The Good and the Bad of Good Calories, Bad Calories

By Mike Howard

Now that the dust has settled a bit after the much ballyhooed release of Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, I hereby offer a critique of it. It took me a while to finally get a copy, read and digest it, plus a 2 week decompression exercise that consisted of reading nothing but People Magazine. Note: Regina Wilshire wrote a fantastic synopsis/commentary of the book here.

  • In terms of depth and breadth of information – both scientific and historical, this book is… intimidating.
  • Taubes’ dissertation on the scientific flaws of lipid hypothesis is accomplished the same way that someone would use a grenade to kill a flea. It would be pretty hard to formulate an argument against this.
  • Ditto with the carbohydrate/obesity/disease connection – although I would have liked him to make more discernments between refined carbs and sugars vs. low glycemic load carbs.
  • Taubes also goes to great lengths to disprove the long held belief that calorie balance is the only thing that matters in weight regulation. While I agree that the theory is imperfect and varies according to genetic and hormonal influence, I don’t think the research is as unequivocal as Taubes purports it to be in this area. I’m not buying what he’s selling either when he implies incessantly that calorie balance has nothing to do with weight.
  • On the insulin/fat subject, again there is some very convincing stuff here. It would be very difficult to argue against the fact that insulin does play a prominent roll in the accumulation of fat. Other scientists have also provided strong data to support this.
  • On exercise and fat loss (deep breath)… this is where Mr. Taubes and I disagree completely. His contention is that exercise does not produce any weight loss because it makes us hungry. This is what I would call a case of “armchair science” on his part. He seems to cherry pick studies that support his cause, whilst ignoring a wide body of research that says otherwise.

    If Taubes had framed it in such a way that suggested that exercise would not likely trump a poor diet – I would agree. Additionally, he does not get into much detail about the varying types of exercise, post exercise calorie expenditure or even the positive impact it has on insulin sensitivity (which is strange considering his near seamless argument on the insulin/fat issue). For the record, I have a teensy, weensy bit of bias in this area . Nevertheless, I have included references that support exercise as an effective intervention in weight management.

Closing Remarks

Make no mistake about it – this book is downright impressive. It is really worth a read for anyone with a more than casual interest in nutrition.

I’m still fighting an internal battle as to whether this book is;

a) A brilliant and groundbreaking manuscript guaranteed to revolutionize the way we think about nutrition. A must-read for those responsible for dietary policy as well as the discerning consumer.

or

b) A book in which the most convincing of disputations have already been broached ad nauseam by others before him (albeit not with the same profundity). A long, drawn out way to convince us of things that the nutrition enthusiast already deem to be obvious (Re: Dietary fat doesn’t in and of itself cause disease or obesity, the calorie balance equation in imperfect and hormones and genetics play a role in fat).

Perhaps it is a bit of both.

References:

  1. Leanne M. Redman, Leonie K. Heilbronn, Effect of Calorie Restriction with or without Exercise on Body Composition and Fat Distribution. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2006
  2. McTiernan A, Sorensen B, Irwin ML. Exercise effect on weight and body fat in men and women., Obesity 2007 Jun;15(6):1496-512.
  3. Schneider PL, Bassett DR Jr, Thompson DL, Pronk NP, Bielak KM. Effects of a 10,000 steps per day goal in overweight adults. Am J Health Promot. 2006 Nov-Dec;21(2):85-9.
  4. Slentz CA, Duscha BD, Johnson JL. Effects of the amount of exercise on body weight, body composition, and measures of central obesity: STRRIDE–a randomized controlled study.. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Jan 12;164(1):31-9.
  5. Ross R, Dagnone D, Jones PJ. Reduction in obesity and related comorbid conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men. A randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000 Jul 18;133(2):92-103. Links
  6. Mougios V, Kazaki M, Christoulas K. Does the intensity of an exercise programme modulate body composition changes?. Int J Sports Med. 2006 Mar;27(3):178-81
  7. Lee S, Kuk JL, Davidson LE, Hudson R Exercise without weight loss is an effective strategy for obesity reduction in obese individuals with and without Type 2 diabetes. Appl Physiol. 2005 Sep;99(3):1220-
  8. Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Mar;86(5):411-7.
  9. Ross, R., Freeman, J. A., & Janssen, I. (2000). Exercise alone is an effective strategy for reducing obesity and related comorbidities. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 165-170.

71 Comments

  1. Ian Schragg

    Perhaps I am missing the catch here but I thought fructose was the problem. Carbs in the glucose form are said to be fine as long as you are burning them off but fructose isn’t broken down the same way as protein, glucose, fiber, etc, so you’re left feeling hungry even though you ate a bunch of high fructose corn syrup calories. Was Atkins right? I have no science background but according to Robert Lustig it’s the fructose, which is a part of some carbs but not all of it, that is the problem. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM) He says that the Japanese and Italians eat as much or more carbs then the US but don’t have the same obesity issues because they eat far less fructose.

    Reply
  2. NYCchubbyguy

    I had a roommate who didn’t eat much food–he restricted calories all the time. He never ate chips, pretzels, candy, or desserts (like me). In fact he was a vegetarian. He also was a runner. He would run in snowstorms and cold and rainy weather, every day! But his body was not trim. He was not fat, but for all his running and his calorie restriction for so many years, he should have been ripped. He wasn’t. He was always tired. Slept most of the weekends. I would be too if I ran every morning and ate little food!

    This seems to prove what Taubes says: if you exercise, your body needs more fuel/food/energy, so one is supposed to eat more. Otherwise you can’t keep at it, your body crashes. His did. And because he was eating noodles, vegetables, rice, and pastas, and not meat, he did not lose any weight.

    Flash forward to last year when I had a major surgery. I was in a hospital for 3 weeks. The surgery was on my leg, so I could not exercise. I could barely move! At the hospital, I no longer had alcohol, candy, snacks made of processed grains (aka “carbs”), slices of pizza, or desserts. I avoided cereal, toast, and oatmeal, and stuck to hard boiled eggs in the morning.

    I lost weight, even though I was not exercising at all!!! I chose what I wanted to eat every day, and avoided the carbs Taubes (and Adkins and Cordain and Eades) talks about. By the time I was discharged, I lost almost 20 pounds, I felt great, and clothes fit.

    After getting back home (with no more hospital dietetics department to prepare my meals and because of my leg I could not get around or do much) I started ordering what was easy: pizzas and chinese food that had tons of rice. I gained all the weight back.

    So it wasn’t my exercise or activity level that changed (since before my surgery I went to the gym only a few times a month at most). It was my diet.

    Taubes’ scientific book describes in data and in biological processes what I experienced in weight loss when I was in the hospital vs. when I came home.

    Reply
  3. Eboniece Bright

    WOW

    Reply
  4. Ron Wilson

    One thing in the debate on exercise that has gone on is the that I think the point of the books research was about “Obesity” and its causes.

    Can a 400lb person run 5 miles a day, no it is not practical, his point is I think pretty clear, that exercise is not a requirement that seems to be connected to weight loss.

    And I think its greatest revelation is that Sugar is killing people all over the world. And the people that need to hear this are continually bombarded with the “LOW FAT” mantra and it is what is making them fat in the first place.

    Many overweight people also buy into the good carb bad carb, babble. (i.e. Weight Watchers), When in the end if they would just consume the same number of calories and cut the carbs they will loose weight.

    And most fitness people realize that the “Food Pyramid” is a joke but yet nothing is done to end that line of education.

    In one of Mr. Taubes, interview he questioned a 70 year old Dr. whom ran 5 miles a day his entire adult life and was in the 240 to 260 range the whole time, and the Dr. perspective was that until he cut the carbs out of his diet, he was not loosing weight.

    The other element on the exercise, that I find interesting is so what if someone does not go to the gym for 8 hours a week, if they loose the weight, by cutting carbs, is that not a good thing.

    Some appear to continue the thought that Obesity is a character flaw, and not a disease. And I think Mr. Taubes has found the thing that is the cause of disease of Obesity, and nothing is being done about it in the mainstream educational line for people that need the help.

    On a personal level, I have tried every possible “Diet” on the books, and every time go back to eating what I think are healthy carbs and every time for 35 years have put the weight back on plus. I have also done the gym thing, until I was so fed up with not seeing results in “Weight Loss”, bench pressing 300lbs only kept my weight at the 275 to 300 mark, and then after I did not live in the gym, I would put on 40lbs from not eating like a bird.

    His insight into the physiological mechanisms of storing fat, is a priceless lesson for most “Obese” people, about how they have gotten to where they are at, and to many that is a mystery to them.

    Not every obese person you see, leaves Mickie D’s drive thru, then hits the Wendy’s drive thru, followed by stopping at the quickie mart to get a gallon of regular soda and a candy bar.

    His book is in its entirety about “FAT Loss and storage”, not body composition period! And to keep beating the people that need this information the most in the head about getting off their a$$ and going to the gym just further exacerbates their problem, we are not all gluttons and sloths.

    Not everyone wants to have a 7% body fat composition or can even attain that, as illustrated in the documentary that is on its way called “I want to be that guy!” This reveals that is not that easy to just “hit the Gym”.

    This issue is a very big problem and really seems to be pretty simple, and either 63% of Americans are gluttons and sloths or that just don’t hit the gym enough or there happens to be something else going on.

    And as a side not all foods containing added sugars should be labeled as such in a very evident form.

    I am not a nutritionist or in the field, I am just a person that has weighed over 300 lbs for almost 20 years, and found the information in the book very informative and helpful, and now recommend the book to anyone that I know that is 50+ pounds overweight.

    Reply
  5. stellastar

    I have read the book. I keep it by my side, on the couch-its biblical to me. I’ve given the book to members of my family. The body loses weight as the result of a low carb/low insulin environment. In such an environment stored fat is released for energy and cell nourishment. With the released energy, weight lose is achieved. If the body remains in such a state(with plenty of stored fat to be released), then exercise is an excellent way to expend the extra energy. The body does not lose weight because of the exercise. Exercise is the result of losing weight. The “low carb/low insulin-leads to weight lose environment” needs a coined name. I believe it is the truth based Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. In a high insulin environment combined with exercise the body will pack on the weight. Fat will be stored. The exercise will demand more energy. More carbs- high insulin- fat storage.

    Reply
  6. Mike H.

    Thanks for chiming in, Jamccain.

    Overdoing exercise can cause a negative hormonal influence on the body, but for the most part, exercise has favourable influences on hormonal influences of fat regulation. Let’s take insulin – the hormone that Taubes argues is the ultimate factor in fat regulation. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, which stands to reason that it will keep insulin levels in check, thereby keeping weight in check.

    Again, you would have to show me studies that regular (but not excessive) exercise negatively impacts hormones that control weight.

    You can post your studies here – it just gets held for a bit for moderation. Or feel free to email it to me at coreconcepts@shaw.ca

    Take care.

    Reply
  7. Jamccain

    Mike,

    Sounds like Taubes hit at your “sacred cow”.

    I would contend a couple things:

    1. Exercise has a tremendous hormonal affect on the body.

    2. A hormonal change can affect weight/fat loss or gain.

    Thus, exercise can have a negative or positive impact on fat loss or fat gain.

    Yes, exercise can induce fat gain when all other factors are constant. It is being witnessed and reported on in the field as we speak. I don’t know your policy on links so I won’t post it, but e-mail and I will pass on.

    Have A Great Weekend.

    Reply
  8. Mike H.

    Appreciate your comments, Drew (sarcastic as they were). A few things;

    First, nowhere did I encourage people to take my word for anything instead of reading GCBC. I have mentioned many times that I think it is an incredible book on many levels. I don’t agree with all of Taubes’ conclusions, however and voiced my disagreement of them. Should we all just blindly believe everything Taubes writes? Sorry, Drew but I don’t work that way and I hope you don’t either.

    On the exercise front – exercise will not be very effective if not combined with dietary intervention, however the reverse is also true. The major issues I have with Taubes’ conclusions are as follows;

    His conclusions on exercise are incomplete, obfuscated and sloppy, but they are presented with a certainty equal to that of his conclusions on the lipid hypothesis. And as for the lipid hypothesis – it’s been done, although with not nearly the same conviction.

    Taubes makes blindingly generalized statements about exercise and weight loss and doesn’t discern between the vast variation of exercise types, intensities and durations.

    His claims about exercise are slightly different depending on the source, so it would be nice to get a position statement from him. In some venues he claims that dieting with exercise does not make a difference whereas other forums he just flat out states that exercise does nothing to produce weight loss. Making blanket statements like this to me sounds like a ploy to stir up controversy in an attempt to sell more books.

    He also contends that exercise doesn’t work because it makes you hungry. Well it seems he cherry picked research here and decided to ignore studies that demonstrate otherwise such as the following (from Tom Venuto’s site)

    Blundell JE, cross talk between physical activity and appetite control: does physical activity stimulate appetite? Proc Nutr Soc, 62, 651-661. 2003
    Donahoo WT, Variability in energy expenditure and its components. Curr Op Clin Nutr Metab. 7: 599-605. 2004.
    King NA, et al, Individual variability following 12 weeks of supervised exercise: Identification and characterization of compensation for exercise-induced weight loss. Int J Obes, 32, 177-184, 2008.
    King NA, effects of exercise on appetite control: Implications for energy balance. Med Sci Sport Exer, 29(8): 1076-1089. 1997
    King, NA, The relationship between physical activity and food intake. 57: 77-84. 1998.
    Lluch A, Exercise enhances palatability of food, but does not increase food consumption, in lean restrained females. Int J Obes, 21: supp a129.Melzer K., effects of physical activity on food intake. Clin Nutr, 24: 885-895. 2005
    Slentz CA. Effects of the amount of exercise on body weight, body composition, and measures of central obesity. Arch Intern Med. 164: 31-39. 2004
    Titchenal A., Exercise and Food Intake: what is the relationship? Sports Med, 6: 135-145. 1988
    Yoshioka M, Impact of high-intensity exercise on energy expenditure, lipid oxidation and body fatness. Int J Obes. 25, 332-339. 2001

    Taubes is not infallible. The right types of exercise combined with sensible nutrition do amount to greater fat loss than do diet alone or exercise alone.

    Reply
  9. Drew Derbowski

    Wow, you are such an expert. Nice job in putting Taubes on the strait and narrow. I could tell that you put a lot more effort into your critique than Taubes did in his book. I have been waiting for the arrival of your critique for months, thanks. Seriously, who do you think you are? Whoever listens to your critique instead of actually reading the book is a moron. Let the book speak for itself, because unfortunately exercise alone is not a successful method to lose weight. This is an area that you have to be critical of the research because we are all so certain that exercise does help us lose weight. Look harder and try again, because the evidence argues against this.

    Reply
  10. vanet

    ur good!!!!!

    Reply
  11. Jeff

    Let’s just hope your motive in searching for such a rebuttal is your relentless pursuit of the truth rather than to satisfy a self-affirmation bias.

    Reply
  12. Supplements Canada

    Seems like a pretty interesting book. I find it so hard to really decide what to listen to out there as there is SO MUCH INFORMATION.

    Reply
  13. Supplements Canada

    While books like this do have a lot of great information, as stated in the post, I agree there is a much greater impact on obesity/diabetes when you look specifically at high glycemic foods as compared to just good/bad calories in general

    Reply
  14. David Brown

    Hi Mike,

    I’d say it’s more important to determine what sort of person is using the diet/exercise plan for weight control than to ask what sort of diet/exercise plan is best for everybody. I’ve seen people lose weight using exercise alone or lose weight using exercise and calorie restriction. I’ve also seen them gain it back after stopping the exercise routine and gain it back while continuing both calorie restriction and exercise. For such people, for whom calorie restriction and exercise don’t seem to work long term, carbohydrate restriction is often a better approach.

    Reply
  15. Mike H.

    Regina – I’ll check back after the weekend. I’m going to try and stay away from the screen over the next few days. I wish you a very Happy Easter!

    And again – thank you for the enlightening discussion.

    Reply
  16. Mike H.

    Hi Regina,

    I don’t have time to sift through your previous posts in their entirety at the moment, but I’ll say this to your above point.

    I absolutely believe the onus is on Taubes to clarify such a monumental difference. Afterall, he IS challenging the conventional wisdom on diet, WEIGHT CONTROL and HEALTH. Would you not agree that body fat levels and exercise DO have an impact on weight control and health. In NOT mentioning this, one may interpret this as another angle in which to create a stir and strengthen his reputation as a “myth buster”.

    If Taubes had stated that exercise (again, he would have to define “exercise”) possibly may not have as much to do with weight than we may have been told – I have no problem with that. The problem is that raising questions about the research is not grounds for making the blanket statemets that he has regarding exercise.

    I’ll take a look at your above posts when I have some time, but again – the right type/dose of exercise DOES make a difference when it comes to body composition and weight maintenance.

    Reply
  17. Regina

    Like I said, if Taubes is saying there ARE CLEAR body composition benefits to exercise in addition to diet than my points are moot, however I don’t recall him ever making this distinction either in his book or on the talk show circuits/podcasts. This may be an oversight on my part, however and please do set me straight if I am wrong.

    I don’t think Taubes has the onus on him to clarify body composition benefit (or lack thereof) – the book was to “challenge the conventional wisdom on diet, weight control and health” – not a book about exercise physiology, nor attempting to sort out the nuances of fat loss versus lean body mass versus total body weight loss.

    Because the conventional wisdom holds if you diet and exercise you lose more than if you diet alone, that was his target – the message presented to the American public as solid, evidence-based and without question. He shows it is a message without solid, convincing data and presents why he came to that conclusion.

    Maybe he’ll write his next book on differences in body composition – I dunno!

    Reply
  18. Regina

    When the calorie restricted group added exercise, they lost an additional .5 kg per week in the 24 week period.

    Mike, the groups weren’t diet + exercise and diet alone…they were diet + exercise and exercise only.

    Keim NL, et al. Energy expenditure and physical
    performance in overweight women: response to training with and without caloric restriction.

    After a 2-week stabilization period, in which diets were designed to maintain body weight (BW), the wmen were assigned to a 12-week experimental program of:

    GROUP 1: diet and exercise (D + EX) that included a 50% reduction in energy intake and a program of moderate intensity aerobic exercise 6 days per week. (n = 5)

    GROUP 2: daily exercise (EX) and continued to consume the stabilization diet. (n = 5)

    Results…

    GROUP 1

    D + EX lost an average of approximately 1.1 kg/wk, which was 67% fat, 33% lean
    RMR declined from 1550 to 1411 (attributed to LBM loss by the researchers)

    GROUP 2

    EX lost approximately 0.5 kg/wk, which was 86% fat, 14% lean
    RMR remained stable (baseline 1608; end 1626)

    Mike – this study is not showing that diet + exercise outperforms diet alone for weight loss or greater fat loss, nor does it show (as you stated) that those exercising lost 0.5kg more per week than diet + exercise.

    Important here also is lack of power – with only 10 participants and 14-weeks total, it’s underpowered for determining significance. Since the full-text isn’t available online, I can’t say whether the researchers published p-values or not, but would guess they didn’t since none appear in the abstract.

    Reply
  19. Regina

    Like I said, if Taubes is saying there ARE CLEAR body composition benefits to exercise in addition to diet than my points are moot, however I don’t recall him ever making this distinction either in his book or on the talk show circuits/podcasts. This may be an oversight on my part, however and please do set me straight if I am wrong.

    The public health messages, that the vast majority of Americans are hammered with say “eat less and exercise more” to lose weight. In fact, they often imply that without both, one cannot successfully lose weight and/or that exercise increases the amount of weight one can lose while dieting.

    Taubes’ contends that there such blanket recommendations are not supported by the data published; data which suggests that there is little to no difference in weight loss with or without exercise when two groups are compared, one dieting and one dieting with exercise.

    It’s not just Taubes saying this. In vaguer language, you’ll find “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling;” that was part of the position statement released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recently.

    If the data is as solid as we’re led to believe – that diet + exercise leads to greater weight loss than diet alone – why would the AHA-ACSM say that data to support the hypothesis are not particularly compelling?

    Taubes writes in his New Yorker article “This is not to say that there aren’t excellent reasons to be physically active, as these reports invariably point out. We might just enjoy exercise. We may increase our overall fitness; we may live longer, perhaps by reducing our risk of heart disease or diabetes; we’ll probably feel better about ourselves…But there’s no reason to think that we will lose any significant amount of weight, and little reason to think we will prevent ourselves from gaining it.”

    One of the things that Taubes also contends is that increasing activity (adding exercise to the weight loss equation of calorie restricted dieting) makes you hungry. Guess what? The study you cited, Reduction in obesity and related comorbid conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men. A randomized, controlled trial, finds that to be true.

    If you look at the data tables presented, you can see that those in the diet for weight loss group ate 2019-calories per day, those exercising to lose weight ate 2612-calories per day, and those exercising without trying to lose weight ate 3335-calories per day. Exercise here is associated with a higher caloric intake (“correlated”, may or may not have caused the observation).

    Now, what I didn’t note above in the comments I made on this study is that those exercising, even though they consumed more calories, they were reported to be in a greater calorie deficit to their energy expenditure [EE], yet there was no statistically significant difference in weight loss.

    Those exercising to lose weight had a 376 greater calorie deficit than those dieting only. Why didn’t they lose more weight being in a greater calorie deficit?

    Here is where critically looking at the data and how it is analyzed and interpreted is really important.

    We have two groups – one exercising as the means to lose weight, the other simply restricting calories.

    Both groups lose similar weight over the six months, despite the exercisers being in a greater calorie deficit.

    When we do the math, the statistically significant finding that those exercising lost more fat is much less impressive – in fact, the significance is lost – when we account for the energy deficit; something the researchers didn’t do in their analysis.

    The exercise group should have, based on the calorie theory, had an 18-pound weight loss advantage over those dieting alone.

    They didn’t. They lost 0.4-pounds more than the dieting only group, despite having burned an estimated 63,168 more calories (63168/3500 = 18-pounds); lost just 2.8-pounds more fat; and retained 0.9-pounds more LBM.

    While the group-to-group comparison was found statistically significant, it did not account for the energy deficit in finding significance. The researchers should have done more than note the energy difference, they should have analyzed it as part of their findings. The statistical significance of the fat loss is lost when energy expenditure is accounted for, something the researchers failed to do in their analysis.

    Reply
  20. Regina

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Taubes’ contention is that, contrary to the popular message, diet with exercise will not result in greater weight loss than diet alone.

    To support this contention he cites studies which found no greater loss of weight between groups dieting versus those dieting and exercising. He also goes to great pains to explain the “good” use of evidence and data and the well-intentioned, yet poor use of evidence and data.

    So, if we’re going to look at data, and attempt to refute the claims Taubes makes, we need to present studies that were well controlled, with controls for comparison, where diet with exercise significantly out-performed diet alone.

    Did any of the studies you cite do that?

    Let’s take a look.

    And also, while we’re doing this, let’s keep in mind you stated “And insofar as data pointing to there not being additional weight loss advanctage – I disagree. The studies I provided were the result of a 10 minute pubmed search – I’m sure there are many more like them.”

    The studies you cited include:

    Exercise on Body Composition and Fat Distribution.

    However, no significant relationship was found among changes in RMR, SPA (percent of time active and the energy costs of activity), and PAL. Similarly, change in these variables was not significantly associated with change in body weight. The lack of significant findings is not surprising because this study was only 6 months in duration, and longer periods of time are likely needed to detect an association between metabolic adaptation and change in body weight.

    The last sentence is important, it’s an opinion not based on empirical evidence, thus irrelevant without data to support it. To say longer periods of time are needed to see results says one thing – get back to the lab, do the study, then show what you’re saying is true.

    So this study does not show that Taubes is wrong.

    —–

    Exercise effect on weight and body fat in men and women.

    Controls with no exercise versus intervention groups with varying intensity of exercise. There was no dietary group to compare difference in weight loss. Exercisers with greater increases in pedometer-measured steps per day had greater decreases in weight, BMI, body fat, and intra-abdominal fat – but the diffences were not statistically significant.

    Trending toward significance does not matter, so this study does not show Taubes is wrong.

    —–

    Effects of a 10,000 steps per day goal in overweight adults

    36 week trial investigating adherance to a walking program on weight.

    This was not a dietary intervention, nor did it have controls.

    The obsevation that those who adhered to the program versus those who did not losing 1.9% more body fat isn’t really all that relevant to the discussion for two main reasons: 1) there was no control over confounding variables, such as changes made to diet while participating in the study – there was no tracking of dietary habits or calories consumed during the trial; 2) there was no control group to compare findings with.

    This study does not refute Taubes’ claim.

    —–

    Effects of the amount of exercise on body weight, body composition, and measures of central obesity: STRRIDE–a randomized controlled study.

    A study with three groups to investigate difference in weight and other measures central obesity compared to a control group doing nothing different. There was again no dietary modification component.

    Compared with controls, all exercise groups significantly decreased abdominal, minimal waist, and hip circumference measurements. There were no significant changes in dietary intake for any group. What I’m going to say here is critically important – with no significant dietary changes in any group, the finding that those who had the highest amount/vigorous level of exercise (expended more energy) lost more weight than those doing less tells us one thing – that they lost more weight is expected given this information.

    While the effect of exercise amount was very clear, the effect of exercise intensity was less clear. There appeared to be an effect of exercise intensity on several variables, especially on lean body mass. However, there were no variables for which the low-amount/vigorous-intensity group was significantly better than the low-amount/moderate-intensity group (non-significant all P values >.20). The low-amount/vigorous group had a nearly 2-fold greater increase in lean body mass than the controls (P< .05), but after correction for multiple comparisons, this P value was not significant. And here is a very, very curious sentence too - "Interestingly, 27 (73%) of the 37 controls gained weight, while in the low-amount/moderate, low-amount/vigorous, and high-amount/vigorous exercise groups, 21 (75%) of 28, 20 (71%) of 28, and 23 (85%) of 27, respectively, lost weight." Which means that 7 of 28 in the low/moderate, 8 of 28 in the low/vigorous, and 4 of 27 in the high/vigorous gained weight despite increasing activity. "In the present study, we found that the effect of exercise intensity on fat mass loss was small and nonsignificant, whereas exercise amount had a much clearer effect." ----- Reduction in obesity and related comorbid conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men. A randomized, controlled trial.

    RESULTS: Body weight decreased by 7.5 kg (8%) in both weight loss groups and did not change in the exercise without weight loss and control groups.

    By the numbers:

    Diet versus execise for weight loss

    Weight loss = no significant difference found between groups (p = 0.2)
    Loss of body fat = statistically significant, favoring exercise (p = 0.03)

    Where a statistically significant difference was noted was in fat loss, not a difference in weight loss. Key here is this actually supports Taubes’ contention that exercise does not lead to greater loss of weight; and cannot refute the contention that diet + exercise does not lead to greater weight loss.

    —–

    Does the intensity of an exercise programme modulate body composition changes?

    The decrease in fat mass was significant in both groups (3.1 +/- 1.2 vs. 2.4 +/- 1.5 kg, respectively) but not significantly different between them. Fat-free mass did not change significantly in either group, although the difference between groups tended to be significant (decrease by 0.2 +/- 0.7 kg in the low-intensity group vs. increase by 0.5 +/- 0.6 kg in the high-intensity group, p = 0.058). [note: 0.58 is not significant, trending doesn’t count statistically or clinically in significance]

    This study was not looking at the effect of diet and exercise, thus cannot counter Taubes’ contention. Noteworthy though is the findings were non-significant for what was investigated though.

    —–

    Exercise without weight loss is an effective strategy for obesity reduction in obese individuals with and without Type 2 diabetes.

    The reduction in total and abdominal subcutaneous fat was not different (P > 0.1) between groups; however, the reduction in visceral fat was greater (P < 0.01) in the obese and T2D groups by comparison to the lean group. A significant (P < 0.01) increase in total skeletal muscle, high-density muscle area, and mean muscle attenuation was observed independent of group, and these changes were not different between groups (P > 0.1).

    This was exclusively a study investigating effect of exercise, not diet and exercise, and not weight loss. It’s not applicable to Taubes’ contentions.
    —–

    Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management.

    Not applicable since it was measuring post-exercise oxygen consumption, not effects of diet and exercise on weight.

    —–

    Exercise alone is an effective strategy for reducing obesity and related comorbidities.

    No access to full text; can’t offer comments on it.

    —–

    All that said, again Taubes does not say exercise or increased activity is useless, nor does he say not to exercise. He does point to the dearth of evidence to support the notion that dieting with exercise leads to greater weight loss.

    Regarding the contention “With the right type of training, people absolutely WILL lose more weight than with dieting alone. Again, there is oodles of data to show this. (see above references). It is true that results will vary, but to tell someone that exercise won’t help them is irresponsible.”

    As I’ve pointed out above, the studies you cited do not support your contention that diet with exercise results in greater weight loss. I read each and every study you cited (with the exception of the one I could not get a full-text copy of) and NONE of them show statistically different weight loss when diet + exercise were actually part of the study design. In others, as I noted, they were not comparing diet + exercise to diet alone, thus not doing much to counter Taubes’ assertions.

    I’ll continue in another post on a couple of other things…

    Reply
  21. Mike H.

    My sentense cut out… the group lost an additional .5 kg per week in the 24 week period.

    Reply
  22. Mike H.

    This is in reference to the calorie balance issue. Although I think he makes some very good arguments, he doesn’t challenge the most carefully conducted studies on the matter – human metabolic ward studies.

    When the calorie restricted group added exercise, they lost an additional
    Keim NL, et al. Energy expenditure and physical
    performance in overweight women: response to training with and without caloric restriction. Metabolism, June, 1990

    Reply
  23. Mike H.

    The above are my comments! Sorry – I didn’t realize someone else had changed the handle.

    Reply
  24. T H

    Regina Said:
    Favorably altering body composition isn’t the same as final weight on the scale, is it? That’s the main point of what he’s saying…he didn’t get into LBM vs. body fat loss with or without exercise…

    No it is not and this needs to be addressed first to be on the same page. Body fat = important, weight = unimportant. Did Taubes clarify this emphatically in his book? I don’t remember and don’t have the book anymore. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a very important factor. If in fact this was an oversight on my part, I would contend that Taubes should have espoused the value of exercise for fat loss. If you have an excerpt I would appreciate it.

    Regina said:
    …he simply looked at whether one loses more weight with and without exercise when in calorie restriction and the data points to there being no advantage to exercise with dieting as a means to lose *more* weight on the scale.

    Again, surely he would know that this is an unimportant fact and ought to have addressed and clarified this to his readers. Further, he has a responsibility to clarify this on his talk show circuits (I haven’t ever heard him make such a discernment). And insofar as data pointing to there not being additional weight loss advanctage – I disagree. The studies I provided were the result of a 10 minute pubmed search – I’m sure there are many more like them. In my estimation, Taubes’ data and quotes from the likes of Xavier Pi-Sunyer do not convincingly counter any of these studies. He does nothing in the way of discrediting any studies like the one’s I’ve posted and in not doing so, his claims are on shaky scientific ground.

    Regina said:
    That said, the vast majority of messages out there, directed to the public, are meant to convince people that if they exercise with dieting they’ll lose *more* weight than if they just cut calories.

    With the right type of training, people absolutely WILL lose more weight than with dieting alone. Again, there is oodles of data to show this. (see above references). It is true that results will vary, but to tell someone that exercise won’t help them is irresponsible.

    Regina said:
    think folks need meaningful information to make good decisions, and if any-ole exercise doesn’t do much to stimulate greater weight loss, they should know that and then also know which types of exercise lead to favorable fat loss with preservation of LBM even if the scale number isn’t going to be significantly different at the end of the day.

    I agree. People need to know the difference between scale weight and fat weight. Again, Taubes fails in the regard because he doesn’t acknowledge this. The weight loss/fat loss benefits with regards to the EPOC factor, the hormonal regulation factor and the effect of builing and saving lean tissue are all contributors to losing body fat and weight.

    Regina said:
    And total contrarian that I am….I think people should honestly be told that if, when they first start a diet they don’t feel much like exercising, it hurts, whatever, that’s OK, lose some weight first and then introduce exercise later, when you feel better. But few are willing to say that….and many folks out there are intimidated by the prospect that they also have to exercise *to lose weight* when the reality is that they really don’t have to if they modify diet…..lose some weight….and as Taubes points out, then have access to body fat stores more readily and are more likely to want to move more with the loss of weight.

    This will depend on individual circumstance however I still contend that you will be doing more for your body composition/weight by exercising along with the dietary changes. I guess you don’t HAVE TO exercise to lose weight but my stance is the same – it DOES HELP.

    Like I said, if Taubes is saying there ARE CLEAR body composition benefits to exercise in addition to diet than my points are moot, however I don’t recall him ever making this distinction either in his book or on the talk show circuits/podcasts. This may be an oversight on my part, however and please do set me straight if I am wrong.

    Reply
  25. David Brown

    It may be too early, alright. More likely, mainstream health organizations and scientists are ignoring Taubes this time around. I too have been watching for some sort of response from prominent individuals and important organizations.

    Reply
  26. Regina

    That said, whether his contention is that there is no difference in diet vs. exercise groups or whether it is that exercise in and of itself is not useful for weight loss – I think there is in fact evidence to support the opposite in both cases. It just may not be due to the calorie balance equation – which is how it tends to be promoted. Although this is part of it, there are hormonal benefits to exercise that would favorably alter body composition. Further there are factors such as EPOC, NEAT that need to be addressed before coming to such a conclusion. Further, a discernment of the type of exercise needs to be understood to qualify any claims therof.

    Favorably altering body composition isn’t the same as final weight on the scale, is it? That’s the main point of what he’s saying…he didn’t get into LBM vs. body fat loss with or without exercise…he simply looked at whether one loses more weight with and without exercise when in calorie restriction and the data points to there being no advantage to exercise with dieting as a means to lose *more* weight on the scale.

    I totally agree that some forms of exercise have very favorable effects on loss of fat, reduction of LBM loss and improvements to cardiovascular function. That said, the vast majority of messages out there, directed to the public, are meant to convince people that if they exercise with dieting they’ll lose *more* weight than if they just cut calories.

    I think folks need meaningful information to make good decisions, and if any-ole exercise doesn’t do much to stimulate greater weight loss, they should know that and then also know which types of exercise lead to favorable fat loss with preservation of LBM even if the scale number isn’t going to be significantly different at the end of the day.

    And total contrarian that I am….I think people should honestly be told that if, when they first start a diet they don’t feel much like exercising, it hurts, whatever, that’s OK, lose some weight first and then introduce exercise later, when you feel better. But few are willing to say that….and many folks out there are intimidated by the prospect that they also have to exercise *to lose weight* when the reality is that they really don’t have to if they modify diet…..lose some weight….and as Taubes points out, then have access to body fat stores more readily and are more likely to want to move more with the loss of weight.

    Reply
  27. Regina

    Although I think Taubes scrutinizes the calorie balance equation very convincingly, he does’t tackle metabolic ward studies in this regard – or at least not from what I rememeber from reading the book and listening to interviews with him. Please correct me if I’m wrong on this Regina.

    I’m not sure what you were hoping to see from the metabolic ward studies that are available? Can you give me a clue?

    Reply
  28. Linds

    I haven’t anything to say on this, but I think it’s wonderful that Diet-Blog still has visitors capable of mature debate and reasoning.

    Gives me just that extra shred of hope in humanity.

    Reply
  29. Mike H.

    Great points Regina! I was (admitedly a little nervously) awaiting a response from you and I just knew you would post something very thoughtful and detailed! I think you hit on a great point in your second-to-last paragraph regarding the support that exercise has healthy benefits in the absence of weight loss. To be clear – Taubes is not anti-exercise.

    That said, whether his contention is that there is no difference in diet vs. exercise groups or whether it is that exercise in and of itself is not useful for weight loss – I think there is in fact evidence to support the opposite in both cases. It just may not be due to the calorie balance equation – which is how it tends to be promoted. Although this is part of it, there are hormonal benefits to exercise that would favorably alter body composition. Further there are factors such as EPOC, NEAT that need to be addressed before coming to such a conclusion. Further, a discernment of the type of exercise needs to be understood to qualify any claims therof.

    Although I think Taubes scrutinizes the calorie balance equation very convincingly, he does’t tackle metabolic ward studies in this regard – or at least not from what I rememeber from reading the book and listening to interviews with him. Please correct me if I’m wrong on this Regina.

    In summation, I think you bring up a formidable counter argument. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with you!

    Reply
  30. Regina

    On exercise and fat loss (deep breath)… this is where Mr. Taubes and I disagree completely. His contention is that exercise does not produce any weight loss because it makes us hungry. This is what I would call a case of “armchair science” on his part. He seems to cherry pick studies that support his cause, whilst ignoring a wide body of research that says otherwise.

    I have to disagree here – his contention is that dieting with exercise doesn’t make you lose more weight over the long-term, not that it offers no benefit. He didn’t find any good research to support the idea that exercise will make you lose moe weight as we’re repeatedly told it will as part of the it’s all about calories in and calories out; that he found the data doesn’t support the contention that if you simply eat less and move more and you will lose more weight and keep it off.

    He reached the contrarian position that exercise does not make you lose more weight from a number of studies designed to prove that exercise makes you lose more weight – studies that found instead that weight loss is similar between groups who are eating similar calories and one group is exercising and one group is not exercising.

    In a recent New York Magazine article, Taubes wrote his analysis of the published data:

    This is not to say that there aren’t excellent reasons to be physically active, as these reports invariably point out. We might just enjoy exercise. We may increase our overall fitness; we may live longer, perhaps by reducing our risk of heart disease or diabetes; we’ll probably feel better about ourselves. (Of course, this may be purely a cultural phenomenon. It’s hard to imagine that the French, for instance, would improve their self-esteem by spending more time at the gym.) But there’s no reason to think that we will lose any significant amount of weight, and little reason to think we will prevent ourselves from gaining it.

    I point this out because no matter how clear Taubes was in the book, and no matter how many different ways he says it in interviews, somehow something is lost in translation. Taubes asserts the data supports the position that one will not lose more weight while on a diet if they exercise or that exercise will make you lose more weight.

    Let’s see if I can translate this – two words seem to be lost in the discussions going on about the book – WEIGHT LOSS – with or without exercise is found to be similar when one is dieting to lose weight, even in tightly controlled studies. Basically, at the end of the day, whether you exercise or don’t exercise, the number on the scale is likely to be the same. Whether one will see a difference in fat loss, muscle toning or other benefit from exercise isn’t the issue – the issue is does the number on the scale differ in a staticially and clinicially significant way with exercise? The data suggests that the answer is no, it does not.

    Perhaps a better discussion isn’t about what Taubes didn’t include in his references, but rather an examination of the studies he included so that we can explain to folks who are trying to lose weight that there are health benefits related to exercise that have nothing to do with the scale number at the end of the day.

    Maybe if and when we can end the wishful thinking that exercise makes us lose more weight, we can then engage in a discussion about how different types of exercise can help preserve lean body mass and lead to greater loss of fat, even if the total weight loss isn’t greater with exercise.

    Reply
  31. Muata

    I’ve read and reviewed Taubes’s piece and agree with Mike on this one. When Taubes discusses exercise, he cites very dated studies and nothing really current, as the poster did after his critique. Also, to flatly say that exercise does not contribute to weight loss for people who are “insulin sensitive” is a bit of double-speak since, depending on the type of exercise you do, determines what type of weight (fat, water, or tissue) you lose. I’ve lost over 120lbs, and I’m very carb sensitive, and have followed a keto diet for years. If I didn’t exercise, I would look pudgy and be no where near the body fat % I have now (8% from 44%). I think that Taubes has ventured into a topic that he is not too familiar with, just as other weight loss gurus (low carb or low-fat) have: optimizing the physique after/during weight loss. This is unfortunate because a horde of fat folks out there will simply use his findings as a further excuse not to exercise, as I did with counting calories when I first did Atkins many moons ago. Go and check out low-carb forums, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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