There was an article in New York Magazine a couple of years ago titled "Does Exercise Really Make Us Thinner?" The article got under my skin -- enough so that a couple of years later, I still use it as an example of ineffective, linear thinking.
The premise of the article was that, despite what many might think, exercise can't help us lose weight. It quotes several studies, including ones where people training for marathons didn't experience changes in body composition despite several months of training. Exercise, the article states, increases our appetites; therefore, we consume more calories and don't lose weight.
The first problem in developing a moronic argument like this is that it is going to be read by any number of heavy, sedentary people who are looking to exercise to help them lose weight and feel healthier. They read this article and throw in the towel because exercise is no longer worth it.
The second, and far more intricate problem, is that the thesis examines only half the battle of the bulge. Yes, exercise does increase the appetite. Increased fuel burn is going to increase the demand for fuel. All that fuel is summed up in that almighty word: calorie.
No matter how you slice it, weight loss can summed up by taking in fewer calories than you're expending. With that deficit, the body has to burn up fuel stores, and that is primarily held as fat. Flip side: if you consume more calories than you expend, you pack on that extra fuel, again, usually as fat.
Now when we exercise, we burn extra calories. Exercise is necessary in this day and age, not only to keep our hearts, lungs and minds in tip-top shape, but because, aside from actively seeking time to be active, we are for the most part completely inactive -- trapped at the desk, driving from one point to another, crashed out on a sofa at the end of a long day.
Exercise will increase the appetite. But how we serve that appetite is the key point. Where are we finding those extra calories? If you eat 100 calories of broccoli and 100 calories of a Twinkie, your body is going to burn calories to break down that food.
But your body is going to burn more calories burning 100 calories of broccoli than it will burning 100 calories of Twinkie -- or any processed food, for that matter. On top of that, any of the sugar from the Twinkie NOT used immediately by the body will be stored as fat.
So when you stumble home from the Spin class and feel like you should give yourself a little treat -- a cookie, some Ben and Jerry's, some chocolate -- because of how hard you worked, remember the greater goal. That little treat may be a bigger obstacle than you think.
Whole foods are not just the healthy choice because of all the nutritional benefits, but because, in the grander scheme of turning your body into a calorie-burning SUPER MACHINE, they are adding even more firepower.
So yes, exercise may stimulate appetite. But it's knowing how to satisfy the appetite that makes the difference in losing weight. Look to fruits and vegetables instead of "nutrition bars." Make your own smoothie with fruit and whey protein powder instead of guzzling sports drinks.
If you have any questions regarding calories and healthy eating, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Feigin, MS, CSCS, is the owner of The Fitness Guru, a DUMBO, Brooklyn-based health and fitness company. For the last 25 years, Michael has helped thousands of New Yorkers (and folks from other parts of the world) achieve their health and fitness dreams.