Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gawker says you should never take exercise advice from the NYTimes. Seconded!

The NYTimes is at it again, trying to figure out exactly what it is we need to do to be thin.  In addition to many other problems, the article cites that same crazy weight loss study that followed women starting at a mean age of 54, and found that only those who started thin and exercised for an hour or more a day stayed thin.  Because, as a 54 year old, being thin should of course be the ultimate goal of your existence.  Even though we have no reliable studies on what happens when women do (or don't) put on weight after menopause.

Gawker's Hamilton Nolan issues an appropriate takedown, in a story titled "Never Take Fitness Advice from the New York Times:"
"Does working out really help you lose weight?" ...This is hardly the first time the NYT has asked some slight variation of this maddening question. But this latest story clearly distilled these fundamental premises from which the journalism proceeds:
1. Weight loss is the goal towards which you should strive.
2. Exercise therefore has value to the extent it helps you lose weight.
3. Your goal is to become thin.
Thin. "Thin!" That is exactly the word this story uses. "The newest science suggests that exercise alone will not make you thin, but it may determine whether you stay thin, if you can achieve that state."
Nolan rightly points out that there's no reason the point of an exercise regime should be thinness, and in fact that thinness could be counterproductive:
Being thin is an awful goal towards which to strive. It is certainly not the goal of an exercise program. Writing an entire, ostensibly meaningful and important story on whether exercise can make you thin is analogous to wondering whether going to college can get you laid. Yes, but that's not really the point.
The purpose of working out is get in shape. Not to get "thin." To be in shape, for the average person, connotes being healthy, and improving on the basic elements of one's own fitness: muscular strength, endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, etc. Certainly, if someone is obese, it behooves them to get down to a healthier body weight. But outside of that, the concept of being "thin" could not have less to do with the concept of fitness. Indeed, designing a workout and nutrition program with the goal of being thin will almost certainly ensure that you cannot achieve a high level of fitness; you would eat a low-calorie diet, thereby robbing yourself of muscular gains.
I would go farther than Nolan, and say that if someone is obese, what would "behoove them" is the same thing that would behoove most of us: to try to become more fit by incorporating some form of exercise into our lives, and have reasonably healthy eating habits.  But the NYTimes definitely can't help you there, because they continue to buy into the bizarre nutrition myth of "calorie math":
The mathematics of weight loss is, in fact, quite simple, involving only subtraction. “Take in fewer calories than you burn, put yourself in negative energy balance, lose weight,” says Braun, who has been studying exercise and weight loss for years. The deficit in calories can result from cutting back your food intake or from increasing your energy output — the amount of exercise you complete — or both.
But, of course, our bodies aren't Bunsen Burners [thanks, shapelies]: food serves real purposes within our body (such as building muscle mass), our metabolic rates adjust based on how much food we consume, and all of this translates into how good we feel and how much energy we have.  Go read this post for more (but she's peddling a low-carb diet, which I don't buy either).  Or you can just try to be thin!  And forget health!  And, you know, life.

1 comment:

  1. Ironically, the NYTimes also does follow whether going to college can get you laid. This article in particular followed similar false premises. Of course, if one of your higher education goals is to get laid, I suppose choosing a school with a favorable gender ratio could be helpful, but similar to exercising and fitness, is only one of many relevant variables.


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