A Direct Message To Those Who Proclaim That Exercise Makes You Fatter

posted in: Fat Loss, Miscellaneous, News, Uncategorized | 10

I’ve seen a recurring theme about exercise in some media outlets recently, both in mainstream and smaller sources. It’s the notion that exercise somehow makes you fatter, or similarly, that it won’t actually help you get thinner. If that wasn’t outrageous enough, I’ve even seen claims that exercise doesn’t improve fitness at all. Of course, it’s all complete nonsense, and in some cases, blatant lies. Humanity has known for a long, LONG time all about the various benefits of exercise. And if millennia of culture, tradition, and common sense isn’t convincing enough for you, then you can scour the research archives that have grown to a monstrous level over the past several decades. Of course, the overwhelming evidence is that exercise is extremely good for us, and for the most part, people have been doing it just fine all along.

Exercise Makes You Fatter?In fact, the many benefits of exercise are now extremely well-documented. It is an indisputable fact that exercise, or to be even more general – physical activity – is good for us and that it comes with a myriad of physical and mental benefits, among many other things. It is arguably the single best thing you could do to improve your health, fitness, body composition, and quality of life. Anyone who says otherwise, or even hints otherwise, should immediately be dismissed as someone who is misinformed, but more likely a complete quack who is not worth a moment of your attention. You see, it’s one thing to investigate an issue that may have some loopholes that we just haven’t figured out yet, and report on that. But it’s quite another to do that while also ignoring logic, reason, and the massive quantity of evidence in the research data that has already been compiled and verified in peer-reviewed journals. Yet, this seems to be happening more and more often, and not just from fringe groups either. Does TIME magazine ring a bell?


Not too long ago, TIME magazine published an article titled, “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.” I’m going from memory, but the author basically suggested that since exercise uses up energy, it also increases your appetite and results in over-eating. Thus, it is only reasonable to assume that exercise leads to weight gain. Now, I hope I don’t have to tell you that there are so many flaws to that logic, and honestly, I won’t even give the argument the time of day (see below for someone who already has, though).

That article was the first one that I know of that brought this type of issue to mainstream attention, but this has happened elsewhere for years, and I was reminded of it this morning when a “scare tactic” type email proposed the very same thing. Wanna guess what they were after? My money – plain and simple. What else could they possibly want from me? They definitely don’t want to help you or I, and if they do, then I would guess they have a distorted perspective. Essentially, someone was twisting the truth so much that they were lying and misleading people – and using their position of authority to abuse the truth. Obviously, this happens all the time – not just in the fitness industry.

This has got to stop, and now. I’m tired of being lied to. I’m tired of hearing the unfounded, outrageous claims. And I’m tired of seeing other people tricked into believing these claims, or being so confused from all the misinformation and conflicting views.

Is exercise good or bad for us?
Is low carb or low fat better?
Does running cause injuries or not?
Is saturated fat an artery-clogging, heart stopper or an important nutrient that is essential for human health?

These are the types of questions that plague many well-meaning people who are struggling to live a healthy life. There are many barriers facing those with health and fitness goals, and knowledge of both what and how to accomplish those goals is one of them. Without knowledge, we can only guess at what the best course of action is. Knowledge is essential. It is the enabler – the crux we must depend on when life gets complicated and the answers aren’t always obvious.

Someone may have been struggling their whole life to figure something out. It could be to lose some weight, eliminate pain or injury, or just feel better in their own skin, and knowledge of just one thing may mean the difference between getting what they truly desire and struggling for the rest of their life. So, you can imagine how frustrating it can be when one has to navigate through a wilderness of conflicting information, half-truths, and lies when trying to find an answer. I know I’ve gotten frustrated many times myself. Fortunately, there is a wealth of good knowledge already available at our fingertips, but that hasn’t stopped some bozo’s from still trying to take advantage of what the general public doesn’t know.

That’s why I think it’s not just criminal to publish blatantly misleading information, but irresponsible to publish anything that is even borderline without first making it extremely clear of the difference between theory and fact, and also when an opinion is being shared (as opposed to fact). Now, there’s an important distinction to be made here. There’s a difference between making a mistake (ie publishing something inaccurate) and directly fudging the truth. The former is the equivalent of an accident, and the latter is the equivalent of a crime. Case in point: I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and have been wrong about who knows how many things before. My training philosophy changes constantly based on the new things I’m learning and using. But I would never, and will never, publish information that I believe to be inaccurate. In my world view, there is nothing to be gained from lying, and bringing attention to half truths rarely results in anything valuable or worthwhile. Accidents will happen, and they can be forgiven.

So, I have a message to those who make claims like “exercise makes you fat” or any other similar statement that isĀ  the intellectual equivalent of elephant dung.

If you’re reading this, then I hope you will do some serious introspection and reevaluate how you share information, and ultimately, conduct business. What makes you think, for a second, that people can’t handle the truth? It’s not just people’s wallets that you’re playing around with – it’s their very lives. If you are going to repeatedly lie, cheat, and swindle, then we want nothing to do with you. You’ll have to creep around with other like-minded people who are bent on those practices, collectively scrounging around for more money. I hope that makes you happy.

OK, all that said, here’s the thing. This may just be the pessimist in me, but I’m not one who really thinks that this industry-wide problem will just go away on its own. In fact, I think it’s going to continue to get even worse and even harder to distinguish the quality information from the junk. So, the important thing for you and I is to be careful who you listen to, and always do your own due diligence. Check the facts. If something sounds outrageous, it probably is. In those cases, either just walk away or demand the facts (send a public message and hope that it isn’t censored). If there are no facts or no response, then don’t just walk – run away!

And for those who are still scratching their heads about the whole “exercise makes you fat” claim, check out this extremely well-written message to the editors of TIME magazine from my colleague, Tom Venuto. I’d say Tom has settled that debate once and for all. In fact, I think I can hear the hammer pounding the last nail into the coffin…

Why TIME Magazine Owes The Fitness Industry A BIG FAT Apology

You see that list of references at the end? Yeah, Tom does his research, and knowing him, he read not just every single one of those studies – the full studies – from start to finish, but many more prior to writing and publishing his article. So, don’t worry, he’s one of the good guys…

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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach

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10 Responses

  1. Hey John,

    The one claim in this vein I’ve read that seems on the face of it to have some merit goes something like this:

    A woman (maybe a man as well?) does moderate aerobic exercise (jogging/running while reading a magazine on a treadmill) for 45 minutes, 3 times per week. She does no resistance/weight training.

    ASIDE: This is similar to how a big % of women workout, in my anecdotal experience.

    Because she works out this way, she burns some calories, and also loses muscle mass, lowing her BMR. Over time working out this way, the relatively small number of calories burned during the workout is offset by the fewer calories burned as a result of loss of muscle mass. She also probably eats somewhat more as a result of the exercise, partially offsetting the calories lost as well (which perhaps has a more significant impact than it might otherwise because calorie burning stops when the aerobic exercise stops, unlike with some other types of exercise)

    I believe there are other components to this theory but that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. What do you think?

    • Will,

      That’s a similar line of reasoning for those who make some of the crazy claims. The problem is that there is no distinction made between cause vs correlation, and that’s when you get into a gray area and half-truths start to circulate.

      Example…

      cause: exercise makes you fatter. In other words, exercise CAUSES fat gain.

      correlation: exercise results in energy expenditure which often causes an increase in appetite post-workout. This can lead to over-consumption of food and a resulting calorie surplus, and weight gain (note: not necessarily fat gain), if not accounted for and managed properly.

      Big difference.

  2. Personally, I think it is also related to the calorie distortion that most people (I’m including myself in this group) have.

    I believe that because I was on the treadmill for 30 min, burning probably 100 cals, that I can have some junk food as a treat and wind up eating 300-400 cals.

    It has been a wakeup call to read how small portion sizes are and how caloricly dense most (processed) foods are.

    • Mike,

      That’s a major issue, and all the more reason to educate oneself about different kinds of foods, and more importantly to start gradually replacing unhealthy options with healthier ones. When it comes to weight loss, gain, or maintenance, it’s all about the calories.

  3. Craig Pendergast

    I would think the single best thing to do to improve your health is to change your diet. I lost 20kg (from 100 to 80kg) through dietary changes rather than exercise. Now that my energy has improved (and that backpack of fat is lifted from my shoulders) I feel like doing more exercise … which is why I finally strayed across your website in search of strength training. I’m only 50% in my transformation and I know the next half will be primarily exercise and intermittent fasting.

    • It’s true that we could argue which is the MOST effective habit, but the truth is that they’re ALL important – good nutrition, training, sleep, recovery, stress management, etc.

      Regardless, your results are fantastic, Craig! Keep up the good work.

  4. I especially like the pink dumbbells in the after photo john, LOL. Thanks for this. Shared.

    • I thought you’d appreciate my cartoon. What can I say? I’m a man who pays attention to detail – admittedly, sometimes too much.

  5. Probably has been said, but here is my idea of the myth.
    Exercise CAN make you LOOK fatter, if you do not manage your food intake well. Think of it like a pillow. The pillow represents your fat. If you maintain that constant level of fat you will look the same. Now, if we add muscle to the mix we will see a change. Putting a box under the pillow will not make the pillow shrink, it will only make it look taller. The same with adding muscle under your fat. Unless you get rid of the fat while building muscle you will continue to look like you are gaining fat, only because fat is a layer closer to the skin than muscle.
    So NO. Exercise does not make you fatter, but can make you look fatter.

  6. Hello- John,

    It is my belief that you might be misinterpreting the statement.
    You see there is a phenomenon that happens when a person who is
    starting a weight control and or exercise program for the first
    time- (or restarting after a break.) I know because it happened to
    me. After researching I have discovered that it has to do with
    your bodies chemistry. From what I have read this is because the
    body begins to try and regulate the changes and it stores more
    fluids. In addition if the person is not eating enough calories
    to satisfy the bodies levels then it will switch into starvation
    mode and then hold on to calories (store them)instead of burning.
    This creates that fat look after doing cardio. There can be other
    reasons as well. It is a tricky thing to understand and to balance.
    I do believe that exercising is really the cornerstone of healthy
    lifestyle.
    If you google this phenomenon you will see many people who have the
    same problem. It is quite difficult- it is almost as thought the
    body becomes your enemy.

    Thanks.
    I just had to weigh in “no pun intended :)

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