Mardy Roux

Posts Tagged ‘Alternate Day Fasting’

Why the Obese Shouldn’t Exercise While Losing Weight

In The Mardy Roux Obesity Treatment Project Philosophy on October 1, 2010 at 2:15 am

Eat more, move less

Whether or not a person needs to exercise is becoming one of the most controversial issues in the weight loss “industry”. The old “eat less, move more” approach has long been the glib answer that many doctors and most naturally thin people are happy to throw in the face of the obese as a “reminder” that they “clearly” eat too much and are just plain lazy. I used to believe this too, and like many overweight people, I was happy to indulge in all the self-recriminations that many thin people would be delighted to have all fat people experience on their road to redemption. My first glimmer that there may be a problem with the whole “eat less, move more” theory came about, ironically, due to an encounter with a professional personal trainer.

Having moved to a new city some years ago, I joined the local health club, and membership gave me a free physical evaluation by one of the personal trainers. I have plenty of experience as a “fitness fanatic”, and although I was already obese as I joined this new club, I was still quite fit. The personal trainer was surprised at my core strength and flexibility, which of course he didn’t usually associate with obese people. I had a couple of sessions with him to fine tune my form in both strength and cardio work, but I didn’t have much to learn on that front. That’s because I already knew what I was doing.

Over a year later I was on the treadmill in my usual spot doing my three-times-per-week-interval-training “cool-down” when the personal trainer came over to chat with me. He commented that he had noticed over a long period of time that I was at the gym almost every day, that I was very dedicated, that my program looked good, that I had great “form” and that he was intrigued that after all of this effort I didn’t seem to have lost weight, or to even have altered much physically, except for a little bit of toning in the legs and arms. At first I wasn’t even sure who he was, but as I recalled he was a personal trainer we started to chat. He commented that he was interested because he was doing his PhD on this issue. He asked me what I ate, and I talked about the kinds and amounts of foods in my diet. It was a just short interaction, but during that time he made a comment that had always stuck with me. He said that I would never lose weight until I ate more, no matter how much I exercised! And that remark became a part of the underpinnings of the way I began to think about the exercise issue once I finally put my mind to it. You mean I have to eat MORE? Even if I exercise LESS? Well. Wow.

The fact was that while the exercise was certainly making me fitter, it just wasn’t helping me to lose weight. As in “lose fat”. This was something I had encountered years earlier, when I was trying to lose weight after having my second child. At that time I followed a brilliant and comprehensive seven-day-per-week exercise plan (which I intend to do again in the future, and will share here on my blog) while eating what would generally be considered to be a very healthy diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, small amounts of fats and lean meats, and everything home cooked from scratch. ZERO processed food! And I didn’t lose weight! Not even after six solid months. I didn’t even change shape. I just became a fitter, stronger version of my overweight self. It wasn’t until I subsequently went onto the Weight Watchers program, which meant I didn’t have the energy to continue with a rigorous 90 minute per day exercise routine (and which caused me to lose my gallbladder), that I actually lost weight. I realised at that point that exercise, even rigorous exercise was just not enough. What I didn’t realise was that the exercise itself may have been preventing the weight loss!

There are different ways to be “overweight”
There are different kinds of “overweight”. Some people are just a few pounds overweight, and maybe up to twenty or thirty pounds overweight (30 pounds or more overweight was the traditional definition of “obesity” before the BMI approach became more common). However once you get up to being quite obese, or even morbidly obese (100 pounds or more overweight) as I was, I think that the “metabolic playing field” might be a bit different from that of the simply “overweight” person. To my way of thinking, obesity doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over a more extended period of time and so the contributing factors have a chance to develop further metabolic complications. By the time a person achieves obesity, they are most probably quite sick in a variety of ways. For this reason, I chose to make a clear distinction between a person who just has “a bit of extra weight” but who may be quite healthy and a person, like me, who is carrying lots and lots of extra weight. Because I think the weight loss implications and methods may need to vary substantially between the two.

When I started outlining my Mardy Roux Obesity Treatment Project I decided that I would go with the perspective that as an obese person, I am a person who is sick.  A person with a debilitating disease. This is a concept that I have subsequently discovered is in serious contention, and which has been presented by Gary Taubes in his superb thesis, Good Calories, Bad Calories. Knowing from my personal experience that I could not rely on exercise to help me lose weight, I pondered what would happen if, instead, I rested. You see, people who are very sick are just not put into rigorous exercise programs. Consider the person recovering from a major surgery, or from a deathly illness. They’re not chased out of bed on day one to get into a gym to lift heavy weights, jog on running tracks or do speed walking. Instead, the majority of the time they are encouraged to rest, while gently mobilising within their capability. If you don’t believe this, just visit a surgical ward in your local hospital. The patients there will not be sprinting up and down the corridors passing batons to one another. They are walking, slowly, often just shuffling, because the medical profession understands that a person does not go from being SICK to being FIT by jumping out of the sick-bed and exercising like a crazy person. Likewise, in my opinion, if obesity is a sickness as I believe it to be, then we will not cure it by jumping straight from inactivity to intense exercise. And the main reason the orthodox medical world doesn’t think this, is purely because they classify obesity to be a behavioural problem and not a physical illness. If obesity, as orthodox medicine contends, is merely behavioural (the euphemism for psychological), then you don’t need to actually heal, you only need to modify behaviour. I believe this is an incorrect and inadequate at best view of the issue. I believe that obese people need to heal first and foremost. And that will be better served in the early days of the process by rest.

Two major factors to consider
A person who is obese is a person who is starving to death. I hope that in years to come mankind will look back on this era, during which the obese were stereotyped as being people of poor character and lacking in self control who lived lives of apparent debauchery, as one to be ashamed of. When a person is starving to death (or even on a low calorie diet, which is also a form of physical starvation) their body compensates by reducing activity. Just like an animal going into hibernation, the human body wants us to conserve what energy we have to run the essential systems of the body. So it slows the activity levels of the body down to a minimum. As we go into “fat storage mode”, which means our metabolism is storing energy away instead of letting us use it, we are forced to slow down. This is not a psychological choice made by the obese person, it is a metabolic survival system implemented by the body. As Gary Taubes would say, we don’t get fat because we move less, we move less because we’re getting fat. And we can absolutely trust in the reverse being true….we won’t get thinner because we’re moving more, we’ll be moving more because we’re getting thinner. We didn’t make a conscious decision to move less as we became obese, and we will not have to make a conscious decision to move more as we become thin. It will happen naturally and instinctively. And I am here to tell you that I am living this process right now, as I write!

The other major factor to consider in terms of exercise versus rest, is the hormonal factor. Stress, which we need to discuss much more both in this blog and in society, will one day receive due recognition for the role it’s playing in causing obesity. If you have the time, think back over your life, and if you’re obese, or you’ve had large weight gains, see if they occurred during or immediately following periods of immense stress. This is more than just the issue of eating comfort foods! This is about the production of the hormone called “cortisol”. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. When we feel stress, we get a burst of cortisol (and other hormones) which buffers our body and allows us to survive the stress. Research animals that have the adrenal glands removed from their bodies die from the slightest stress, such as a change in room temperature. Without cortisol, we would die of stress. When we experience even relatively small amounts of stress, it’s there in our bloodstream. Yet, one of the interesting things about cortisol is that it causes the body to store fat. In particular, cortisol causes us to store belly fat. It is believed that the extra belly fat might be a form of cushioning to protect the organs in our abdomens, because in nature, “stress” often means you’re under attack and in mortal danger. And I don’t know about you, but if I was in mortal danger, I’d start running away. And that’s why, when we do strenuous exercise, our body also produces cortisol. Strenuous exercise is a signal to the body to store fat.

The mythology of burning more calories than we consume is one I will not discuss in detail here, because it takes so much exercise to burn off so few calories that as a weight loss tool it has virtually no effect. Yes, you may burn a few more calories if you have more muscle mass, and that’s great if you’re a fit 25 year old guy. But if you’re an obese menopausal woman, forget it. You are owned by your hormones and the amount of exercise you’d have to do to make a difference will cause you to gain more fat than you would have lost.

Obesity and adrenal fatigue go hand in hand
I have mentioned before on this blog that if your adrenals are fatigued, then you need to rest. If you are obese, then you probably have fatigued adrenals. If you have metabolic syndrome, or if you at least know you’re insulin resistant then you probably have fatigued adrenals. There are two states the adrenals will go through as you start packing on the pounds, become very overweight, then obese and then morbidly obese, and they are the same as what happens to your pancreas at the same time. First, your adrenals and pancreas go into a hyperactive state. They are functioning too much and producing too many hormones. Your pancreas is pumping out too much insulin (causing you to store fat) and every time you get the insulin hit in your blood, your adrenals respond with a quick pump of cortisol and adrenaline and the cortisol will make you gain a little bit of belly fat. The adrenaline makes you feel panicky and stressed, because you’re in fight or flight mode but not actually escaping, and so handling stress becomes difficult. If you eat sugary foods, or possibly even foods with trans fats (basically anything PROCESSED) as a response, you just gave your body the cue to release MORE insulin, and then MORE cortisol and adrenaline, and you will gain more fat. If you then exercise, you will use up a few calories, but you’ll release even MORE cortisol and gain even more body fat. Yes, you’ll enjoy a few endorphins to calm you down (you ate the sugar because sugar also creates endorphins and that makes your brain feel like you must have run away from the danger causing the stress!) and yes, over a very long period of time you’ll increase your resting metabolism, but this will not compensate for the fat you gained during the process. For the obese person, we must first interrupt the vicious cycle of weight GAIN, and then reverse it, before exercise once again becomes a thing of real value to us.

Adrenals: from working too much to working too little
While you’re becoming obese, your adrenals and pancreas will work their little butts off for you, pumping out insulin, cortisol and adrenaline by the bucketload, until one day you’ll wake up and they’ll be exhausted. They’ll either stop working completely, which would kill you, or more likely, they’ll drop down to a very low level of functionality. When that happens with the pancreas, you will have become a genuine diabetic who needs to take insulin shots. When it happens to the adrenals your doctor will probably ignore it, unless your adrenal functionality is so low it might kill you. This is a sign that you need to REST. You need to rest because rest is one of the main features of rebuilding adrenal functionality. Your adrenals at this stage might be so low they are pumping out almost no cortisol at all and other issues may arise as a result. Inflammatory issues. Such as asthma (when they give an asthmatic “cortisone” to keep their inflammation under control, which hormone do you think they’re supporting?). At this stage you will feel flat as a pancake. You will not be able to handle any stress. Stressful things like overdue bills, answering the telephone, walking around too much, getting out of bed, may all become more than you can handle. In the old days this was called a “nervous breakdown”. You really need to be turning your health around if you get to this stage, and again, strenuous exercise is not the thing to do it. REST is what you need, along with some specifics for rebuilding the health of your adrenals (which is all a part of the long term MROTP anyway).

Obesity is a disease, so you need to heal
So when I talk about “not exercising” and instead “resting” while doing the MROTP, I am not suggesting that obese people should look forward to a life in which they will be an inactive blob. No. I am saying that if you are obese, you need to heal. You need to look after yourself. You rest as much as you possibly can, preferably with your feet elevated. Understand that going from morbidly obese to obese, or from obese to just overweight, is a period of convalescence in which you will become more active as you feel better. Your body will instinctively know what to do. When you find yourself unthinkingly dashing up the stairs to get something, that’s because your body is healing. And your body will be healing because you will be de-stressing, and you’ll be supporting and rejuvenating your adrenals. You will be less tired because you’ll no longer be starving once you begin to feed your body properly (this starts in Phase 3) and stop putting in foods that cause your metabolism to store all your energy as fat rather than making available the energy and nutrients you are providing. When you are no longer starving, you’ll prefer to eat a bit less, you won’t be so hungry, and you won’t have a body that’s constantly trying to go into hibernation. You will spontaneously have bursts of energy that are probably unfamiliar, and as you continue to rest and heal and eat plentiful good foods, you’ll start moving more.

Exercise is for fitness, not for weight loss
In my MROTP I am dealing with the issue of being obese or morbidly obese, not with the issue of being a little bit overweight. Some of what I’m saying may work for those who are only slightly overweight, but my intention was to heal myself, and this is my process for doing it and it’s working. If you go back and read Phase 1, you’ll note that I have never suggested 100% bed rest (although Taubes reports programs from the early 20th century where it was found that complete bed rest was almost essential for weight loss amongst obese patients). I have suggested resting whenever you can rest. Live life peacefully and as stress-free as possible and understand you are convalescing from a serious disease. Don’t do anything strenuous, but take casual, enjoyable walks if you like. Just like if you were recovering from major surgery! Over time, you’ll find you’re doing more without even thinking about it. And one day, when you discover you are no longer morbidly obese and no longer even obese, then you can start building your fitness up!

Remember, weight loss and fitness are two different things. First lose the majority of the fat and then begin a fitness program. The need to put fat people on a strenuous fitness regime is partly a way of making them do penance for having become fat in the first place. The world wants to see fat people suffer a bit so they’ll know to “behave” next time. And it’s also about this naive approach that you must “begin as you mean to end up”. The medical profession want to “fix” us by getting us to go from A to Z in one step. My MROTP is about going from A to B, and then going from B to C and so on through to Z, if Z is even where you want to end up! But I know I’ll never get to Z unless I do it in baby steps.

Rest rest rest at first
So, what am I doing on the MROTP? I’m nine months in, much lighter and “thinner”, although not thin (I may never be thin), and I still rest as much as possible. My energy is coming back. My asthma is almost a thing of the past. I now find myself walking up flights of stairs while talking away, when only months ago the same flight of stairs would have rendered me unable to breathe properly or talk for at least five minutes. When I’m out doing things I notice I walk faster and there’s a spring in my step that hasn’t been there for years. I feel awake and lively during the day and jumping up to do things doesn’t seem like as much of a bother or a drain. Interestingly, the tone of my body has improved, although I haven’t been exercising. My skin is terrific. I am still obese according to my calculations, so I am not considering taking up any exercise programs yet for quite a while, but I am just moving more. Moving gradually towards fitness.

As the weight falls off I am treating my inflammation, my metabolic syndrome and specifically my insulin resistance. I am supporting my adrenals and bringing them back to wellness, and I am doing the same for my thyroid. I am getting better. I’ve been a very sick girl and now I am on the road to wellness. My obesity, which was a big part of my illness, is just one of the issues I hope I will have cured. Somewhere along this journey is a place and time for an exercise program, but as far as I’m concerned it is not here and it is not now.

Mardy Roux

If you are reading this post and wish to know more about the MROTP, then please be sure to read the MROTP rules and the instructions for Phase 1 which you will find here on this blog.

Always consult your medical practitioner before beginning any weight loss program.
© Mardy Roux 2010