Eat less, exercise more… or, less ?

Like many adults in my age range (late 40s), I have observed over the past decade my weight progressively creep up, much to my great joy and satisfaction (tongue firmly in my cheeks).
It is not driving me crazy (yet), but I am now feeling that I should make controlling my weight one of my main goals as I approach my …ties (sorry, I cannot type that in full), mostly because I would like to stay in good health for as long as I can.
So, how bad are things now ?

First of all, the obligatory disclaimer: I love eating and greatly enjoy food. Wait, that is not really a “disclaimer” — whatever.
I would also be a liar (even more so, that is) if I denied having a bit of a snacking problem, but nothing really excessive. I think it is fair to state that I have never had anything resembling an eating disorder. In fact, I have never really had a weight problem. I have never been thin, to be sure, but not overweight either. I am six feet tall, and ten years ago I weighted approximately 178 lbs, which I felt was a reasonable weight.
Five years ago I was ten pounds heavier than that, however, and that is when my doctor (whom I see annually and who had until then never said a word about weight) started warning me gently about not letting my weight get out of control. He has hardly been pleased with my performance over the over the past five years, given that I have picked up ten more pounds, which squarely places me in the “moderately overweight” category. The first challenge is for me to lose at least ten, ideally fifteen pounds, in order to return to an acceptable weight; the second challenge, of course, is to maintain that weight, as opposed to starting to gain again.

OK, one would think that I have got my work cut out for me. We all know that that the secret to weight loss can be summarized in the simple recipe: Eat less and exercise more. It will require discipline, sacrifice, it will be difficult, frustratingly slow, but, barring any unknown and/or unforeseen underlying health conditions, diet and exercise together are bound to lead one to achieving the desired goal… right ?
Well…
Make no mistake: I am no doctor, nutritionist or physical trainer, and surely have nothing new or particularly authoritative to say about this subject. However, I would like to write here about my own personal experience and observation over the past decade, and perhaps read what others will share with me, because I am starting to wonder whether trying to combine diet with exercise is necessarily the best thing.

My lifestyle has always been active. My work is sedentary, of course (though no more than many others), but I have never been a “couch potato”. I have always enjoyed the outdoors and physical activity, have been a fairly disciplined runner for the past fifteen years, averaging twenty-five miles a week (I typically run for an hour, on average six miles and a quarter, four to five times a week). It is my understanding, based on my reading and conversations that I have had with a number of doctors and/or personal trainers, that such an exercise routine is above average, and can be defined as “vigorous”. I also love hiking and taking long walks, something that where I live is not really possible or convenient six months of the year, but is quite enjoyable the other six. In short, I do not see myself being able to increase substantially the amount of exercise that I do, and quite frankly I would be very happy if I managed to exercise this much over the next five years.
It would therefore seem as if my problem is excessive consumption of calories, combined with the fact that, as I age, my body is less efficient at burning fat.
So, I should just eat less, and I know that I do suffer from the type of food addiction that affects many of us — I eat out of boredom, as well as for a number of reasons that have little or nothing to do with actual appetite, there is no denying that.
However, in all honestly most of the time I eat because I am hungry — my stomach starts complaining. In other words, if I eat more, it is because I am hungry more frequently.

But, why ?
I do not know the answer, but while I have always been instructed to regard physical exercise as an essential part of weight control, it is a simple fact that my two most significant weight losses (in my late twenties and thirties) have been achieved in periods of little or no physical exercise. In particular, walking regularly, not running is the physical activity which seems to correlate the most with weight loss, in my case.
On the other hand, and this is the most frustrating aspect of this whole story, by any quantitative measure the past five years have been pretty darn good from the standpoint of physical exercise. However, I have the impression that all that physical activity comes at the cost of increased calorie consumption, to a point where the overall balance has been tilted toward weight gain.
So, lately I am becoming convinced that eating less is really the key, and that physical exercise, in particular the vigorous type (while probably a good thing for a number of other reasons) may or not always be necessary, or even helpful. I do not know if it is because vigorous exercise increases my appetite, or maybe sub-consciously exercising gives me the illusion of being “protected” from weight gain, thereby lowering my mental guard against starches, cheese and gelato — whatever the explanation, I am seriously wondering whether in some circumstances it may be a better idea to exercise less, not more, if weight loss is what one is aiming for.

Any thoughts ? Thank you in advance for any words of wisdom (do not waste your time telling me to cut down on gelato — your comment will simply not be posted… dammit).

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16 Responses to “Eat less, exercise more… or, less ?”

  1. zakaria alhassan Says:

    am in your age bracket and i think your info shared would benefit me too. thank you.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    You may not be eating enough. I think you should try writing down everything you eat one day and figure out the calorie intake. If you do not get eat enough your metabolism slows down and your body starts storing fat. If that is not the answer maybe a nutritionist can suggest what you should be eating.

  3. Anon Says:

    Oi, that is a toughy. I’m younger than you, but when I was an in-season athlete I had similar issues when it came to weight loss. I exercised plenty, and had a reasonable diet (I thought), but could never loose weight. The breakthrough for me came with two things: (1) changing the type of exercising I was doing- I’m convinced that I just became too damn efficient at my primary exercise, so I switched to something that was supposed to be as good in terms of calorie burn, but I had no experience in (in my case this was swimming -> running, you may wan to try the opposite?); (2) getting a calorie counting app for my iPhone- I use “Lose it!”, which is free, and is good for setting weight loss goals on certain time frames, and then setting you a calorie budget, but before I started using that I had no idea how many calories were in some of the foods I was eating that I thought were fairly harmless. Hope my experiences help!

  4. Steven Says:

    Exercise isn’t really the issue, and exercise is a terribly inefficient way to lose weight. If you work out how much calories you burn in an hours worth of running and compare it to a meal, its a pretty depressing thing to do.

    Though, if you are able to maintain your running at your current weight, I am skeptical that your weight is actually a real issue. Most men your age who are 6’0” and ~200lbs are not as fit as you and most of the “you should lose weight” arguments are based on BMI, which is a terribly flawed measure.

    The typical view of weight loss as calories consumed < calories burned, though simple, is a bad approximation to go on, because it neglects how what you eat changes your body chemistry, which is significantly more important for weight gain/loss than the number of calories you consume. (Apparently studies show that the overweight and obese consume, on average, the same number of calories as the lean).

    And with your very slow weight gain, your diet really doesn't seem to be to far off. Apparently (See the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories"), contrary to popular belief, fatty foods are good for you, and even good for weight loss. And its starches, which lead to increased insulin in the blood (and fat storage) that lead to weight gain. My suggestion would be to slightly modify your diet, cutting out some starches and replacing it with a proteins and low carb fruits and veggies.

    For fair warning, I am not a doctor and my knowledge of nutrition is mostly based on the book I mentioned above, so take it with a grain of salt. Though, my first instinct is to just ignore what your doctor says, as with the amount of exercise you are doing I am sure the more relevant markers of health (such as blood pressure, cholesterol, etc..) are not an issue. And if the added weight isn't making it hard on your joints, honestly, who cares.

  5. know-it-all Says:

    Eat long term fuels. Like bran or oatmeal in the morning. Avoid things that make your blood sugar spike (candy, potatoes, beer, etc.) because it makes your blood sugar subsequently drop and you will feel hungry. Google “glycemic index”.

    Know what you are eating:
    fat = 9 cal / g
    alcohol = 7 cal / g !!!!!!!
    carbohydrates and protein = 4 cal / g

    Eat a variety of foods. Try to get a rainbow of colors from your fruits and vegetables.

    Add some strength training and lessen the running. Your knees will also thank you later in life. Your toned muscles will burn calories while you sleep or while you are doing “theoretical” physics:) Do the “girly” exercises not just the mirror muscle ones. This will help prevent injuries.

    Alternatively, you change your jogging to a higher intensity interval workout. Either way, low intensity jogging is the least efficient way (of the commonly accepted ways) to exercise.

  6. transientreporter Says:

    “Eat less and exercise” is all very well, but eat less of what (after all, you have to eat something) and what kind of exercise?

    From what I can tell – reduce high glycemic index carbs that can spike your blood insulin (esp. high fructose corn syrup, which you find in EVERYTHING). As for exercise, running and swimming is good for a lot of things, but not really for losing weight (unless you’re doing a LOT of it). You want to lower your BMR so you can burn calories while sitting your ass in front of a computer. This means increasing your muscle mass (especially at your age when you’re getting flabbier by the day).

    So get your fat ass in the gym and start pumping some iron.

  7. transientreporter Says:

    Oops, that should be “raise your BMR”…

  8. GMP Says:

    You are in an “exercise rut” — if you want to shake up your metabolism you have to do something different. Try kick-boxing, or strength training (good for your bones too!), or some collective sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball) for most fun.

    But ultimately you are getting older and your metabolism slows down; with the same net calorie intake as 10 years ago, you gain weight; for your weight to stay put you actually have to eat less. That’s one of the sad truths about getting older… I would never tell you to deprive yourself of fine cheeses or wine or, God forbid, gelato, but you may want to limit their consumption to maybe once or twice a week. I have a weakness for sweets, especially chocolate, and allowing myself to have it once a week (as opposed to all the freakin’ time) has done wonders.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Great article, here is my twopenneth worth. I like to keep it real simple which it is.
    For keeping fit – Exercise and drink more water
    Getting even fitter-More exercise and drink more water
    For weight loss- Eat less and drink more water
    For weight gain- Eat more

    Some people say eat less of this food or that food, i totally disagree.

    If you eat 6 eccles cakes a day and you weigh 180 pounds then cut down to 5 eccles cakes a day…You WILL lose some weight.

    If you eat 50 apples a day and weigh 180 pounds then cut down to 40 apples a day..You WILL lose some weight.

    It is simple. People try to over complicate it.

    If you are feeling hungry, embrace the feeling, its a great sign your body is working well,it is your body telling you it is STARTING to want food. It is NOT saying, i need food NOW or i’m going to die.

    Plus the good ole drink more water.

  10. El Charro Says:

    What know-it-all said.

    If you want a new, and effective way of working out, try crossfit (www.crossfit.com); they have several Edmonton affiliates. You’ll have to pay to train, but only for a few months while you learn the movements and exercises. After that, if you don’t want to keep paying, you can just decide to try the WOD (work out of the day) on your own having some experience and being able to tune it down to your abilities.

    They typically have a free session in case you are not sure crossfit is for you. That costs you no money and about an hour of your life.

  11. Camilla Says:

    From the way I looked at your problem, your goal shouldn’t be weight loss or dieting. It is rather to make an adjustment to your lifestyle. A change in life style, and a diet plan is not quite the same thing.
    Your progressive weight gain while continuing doing what you’ve always been doing is a good indicator that your body is no longer responding in the same way. Dieting is silly and restrictive because it is nothing but a reduction or substitution to the quantity and composition of whatever you’re currently eating. For example, switching from 2% milk to skim milk, coke to diet coke, two chocolate bars a day to one, etc., while keeping the nature of your food and your style of eating the same. It’s like teasing yourself; snack but snack less or have “sugar” but not real sugar. As a result, most diet plan often turn out to be only a temporary solution.
    Instead of dieting or exercising excessively, look for new ways of doing your calorie replenishing and exhausting activities that you’re happy to accept as part of your new lifestyle. here’re some suggestions:
    – No junk food as snacks. Try veggies, fruits, or maybe just have tea to keep your mouth and stomach busy while doing your “theoretical physics” :-p
    -learn to cook new low calorie dishes you’d love to eat.
    – try a new sport.
    – Do not give up gelato! However, try to stay away from the really creamy ones.
    – eat sushi
    – learn to like healthy choices

    Those are just some tips, and fortunately being young and healthy means I don’t have to do any of these (mwuah ha ha), yet.

    Good luck!

    • Massimo Says:

      Those are just some tips, and fortunately being young and healthy means I don’t have to do any of these (mwuah ha ha), yet.

      Oh, I know, all you have to worry about are those mean, old, fat physics professors… especially the bald ones.

  12. Massimo Says:

    Thank you all for your words of wisdom and encouragement 🙂

  13. PaleoWorks Says:

    Gluttony and sloth have very little to do with that, you may be pleased to learn. It’s a character slur to save face by government and dieticians alike at the expense of YOUR health.
    http://paleoworks.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/eat-less-exercise-more/

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