’t have much bodyfat at all, but it looks like sometimes the lower part of my stomach poofs out a little bit. But it’s solid. It doesn’t even make sense. But after I eat my stomach looks kind of bloated. If I don’t eat for awhile it gets better, but if I eat my stomach loses a lot of it’s flatness and just starts to look like the formation of a gut. But it’s never pudgy. My lower abs feel solid. Do I need to lose fat, or are my lower abs built more than my upper abs? My upper abs don’t show, sadly. :/ And I don’t really know what I can do to get my abs to become visible. I want that Hollywood body. A little bit of muscle, and a lot of definition.

Monica October 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Great post Rusty, as usual 🙂

I have a question, sorry it’s sort off topic, I hope it’s ok.

I like to know the difference between:

a) doing concentric and eccentric parts of the exercise slowly with a brief pause on bottom and top of movement

and

b) doing the eccentric part slow slowly and pausing (to avoid stretch reflex/momentum) and then starting the concentric part explosively and pause briefly again?

I have heard that the latter recruits MORE muscle fibers? Will this lead to more size increase? I would like to add some size in some places 🙂

Thank you!!

Ramon October 5, 2009 at 1:06 pm

I remember reading this article in the summer when a friend showed it to me. I don’t think it is so easy to dismiss the article and its author. You have to look at the context and perspective from which it is written.

The author’s idea of exercise and diet falls under what Mark Sisson would call “conventional wisdom.” I think it is obvious that Cloud probably calls going to a gym, not touching a weight, and running on a treadmill at a steady pace for 60mins exercise. Of course you are going to get hungry after doing that since all you are burning is stored carbohydrate energy for those 60mins.

And of course this will have no effect on body composition given that he probably eats a mostly grain-based diet as well. I mean, just look at all the people who go to the gym and run on a treadmill a few times a week and always look the same month after month.

I think what this article is, is a good starting point for someone who is about to leave the common, and false, conceptions of diet and exercise behind and step into a world of actual results. If it makes all the typical cardio junkies second guess the time they are wasting on the exercise bike and treadmill while eating spaghetti, rice and yogurt it is a useful article. Just think what a revolution it would be if Cloud somehow came across FitnessBlackBook, paleo/primal eating, and HIIT, and did an article on the results those approaches to fitness and weightloss.

Barry October 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm

jason g- thanks for the advice,while I am generally fit, good at running,pushups etc my back is a area I have negleted. I came back today after a weekend break and I seem to be much better at pullups(can do 8-10). The advice ‘do pullups to get good at pullups’ seems to be the most correct. Before I was just using the lat machine and after 3 weeks I could only do 5. But a week of actual pullups and the maximum I can do was 10. The reason is that the lat machine does’nt work all the muscles you use in a pullup. Sorry for wasting your time jason my promblem of lack of progress has gone away.

Jason G October 5, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Yash,

You are obviously a very smart guy, so I really won’t say whether or not doing HIIT training once a week will interfere with Baz’s recovery to a significant level. Similarly it is widely accepted by the fitness community as well, as by me, that someone new to working out is capable of great strength increases in the beginning. Since you will be opening a fitness site of your own I do want to present another perspective on recovery and training theory in general.

Many of us who give advice regularly have done a lot of research into the science behind working out. However it is often overlooked that many of the so called “facts” have been established using studies based on traditional bodybuilding methods as well as normal to above normal caloric intake. Recovery depends to some extent on the age and experience of the trainee; however these variables being equal recovery is determined by recovery time and diet.

The recovery component that is based on nutrition is dependent on the right amount of resources making it to the muscles so that they can be fully healed. When a person is working out to intense levels like Baz there is a lot of protein breakdown in the muscles. Full recovery will involve a significant amount of calories and the time to make those repairs.

This is where caloric intake becomes a factor. Baz is in a calorie deficit. For a large portion of his days he has ZERO calories available for recovery. The nature of a calorie deficit is that the body has very little building materials for new muscle tissue. That is why it is breaking down our current body tissue. While protein may get through when Baz is in a calorie deficit state a large portion of his protein will be used as energy.

The point I am trying to make is all of the rules change when a person has a big calorie deficit. Rest becomes important and the “48-72 hours of rest per major body part” rule needs to be adjusted for people of average genetics when on a calorie deficit. Rest time will have to be adjusted based on the intensity of the workouts and how large the calorie deficit is. Also as Adam Steer has said on this site most activities involve the use of many muscles working together. Whenever this takes place to a strenuous level it will affect recovery.

Jason G October 5, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Baz,

In hopes of keeping Rusty from being annoyed at me I will keep this one short. Feel free to ask questions on the following post as I am starting to come off as obnoxious on this one. Basically just eat a little less than you have been and when using calorie estimates from websites chose the one that has the highest calorie estimate.

Jason G October 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm

baz,

Also check if the serving sizes are the same on each site. If not choose the one that’s closest to the size you eat. Start using a measuring cup. Remember always estimate up. Eventually you will think that you are eating more than you really are-and this helps when dieting.

Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness October 5, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Rusty,

Forgot to mention that I 100% agree with you where you say that the “exercise will put on weight” thing is nonsense. Kudos for calling the Harvard guy out on that.

-Rafi

Constance October 5, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Hey Rusty,

I have enjoy reading your posts. Keep up the good work! I have a quick question. I am a female trying to lean down my legs. I have dropped the weights for legs and that has made a big change. I am doing cardio on the treadmill and I was wondering what incline you would recommend?

Thanks, Connie

Baz October 5, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Thanks so much for all the advice guys, really appreciate it.

I’m 21 so I’m guessing that will aid in recovery. I’m not new to working out but I am new to trying to drop body fat so it does get confusing at times to calculate a deficit without going too low, working out with enough rest, not over doing it re feeding so the body doesn’t used to anything etc etc. I guess it’s just part of learning I guess though. As long as I see results I’m happy.

Studio Element Personal Training October 5, 2009 at 10:48 pm

I also did a “recap” of this article on my blog at studio-element.net. In my opinion, just a frustrated person taking it out on his lack of success in losing weight.

Yash October 6, 2009 at 12:54 am

Jason G and Baz,

That’s a good point on the recovery topic with regards to diet. You brought up that such information is based on bodybuilding, but actually my point is based on the exact opposite assumption. A BB routine would cause a lot of muscular breakdown. I was assuming Baz was using a strength training protocol, where you don’t train to failure, and can still make regular gains as a beginner. [I know you said you’ve been training for a while baz, but I’m just pointing out the reasoning behind my prior advice] This kind of training creates fatigue neurologically more so than physiologically, so I was talking about recovery in terms of neural fatigue/recovery, whereas I think you’re referring to acute muscular fatigue/recovery. Obviously, HIIT still falls into muscular fatigue, so we’re on the same page there, but assuming an intensive, but not too muscularly damaging strength training routine designed only to maintain muscle during a fat loss phase, which is pretty much what the goal of resistance training during weight loss should be, the fatigue occurs in different systems. I realize you’re not lifting with your brain, your muscles still get tired and damaged, especially since perceived exertion goes way up on the same weights/exercises when you’re in a caloric deficit, but even with a dietary deficit, the HIIT fatigue can be manageable with a sensible weight training routine, and a diet high in protein and good fats [especially fish oil] while dieting. The latter will go toward recovery; 100 calories of carbs might refuel you during a diet, but 100 calories of protein and omega 3’s will rebuild you.

Going back to the comment I left for Sue, it all boils down to short term concessions. Going hard for a month may be hard, but it’s possible, and during the week off after that month one can sometimes still see improvements as the body continues to recover and adapt to the intense situations it just encountered. Ultimately, if you want to do it, your body is probably capable of it for a shirt period of time. Now I’ll be the first to say that cranking it to 11 is not an option all the time, but if you have the energy for it, a few extra sessions to shed those last few pounds won’t overtrain you.

***Also, a very interesting note for Baz, in regards to your strength training, from Lyle McDonald. Strength and muscle mass can be maintained with 1/3 of your training volume, in terms of days and sets. So, if you do 6 sets of a lift 2 days a week, you can maintain strength with 2 sets, once a week, IF the weight stays the same. You may be weaker due to water volume loss from the muscle, but since you’re dropping sets, you should still be able to use the same weight [eg, if you did 5×5 with 225 lbs, which is about your 7RM, you should be able to get 2×5 with 225 once a week because 2×5 is about your 6RM, which should be higher than 7RM normally and maybe the same since you’re on a diet.] In terms of muscle mass, maintaining the same strength while losing weight is a good indicator of maintaining muscle. Since HIIT may be more efficient for fat burning, cutting back on strength training to strictly maintain muscle while you drop fat, and adding some more effective directly fat burning exercise sessions could be an option if your weight training is tiring you out.

Yash

Thomas Kovacs October 6, 2009 at 6:48 am

these days, i think what impresses me more are people who post their _DIET_ plan rather than their _EXERCISE_ plan, and stick to their diet plan. it yields awesome, and easier results.

but the problem is that maybe some people are swayed by athletes such as michael phelps who workout all the time, then eat whatever, and are still in great shape. so of course some people may think “oh cool, i can do that too!”. for the rest of us mere mortals we have to watch what we eat 😉

Baz October 6, 2009 at 10:33 am

That’s right yash. My current weights routine is stricty a fat loss one where I enter oxygen debt(a recent article rusty wrote). My weights sessions are not muscular fatiguing but but it gets my heart pumping more than any cardio I have ever done and as much as HIIT does. So in that sense I don’t think(at this point anyway) I need to be adding in too much cardio. I guess i really need to see how the body travels before I Start mixing things up, as it might be too soon to change things before I give it some time to see what effect the current routine has

Stevie October 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I totally agree with this article. Caloric deficit is the key. I go off and on with my weight loss plan, but just this week I started keeping track of my calories again. Without doing any exercise, just eating fewer calories, I have already lost 2.5 lbs in 4 days. WITH NO EXERCISE!

However, if this guy (or anyone for that matter) does NEED to eat after working out, have a protein shake, not a donut. I have a protein shake post workout (to repair muscles, not because I am hungry). In case anyone is interested in finding some good protein powder, I get mine at BulkFoodsDirect.com.

admin October 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Note: I will just answer as many comments as possible with my time available today. Thanks for commenting!

Ogg,

I think his article really shows the importance of diet. This is the part of the equation that so many get wrong…so it is great in that sense! He just doesn’t seem to have a sense of how to get the most out of exercise.

baz,

I have reduced the amount of random girl photo’s just because I don’t want people to miss out on the great info in the posts. I guess I don’t want people to think this is a site without substance…but I will still put them in from time to time. Eating 5-6 meals is not superior to eating 2-3 times per day. The biggest myth of the past 30 years.

Jason G,

Great points as always. Unfortunately, the majority of people follow the path of least resistance in all parts of their life. The path of least resistance leads to a dull and empty life.

Aditya,

I eat Eat Stop Eat all the time and Paleo part of the time. I try to eat about 1/3 to 1/2 of my meals paleo-style. I don’t like to get too obsessed with the type of food I eat…I just try to eat less than what I naturally burn. That being said…I do feel better and have more energy when I eat Paleo.

Scott,

You have a nice looking blog. I don’t like many blog-themes, but yours is outstanding. I may need to hire your designer at some point. Good point on hunger. I don’t mind being hungry every once in a while…I figure my body could use the break from food. I can’t imagine having a never ending flow of food in my digestive tract, which is why I love fasting until dinner twice per week.

baz,

Daily calories don’t matter. You are trying to average less calories than what you burn. I like to think weekly rather than daily. You could pig out on a holiday, but then make it up by eating 1,000-1,200 calories a few days in a row. This way of thinking makes staying lean extremely easy.

Victor,

It gets 1/2 of the equation right. The best results come from strategic diet and exercise. The right type of exercise can greatly enhance the fat loss effects of a good diet.

Josh,

Great points. Eat less and move more…simple but works.

becs,

Yes…a solid diet is the foundation…but combined with strategic exercise you can get MUCH faster results. The point to take away is that the diet has to be on for the exercise to do its job.

Sue,

I don’t like being hungry all the time, so that is why I do Intermittent Fasting. I am hungry just one to two days per week. I don’t pig out the other 5 days, but I can eat quite a bit more without hunger…and still stay lean. I like to limit the true low calorie days to just 1-2 days per week…just make sure you are really busy on those days and drink a bit of coffee or green tea. Works very well…and you will find that you get a bunch accomplished on those days!

Rafi,

I was late to comment on this article, but just felt the need. I didn’t see your original post. Will take a look!

Helder,

Yeah…if anything 99% of people need more exercise, not less. I didn’t like the way the author presented his case.

Kat,

If you are trying to gain muscle, eat a tiny bit more than maintenance level, but increase the workout volume.

CR,

Good luck in becoming a Bar-Barian! At some point I plan on implementing a chinup based workout into my routine…but probably not for another year or so. I would love to go to New York in person to qualify…plus I want to meet all the people in the group.

Baz,

The amount of calories consumed per day is a raw estimate at best. If anything, just eat less than your projected amount. As long as you do some solid resistance training you will hold onto the muscle…even while eating pretty low-cal.

Rahul,

The general public loves these types of articles. It helps them to justify their lack of activity. Like you said…dieting + HIIT gives turbo-fat-loss results. It works much better than diet alone.

Jake,

How old are you? I do notice this more in guys who are just beginning to workout. As guys fill out a bit, the rest of their body adds enough muscle to where the lower part of the stomach doesn’t stick out past the rest of their torso. If you are older it could be deeper belly-fat that isn’t stored below the surface of the skin. This is typical with men…and the way to get rid of it is with intense HGH boosting exercise.

Monica,

If you want to increase size this is a good strategy. The key will be not to pause at the top of the movement at all. You will also want to rest a little less between sets. The key in gaining size is fatiguing the muscle with a decent amount of sets and not resting too much in between sets and reps. When trying to gain mass, each set should build upon the previous set…the muscle shouldn’t be fully recovered before hitting the next set. This builds cumulative fatigue in the muscle…which leads to a bit of breakdown…and an increase in mass over time. Strength training is different, since each set is kind of its own separate entity. In a pure strength training workout, you avoid muscle fatigue. Often times you are stronger in the 3rd or 4th sets than you were in the first set. I hope this makes sense.

Jason G,

I love it when you guys have conversations in the comment area. Honestly…it is one of my favorite part of the running this blog. I just like getting the conversation started. Plus…I am running out of time when it comes to answering each comment in detail. I appreciate the help!

Connie,

Put your treadmill on level 2. It supposedly works the legs in a way that is close to running on flat pavement.

Thomas,

I was worried too when Michael Phelps announced how many calories he consumed each day. I hope people don’t think they can get away with that amount. Often times athletes like Michael Phelps wind up retiring and putting on a ton of weight due to their eating habits. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to him. The amount of food he eats is insane, but so are his workouts.

Rusty

Jason G October 6, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Yash,

I agree with you that HIIT is most likely manageable for Baz. I was just pointing out that it will affect recovery to some level. Whats ironic is I do HIIT every other day right now, but my weight lifting routine is not as frequent as Baz’s. My feeling is that many people over train in a calorie deficit state whether or not they are strength training or using a bodybuilder routine. Realizing that even a good HIIT routine will probably only burn less than 300 calories is also important. Sure it has other health benefits, but as far as weight loss is concerned its unimportant. Baz will lose just as much weight by cutting out two glasses of milk from his diet a week. Sure if he added twenty minutes of HIIT five days a week he might lose an extra two pounds a month.

Honestly most people usually have happier easier weight loss by eating less than adding extra cardio. I think there are some gems of knowledge in your comment, but would add that a strength training routine that creates a lot of tension can break down your muscle tissue enough that choosing appropriate spacing before workouts is still important. Many of Rusty’s readers do four sets per body part so they are not exactly doing low volume lifting. I am sure that many of them come very close to failure whether or not they like it or not. This is a good time, at risk of losing my credibility, to disclose that I work out to failure when performing strength training. I believe that while on a calorie deficit it sends a stronger message to the brain to keep your current muscle by using your muscles to their full potential.

Aditya October 7, 2009 at 12:26 am

Jason,

I agree. I think fat loss/weight loss is totally possible through diet alone. I follow ESE with 3 fasts every day (eating normal on non fast days). I do HIIT for 2 days a week, sometimes just 1 day. And I am still losing fat (weight) without any trouble. Yes I do go up by a pound after a beer filled weekend but that basically is water weight. ESE I guess the best thing I have ever learnt about. I enjoy my beer, popcorn, pizzas and everything else and still lose fat by following ESE. I clocked at 9% bfl today and yes my weight when I was 12% is still the same, no change in my weight which means I am not losing muscle. That said, I think ESE with Low Rep High Volume is all that is needed to get a lean cut look!

Aditya

Monica October 7, 2009 at 4:41 pm

I did something close to ESE. I didn’t eat until 3pm (which was after my workout) for three days, and only ate veggies and protein. I had a cup of coffee before my workout (I usually don’t drink coffee). I got MUCH leaner in just three days, people noticed!

Susan Campbell October 9, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Yes, pretty interesting article. My take on it is that long slow cardio is fine for health benefits but if you want to lose weight it can be counterproductive. High intensity cardio intervals and strength training circuits are the way to go for fat loss.

Thanks, great post!
Susan

mindbodygoal October 13, 2009 at 7:50 am

I’m in agreement with Susan on the importance of high intensity work for fat loss.

My own take on all this regardless of whether certain activities make you more hungry or not is that it comes down to choice.

We are always in control of everything that enters our mouth, we either give in to cravings or not – simple as that.

The way out body looks today is the sum of all actions unto this point, if the body looks bad, its due to bad/incorrect choices.

Be well

Sheila Cassidy October 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

I am a personal trainer and I too agree with “some” parts of the article .

I have had clients that exercised with the idea that they could then eat more, then wonder why they aren’t meeting their goals. Exercise didnt make them fat, eating too much did! It wasn’t the exercise that made them hungry, but it was their way of rationalizing overeating.

Studies have shown that the combination of exercise and diet work the best in maintaining weight loss. If you look at the findings from the National Weight Loss registry, I believe you will find this to be true. The registry has identified over 5000 people that have lost weight and have maintained their weight loss over long periods of time (http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm). 90% average about an hour of exercise daily. The most frequent activity is walking.

Stomach Fat Cure October 20, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Hi Rusty,

I agree with most of what you’re saying but I personally prefer putting a little less emphasis on the whole calorie deficit thing. I think people eating too much only constitutes for a small part of the obese population. In most cases, it’s the processed sugar and carbs that is the problem. Or rather, the insulin spikes eating that kind of food results in.

Maybe you could do a post on that sometime soon?

lizzy January 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm

first of all, you are saying that you can cut out much more calories from your food daily.

BUT if you keep doing that, your metabolism WILL slow down. Excersize makes you metabolism go a lot faster.

And if you eat the same thing day by day you have very big chances of plateauing.

I’m sorry but I think it’s unhealthy to proclaim that cutting calories is the only way to go.

mickieb January 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Alot of the comments dont seem to support this Times article. I dont agree with the entire article, but I tell you, I am one of those people who will get MORE hungry when I exercise. And it seems that cardio is the one thing that will definitely make me very hungry. The hunger doesn’t come until a couple hours later. I have tried to ignore it and for days this hunger will be there, if I try to stick to my usual diet. By the end of the week, I break down and have to load up on the carbs. So I’m trying to see if I eat Low Glycemic foods, if this will help out with the super hunger after cardio. I started it today, so will see how it works out. My thought is that eating slow burning carbs vs faster ones, will give my body more long lasting energy to use after cardio is done.

Sarah January 29, 2010 at 12:16 am

I know why most people do hate the Time article. But I just want to point out…as a person who has been a long distance runner daily for five years…that I truly can only attribute my fitness to exercise. My weight has stayed the same as the length and power in my runs increases, while I’ve stayed on the same diet. In fact, when I took a few weeks off, I lost a lot of weight! (not muscle either…my stomach became lean, my arms as well!)

Some people do have the dedication and time to make exercise such a huge part of their lives. But there are now many studies supporting intensity, such as 3 minutes of sprinting in a week versus a week’s worth of cardio, for being more fit and lean. Exercise IS actually a fairly new craze, and I know many large people who exercise, and many thin people who don’t.

I’m not suggesting exercise won’t burn calories, but I am starting to truly believe (after also being a compulsive exerciser, I might add) that it’s not the key to weight at all. Also, you should never restrict too many calories if you DO exercise. This will lead to quite the unfortunate circumstance when you find you don’t have time to exercise, AND you’re eating less than you want to. Never do this, trust me, because the mental hell that comes with it is … well… hell.

Seane September 28, 2010 at 3:41 am

Another great article thanks Rusty! I am going to repeat myself here. I am not an expert as some of you are clearly sports professionals, but I do know that weight and fitness do not go hand in hand. Someone who is physically fit can sometime weigh a lot more than some of the same size and build who is not physical fit. So what. It is the fitness and health of the individual that is important. Not the actual weight of the person.

Steven Ponec October 11, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I rememeber reading this article in time magazine. And it kinda pissed me off. Because (maybe you covered this more in depth in your article. I skimmed it – whoops 😛 ) they seemed to say “People don’t lose weight while working out” “What? Why?” “Because after working out they eat a bunch of crappy food like pastries” “Oh. Well. Then it’s not really the working out problem…is it?”

ExactTarget January 6, 2011 at 11:09 am

I really like the idea of “Diet ‘As Is’ You Aren’t Going to Exercise” — seems like a very logical way to avoid compensating for exercising with eating, or vice-versa. I know this is a problem I’ve struggled with. I’m always hungry, and that only gets worse when I work out, so it’s very easy to convince myself I “deserve” it or something. But if I can manage to truly separate eating and exercising in my mind (and then follow-through on doing both appropriately), I may finally see some results!

Danny March 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm

I agree with your main criticism of the Time magazine article. Your exercise success depends on what exercises you do.

barnz December 3, 2013 at 6:37 pm

80 diet 20 exercise. The times article is rubbish in my opinion regardless how well it’s written. To loose weight there needs to be a calorie defecit and if the bloke is chucking on weight then there obviously isn’t one. He m,ight be exerciseing like a mad man but judgeing by his comment i would say that his diet is out of whack no matter what he says. diet is 100% spot on weight will be lost without exercise however u want to maintain some strength training of some form to still hold onto musclemass and a little cardio for the heart will work wonders too. Majority is diet.

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