Focus on food, not exercise, to lose weight


Photo: Warrengoldswain | Dreamstime.com

Photo: Warrengoldswain | Dreamstime.com

Exercise has many health benefits but if you are using it solely as a way to slim down, think again. An editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine argues that in order to lose weight, people should focus more on what they eat than on exercise.

This is because physical activity alone does not lead to weight loss if eating habits are still unhealthy. Nor does it help to simply count the calories that you are consuming. The “calories in versus calories out” logic, wherein weight loss goals are supposedly achievable if you exercise enough to use up the energy that you get from food, is not a balanced approach to losing weight. The authors say that the quality of food that you eat plays a bigger role in reaching a healthy weight.

For example, rather than eating food high in carbohydrates and sugar, it is better to eat food containing same amount of calories but with more protein. According to the authors, including UK cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, carbohydrates, especially sugar, encourage the storage of fat. However, food companies use this calorie counting strategy to mask the unwholesomeness of their products.

“Members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting, and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. It is time to wind back the harms caused by the junk food industry’s Public Relations machinery. Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet,” they wrote.

The editorial authors urged an end to food and drinks companies’ sponsorship of sports events, since the association of the two may mislead the public into thinking that the sponsoring company’s products promote good health.

Other nutrition and obesity experts agree that exercise contributes to maintaining a lower weight once the weight has been lost, but caution against blaming only sugar and carbs for obesity. For example, salt and fat also pose health risks.

“Given that obesity, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are all risk factors for chronic disease, it makes good sense to seek to change both diet and activity behaviours to lose weight and improve health,” said Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford. “Rather than trade one off against the other – sugar vs fat, diet vs activity, individual vs population we need to take action across the full range.”

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