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Feet or Fork? Metabolic Inflexibility

Monday, June 13, 2011

I've known for a long time that weight loss and maintenance for me are primarily about "diet": controlling calories IN is more effective for me than boosting calories OUT.

Exercise is very very important, of course: both physically (strength and toning, cardio, flexibility) and psychologically (sustaining my typically upbeat and happy mood).

But I could exercise plenty and stay pretty hefty. I can never exercise enough to eat whatever I want -- not even when I was routinely running 10 km a day (and grinding out my knees and hips in the process). Even burning all those calories (which I thought justified eating pretty much whatever I wanted the rest of the day), I was a size 12 and weighed about 20-25 pounds more than I do today.

So you can imagine that today's article about the "feet versus fork" debate in the Toronto Globe and Mail was of great interest to me: here's the link if you want to read the whole thing (and it includes a further link to the actual debate at University of Ottawa).


What's it say? In a nutshell, what you'd expect: exercise IS important; diet matters too; but for many people, diet may matter more.

You're more likely to be heavy if you eat more meat; more likely to be slimmer if you eat more fruit. True, the more you run, the less likely meat eating will be a factor . . . but that may be because running more affects the body's tendency to burn fat. In addition, the runner who eats a high fat meal is more likely to adjust subsequent calorie intake for the rest of the day because exercise affects appetite: and so the runner is also more likely to burn off the excess fat intake. An obese person who eats a high fat meal is more likely to keep right on chowing down for the rest of the day and to store the excess fat as . . . yeah, right. So the factors are intertwined, for sure.

The term researchers are using for the tendency of the obese to store rather than burn excess fat, all factors (calories IN and calories OUT) being equal? "Metabolic inflexibility".

Dunno whether the fancy term helps or not. My metabolism, I'm pretty sure, is by its nature both super-efficient AND inflexible. So if my stretching exercises at the gym assist with physical flexibility, I'm thinking that the gym more generally is helping with the innate and inherited tendency to metabolic inflexibility as well.

The fun factor is key for me in staying the exercise course. Loved my 10 km running mostly because it was outside and with friends: ditto cross country skiing last winter. Yesterday's golf game -- four hours twenty minutes -- in cool temperatures, trotting around at a very brisk pace, and taking more swings at the ball than would have been optimal: all that added up to a nice change from the gym, and resulted in me clocking up a more satisfying calorie burn.

Plus, I saw a bluebird!!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Exercise definitely has to be fun for us to keep up with it. But I think "feet or fork" may become my new mantra!
    2439 days ago
    Thought-provoking. So much to ponder. Thanks!!

    2442 days ago
    love this. thanks.
    2443 days ago
    Great blog. Great info. Your status statement made me want to read to find out what you were talking about. Glad I did! I'd vote for fork, but know the feet matters, too.
    2443 days ago
    Awesome blog post and interesting article. Its good to see that science is finally catching up to the real human experience. Interesting that the runners' study is about meat vs. fruits (and not protein vs. carbs or some such thing)
    2443 days ago
  • BLUESKY_321
    Great Blog! and I'm going to check out the full article when I have an extra minute.

    I noticed that when I was in my 20s and early 30s I could use my feet to lose or maintain weight. Running an average of just 15 miles per week with some yoga & cardio-combo class a couple times a week and I could eat just about whatever I wanted and lose! Fast forward not so many years and all the running in the world plus eating whatever I want - oh that scale moved all right WAY UP! Bummer!

    I still run and enjoy other forms of exercise, but it isn't impacting my weight at all... it all comes down to the fork side of the equation.
    2444 days ago
  • NANCY-
    For me what is important is both... feet and fork.
    2444 days ago
    Fascinating blog. Thank you!

    Another factor I observe is that many of us tend to greatly overestimate how many calories are burned during various forms of exercise. So mentally I may misguidedly give myself permission to eat more after vigorous exercise, when actually I'm way over-doing the intake!
    2444 days ago
  • KRISTI2661
    Another good one, Ellen.

    I used to think that I could just exercise more and maybe lose weight (I actually never tried it - too lazy) but when I really looked at everything that was going into my mouth and how much I was really burning through exercise - there is no way I could ever rely on exercise alone as my only way to lose weight.

    2444 days ago
    I think exercise and calories are both important for me. Building muscle seemed to help me eat a little more without gaining, but I know I can't eat as much as I used to when I was heavy. I found 2 forms of exercise I honestly love to do - strength training and yoga - and I do them because I love to do them rather than because they burn calories. If I focus on eating at least 2 fruits and vegetables at every meal, and getting plenty of fiber, my diet stays pretty much in balance and I'm satisfied.
    2444 days ago
    The fun factor is key for me in staying the exercise course."
    Makes such sense - I'm still searching for the fun. Hoping I may become 'addicted' to the running or golf may be enjoyable later this season - we shall see.

    I do have to admit strength training early morning revs up my metabolism (maybe the biking in does the same) and since I do like my wine and chocolate, I may vote feet over fork. (Wouldn't that be a change!)
    2444 days ago
  • JOHAL52
    Thanks for sharing that! I have been disappointed that all the extra walking I am doing hasn't seen a resultant downward movement on the scale. And I don't think I am eating more than I was before I added in the extra miles. Sigh, I still think age has to be considered in the mix!

    2444 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Thanks for sharing this!! I am depending on my exercise to keep my weight from coming back, so it will be interesting to see, when I get my foot surgery, and will be unable to do ANYTHING, whether I will still be able to maintain on diet alone. It will be an interesting experiment for this exercise lover. Good thing I am a vegetarian and really like eating only fruits and veggies!! Last time my layoff for this type of surgery was a half year, a very good test..
    Have a Marvelous Monday!!
    2444 days ago
  • OOLALA53
    Over the years, I read accounts of people who started exercising before they changed their eating, and dropped weight, even though they weren't trying. I'm sure now they are the exception. I eat for loss and maintenance; I exercise, when I do, for vitality and help keeping up with dance class. Thanks for posting this for reinforcement! emoticon
    2444 days ago
    Definitely with you on the super efficient metabolism. Exercise is for health benefits and enjoyment, but to use it as a way of losing weight just does not work for me. Great blog.
    2444 days ago
    Feet vs Fork - I love the term. It is a great visual. I think I'll borrow it.
    Thanks for the link to the article - it was very informative. There's lots to know.

    2444 days ago
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