RANT 🙂 How Eating Less Makes You Fatter & Exercising More Makes You Sicker
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Hey, everyone. Jonathan Bailor back with another Living the Smarter Science of Slim show. “Wow” is all I can say about today’s show because we’re going to get right into it, folks. We are going to show — well, maybe we aren’t going to show — we’re going to show how Harvard showed that in over 118,000 — 118,000 — I feel a little bit like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, 118,000 people — the less they ate, the more they weighed. So now you can see maybe why we’re telling you to eat more, but smarter. And then, we will not finish. We will then show how researchers went on to show that exercising less — not more, but less – may be the key to a healthy heart. So if that doesn’t make you want to stick around and listen, I don’t know what will. Eating less making you weigh more? And exercising less making your heart healthier? Oh yes, oh yes. Well, let’s just jump into it. Let’s just jump into it.
So first and foremost, eating less and weighing more. Now, I know this sounds a little bit too good to be true, and in an area of diet and exercise, there is a lot of stuff out there that is just hogwash — can I say that on the air? Hogwash. So any time you hear anything that raises that little red flag in your brain, that’s fabulous. We should probably have those flags going off a little bit more frequently. So we’ve got to then look at the science. We have to go to the data to see if this, which sounds too good to be true, is in fact too good to be true or if maybe just what we have led to believe is based on a calorie mythology which has actually never been borne out and has been perpetuated by a bunch of marketing messages because the more we struggle, the more money people make. But, hey, that’s the topic for another show.
So today, let’s take a quick stroll through the studies that show that more food equals more fat is, plain and simple, a myth which, of course, makes us all happy. So study #1: In this study, Harvard researchers looked at a massive sample. Most studies we hear about is with twenty people, sixty people… No, no, no, no, no. In this study, Harvard looked at 67,272 women. So for all the ladies out there, this study was looking at nearly 70,000 of your fellow females. And Harvard then divided them into fifths according to the quantity of calories they ate. So what that means is, one-fifth of the women were put in the lower end of the spectrum; they were consuming right around 1,600 calories per day. And then in the highest fifth of those nearly 70,000 women, those females were consuming well over 2,000 calories per day — so almost a 500-calorie difference between the women eating the least in this study and the women eating the most.
Now, conventional wisdom, which of course is the same wisdom which has led us to record levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and emotional eating and depression and a bunch of other not-so-good stuff — so conventional wisdom, which has caused a disastrous health crisis in this country, would lead us to believe that the women who ate 1,600 calories not only are just smarter and stronger and have more willpower than the women who were eating over 2,000 calories per day but also that they would have a lower body mass index, or what is the standard measure for whether or not someone is normal weight, overweight, obese, et cetera. None of those things were true.
So first of all, making moral claims about a person based on the number of calories they consume in a day is absurd. And it’s also even more absurd when this study of nearly 70,000 women showed that the women who ate the fewest calories — this is the approximately 1,600 calorie group — had the highest body mass index and the women who ate the most calories — nearly 500 more calories per day — had the lowest body mass index. And that was not just some exception. There was basically a linear relationship as we looked at the other three groups as well. The less the women ate in terms of calories, the higher their body mass index — just the opposite of what the conventional wisdom would lead us to believe. But then again, the conventional wisdom tells us all kinds of things and look where that’s gotten us. So maybe when we take a step back, the study isn’t that surprising.
What’s even better is the researchers then also looked at that same sampling of women and they came up with a quality of their diet index. So they scored the quality of the whatever quantity of calories the women were eating and went on to find that, as we would expect, the higher the quality of the diet, the lower the body mass index. So quality of food absolutely is inversely related with body fat. The higher the quality of our diet, the less body fat we carry around. However, this whole “cut calories” mythology is just that, and that’s 70,000 women.
And what’s even cooler is — I’ve got to imagine Harvard was surprised. They were like, “Wait. Nooo. No, no, no.” So they re-upped. They said, “You know? Let’s do another study. Let’s do another study and let’s look at men this time.” Not as many. This time, they looked at only 51,529 men — so not 70,000 but that’s pretty impressive. Over 50,000 men, again divided them into fifths, and guess what they found? Yep. The fewer calories the men consumed, the higher their body mass index. So the men who were eating right around 1,900 calories per day had the highest body mass index and the men who were eating nearly 2,200 calories per day had the lowest body mass index. And that trend continued across all five groups. The fewer calories a man ate, in a sample of over 50,000 of them — many, many men; one could say that it was raining men in this study –there was an inverse relationship between the quantity of calories consumed and body mass index. More calories correlated with less body fat.
Now, that does not mean we should all go get some mega-size Weight Gainer 3000 from our local supplement store and just down pounds of it in an effort to drive our calorie count so high that it will somehow magically drop body fat levels. That is not at all the takeaway. Please do not do that. That is not healthy especially because the vast majority of weight gain powers are nothing but sugar and starch because those two substances are incredibly good at making us gain weight.
So the key though is to not fear food because, again, just like in the study of the nearly 70,000 women and this study of over 50,000 men, they again re-looked at this data but this time pivoting it against the quality of the foods consumed and found, just like in the females, the higher the quality of the food consumed, the lower the body mass index or the less fat the men in the study stored.
It is absolutely not about counting calories. If you want to track anything, please track quality and please go out of your way to eat more but smarter — more high-quality foods, foods that are high in water, foods that are high in fiber, and foods that are high in protein. Think non-starchy vegetables — vegetables you could eat raw; vegetables, most frequently that grow above ground; not always, but most frequently, green leafy vegetables.
Green, in general, is a wonderful color to eat. If you were to eat just one color of food, green would probably be your best bet. So we’re talking spinach, arugula, kale, and Romaine lettuce — any kind of green leafy vegetable. Deep green, though, deep green. Broccoli, cucumber, mushrooms, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, squash, just peppers — good, colorful, delicious eats; nutrient-dense proteins; seafood; clams —
I started eating clams recently. Clams are some good eating and you can buy them in these very affordable giant cans and you add them to soups. You can just put them in anything. They’re like chicken, except they have like 1,000 times more nutrients in them. They are just fabulous for you. So, hey, shout out to clams. What’s up, clams?
Seafood, nutrient-dense proteins — we’re talking high-quality meats, we’re talking whole food fats, chia seeds, coconut, cocoa — oh yes, cocoa, the primary ingredient in chocolate, is amazingly, amazingly healthy for us. That doesn’t mean chocolate is healthy for us; it means that cocoa is healthy for us. So let’s just add that to other SANE dishes. And of course, macadamia nuts, avocados –all that fun stuff. Eggs — another great source of healthy fats. Eggs, eggs, eggs. And then low-fructose fruits: so berries — strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries; and citrus — limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruits — all fabulous stuff helping us to drive the quality of our eating up, our fear of food down, the amount of math we do at the dinner table down. Down with you counting calories.
And of course then, at least if we follow the trajectory of this nearly 120,000 people tracked by Harvard, as we drive that quality of our diet up and free ourselves from doing math in our kitchen and instead just remember to eat high-quality food, we too can worry less, eat more, and of course, weigh less and be more healthy, which is fabulous and great news.
And the only thing that may rival that news is our next segment, which is more astounding research, but again, maybe not that astounding, considering how the more and more and more we have been exercising, the sicker, sicker, and fatter we’ve gotten. So maybe the key isn’t more of the same approach, which hasn’t worked, but rather, a different approach. And that different approach may just be exercising less but with, again, higher quality. It is a quality issue; not a quantity issue.
But wait a second. If I’m going to get here on the air and say that we should exercise less for a healthier heart, I better have some data to back that up. And please, yes, absolutely hold me to that standard and hold everyone to that standard because you know what, friends? Biology is not a matter of opinion. It does not matter what I think. It does not matter what I think happens when oil and water are mixed together; that’s a fact. It doesn’t matter what I think one plus one equals; one plus one equals two. And it doesn’t matter what I think certain forms of exercise do in the body; we can study that and we can prove it definitively. So enough of this, people, “I think this…” It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you think. What matters is what’s been proven out in the research. So let’s check it out.
So first and foremost, why do we hear in the first place that exercise is important for our heart health? Well, this comes from studies showing how long bouts of conventional cardiovascular exercise — so when we say cardiovascular exercise, generally that means things like jogging, so these aerobic-type exercises, because they increase our VO2 max. Our VO2 max is, quoting the researchers here, “An expression of the functional health of the combined cardiovascular, pulmonary, and skeletal muscle systems.”
Again, your VO2 max, in case you maybe play Trivial Pursuit tonight or go on Jeopardy and are asked, “your VO2 max is an expression of the functional health of the combined cardiovascular, pulmonary, and skeletal muscle systems.” What that means is a higher VO2 max generally indicates a healthier heart and a lower VO2 max generally indicates a less healthy heart. So if studies have shown that long bouts of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise boost our VO2 max, then the more exercise, the healthier our heart. Right? Not so much. Again, that is what conventional wisdom would let us to believe but, remember, conventional wisdom didn’t work out very well.
So while it is true that a lot of low-quality or low-intensity exercise does increase our VO2 max, researchers have revealed that a little high-quality exercise is — and this is quoting the research directly — significantly more effective in improving VO2 max. Again, researchers have shown that while, yes, low-quality conventional cardiovascular exercise does increase our VO2 max, doing less –less, a.k.a., not as much time in the gym but higher-quality or higher-intensity exercise is, quoting the research directly, significantly more effective in improving VO2 max.
So do we need to exercise to help our hearts? Absolutely. It’s absolutely important to exercise to get our heart health up. But do we need to exercise a lot? No. And in fact, does exercising a lot have any benefit? Well, not really because if you think about it, there is an inverse relationship.
I’m going to geek out here for a second. There is an inverse relationship between the quantity of exercise we can do and the quality of that exercise. You cannot sprint for as long as you can walk. Not because you’re lazy, just because you use more energy. The harder you’re working and then you run out of energy faster and then you can’t do as much of it. You drive your car at 200 miles an hour, you’re going to be able to drive for a shorter period of time than if you drive your car at 20 miles an hour.
So when we talk about exercising more, what we’re really saying indirectly is dropping the quality of our exercise. And dropping the quality of our exercise is counter-productive to our heart health. In fact, researchers have found that even if we take the same amount of work, a.k.a., the same number of calories burnt during exercise, higher-quality or more intense exercise, which again would have burnt those calories in a much shorter period of time, improved VO2 max more. So even if you say, “I’m going to burn 300 calories jogging” and “I’m going to burn 300 calories sprinting,” the 300 calories burnt sprinting — well, it’s actually not about the calories, it’s about the sprinting — but even when you hold the amount of energy used constant, the higher-quality exercise out-performs conventional exercise in terms of VO2 max.
And from the researchers directly, here’s the quote about high-quality exercise. “High-quality exercise is significantly more effective than performing the same total work at either lactate threshold or at seventy percent heart rate max in improving VO2 max.” Now, translating that into less geek terms, quoting, using the high-quality exercise is significantly more effective than performing the same total work at either moderate or low-intensity levels.
And it got even more encouraging here — or more disturbing, depending on how you look at it, because it can get a little frustrating when you hear that what the research actually shows is in such sharp contrast to what we’ve been told all these years. And while that does rub me the wrong way too because I’m like, “What have I been doing this whole time?” The good news is, if we haven’t been enjoying the results we’re getting, we actually have a different approach now. We know why it hasn’t worked and we don’t need to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. So while it might be painful in the short term, it is amazingly hopeful and promising in the long term because, after all, we’re talking about eating more and exercising less and just using that beautiful brain in our heads to do it smarter. And that is an infinitely more enjoyable and practical and permanent approach. So awesome, awesome, awesome.
In another study, the researchers divided people into three groups and fed them all artery-stressing meals. Now, the difference between the groups was that one didn’t exercise at all, another one did moderate-quality exercise, and the last one did high-quality exercise. While the two exercise groups burnt the exact same number of calories, get this — the researchers found that the high-quality group got double the heart health benefits in half the time.
Now, hold on a second. Let’s just recap here. Three groups of people, one group didn’t exercise, one group did conventional exercise, and the other group did a higher quality or more intense form of exercise — think heavy resistance training or things like safe interval training. The group that did the high-quality exercise burnt the exact same number of calories as the conventional exercise group. We know it’s not about calories but it’s super interesting because we’re comparing apples to apples here in terms of amount of energy used. However, that high-quality group got double the heart health benefits. We’re not talking about weight loss here so this is not a vanity thing. They healed their hearts twice as much and in half the time. So twice the benefits, half the times — that’s like 400 percent better — with the same number of calories.
So I’m always talking about these calorie myths, right? Because if it was just about calories, we’d say, “Oh, I’ll do any kind of exercise. It really doesn’t matter. Like, you could jump on a pogo stick, whatever; just burn those calories.” Well, the study is showing us right here — no, no, no, no, no. These two groups of people — one moderate-quality exercise, the other high-quality exercise — both burning 300 calories but one group is getting 200 percent better heart benefits in half the time. Clearly, we know a calorie isn’t a calorie when it comes to the food we eat but it’s obviously also not in terms of the exercise we get.
The researchers then went on to conclude, quoting directly here, “These findings reveal a clinically relevant protective effect of acute exercise on the vasculature that is clearly exercise intensity dependent.” A.k.a., it is super relevant to the medical field and then to all of us that intense, safe exercise is really what determines the heart benefits. It’s not about just doing more, it’s about doing less but smarter.
And this is not controversial. There’s a lot more studies but let’s just focus on one more. Let’s go mainstream, just in case there’s any doubters out there, which is all good. This is way off the traditional path so no worries at all if it’s a little tough to wrap the head around initially. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we keep coming at you every week with more and more, hopefully, interesting and helpful research.
So Harvard researchers published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA — so that is like the Time magazine or the Newsweek of the medical journal community; it is about as well known as you get. They followed 44,452 people over ten years. So Harvard researchers; Journal of the American Medical Association; nearly 45,000 people for ten years — so I’d say this is an interesting study to look at. And they saw that, in that sample, the quality of exercise correlated with a reduced risk of dying from coronary heart disease independent of the quantity of exercise performed.
Again, the quality of exercise correlated with a reduced risk of dying from coronary heart disease independent of the quantity of exercise performed. Meaning, a little bit of high-quality exercise reduced the risk of dying from heart disease even at lower quantities. The researchers stated it like this, quoting directly, “Exercise intensity was associated with reduced risk independent of the hours spent in physical activity.”
One more time, really let that sink in — 45,000 people; Journal of the American Medical Association; Harvard researchers; looking at these people for ten years, quoting, “Exercise intensity,” a.k.a. exercise quality, “was associated with reduced risk independent of the hours spent in physical activity.”
So why, why, why? Unless you enjoy it, unless you enjoy it; I personally do not. But why, why, why spend hours upon hours upon hours upon hours breaking your joints and stressing your spinal column on the treadmill or pounding it on the pavement when exercise intensity is the thing associated with reduced risk? Excess fat and health problems are not quantity problems; they’re quality problems. It’s not about eating less.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, showing that it’s not about exercising more. It’s about using our brains instead of using brute force and it’s about eating more and exercising less but doing that smarter.
This is Jonathan Bailor and I’ll see you next week.