I’m fat. The last time I stepped on my fancy WiFi enabled scale on September 1st I topped off at 291.7 pounds. That’s down from my high of 301, but it’s up from the 287 I managed to get to in July. My ideal body weight for someone my height should be between 132 to 167 pounds. My BMI is 42 and it should be between 20 and 25. I am what is considered morbidly obese. I am not what a lot of people think of when they think of morbidly obese people. Most folks don’t even realize I qualify for that designation.
That’s because I somehow manage to make it look damned good.
I’ve been this way for most of my adult life starting sometime in my late 20’s. I know it’s not healthy and I’ve been feeling the effects of carrying around all this extra weight for awhile now. Whether it’s my aching back or my feet that can’t seem to stay warm even in the heat of summer (not to mention a growing numbness in one of my big toes), I’m aware that I’m doing long term damage. I’m diabetic, but not to the point of needing insulin shots yet and I’m on medication to control my sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. In short, I have every reason in the world to be motivated to engage in regular exercise. Yet I don’t. Why? Because I really, really fucking hate it and I find it very hard to do things I hate as much as I hate exercising.
Which isn’t to say that I haven’t tried. If you’ve been reading SEB for awhile then you may recall I bought an elliptical machine a few years back on the mistaken assumption that Anne and I would fall into a routine of using it regularly and having the pounds melt away. The reality was that it made a wonderful coat rack for the vast majority of the time it occupied a corner of our living room up until I sold it prior to moving to Canton because we wouldn’t have any spare space for it. Yes, there was a period of several months multiple times over the years were I made valiant attempts to put it to good use, but none of them lasted longer than a month and I never did manage to make it a habit. In the end it was depressing to even consider hauling my fat ass onto it. Then last year, after we gave up trying to buy a house, Anne and I tried getting into the simplest form of exercise you can do: walking. My company tried to help by offering up a Fitbit for free if I managed to walk 8,000 steps a day for 20 days during last October. I took up the challenge in the hopes that a whole month of walking regularly would make it a habit. While I did hit the goal, it didn’t become a habit and when winter set in my walking routine went the way of the dodo and hasn’t really recovered since.
So you can imagine my incredulity when I came across an article that basically said I probably shouldn’t be trying to exercise at all:
That hell I described is what the majority of the population thinks about regular exercise. They hate it, and they don’t want to do it. I am an internationally syndicated fitness columnist with columns read by a whole lot of people, and make my living writing about diet, exercise and weight loss. For years I’ve extolled the virtues of exercise as a way to control your eating behaviors and sculpt your physique into something that looks great and performs amazing feats.
And I have been wrong.
Wait, what? Yeah, that’s fitness journalist Jim Fell in an article titled The Exercise Myth he wrote this past February that I just stumbled across on Facebook. He continues:
It is not a personal failing in any person to fail to see the light with exercise, because that kind of light just isn’t visible for some. Actually, it doesn’t work for most. If you don’t want to exercise, then you qualify as “most.” You’re in the vast majority, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, because exercise isn’t exactly natural. It’s asking you to do something very unusual. It’s asking you to be someone you’re not. It’s asking you to expend energy and to embrace discomfort for a nebulous long-term goal that doesn’t actually accomplish anything in the near term other than shortness of breath and smelly laundry. Also, it costs money.
I’m not turning my back on exercise. I personally love it and will continue to do so (and I’ll keep writing about it too), but in learning to love it I realized how hard it was – how unnatural it was – to dedicate so many hours a week to running and cycling and the lifting of heavy things for no reason other than to put them back down and then lift them up again.
It’s like the man has known me my entire life. Jim goes on to talk about how the folks who really get into exercise to the point that it’s an effective weight loss are a minority making up maybe 5% of the population and only 25% get enough exercise to have any health benefits at all. He says we’re not lazy, just normal. That plays right into my cognitive biases so of course it appeals to me.
The myth about exercise is that it is a viable solution for the population at large to achieve lasting weight loss. Whether the reasons are physiological, psychological, practical or financial, most people are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Nike’s tagline. They Just can’t do it. They WON’T do it.
For some, exercise works as an important part of a weight loss program, but for most, they will never be able to make themselves exercise hard enough, long enough, and frequently enough to get a considerable caloric burn and therefore affect weight loss. THIS is the myth that has been perpetuated about exercise.
Jim goes on to explain all the problems inherent in regular exercise that keeps most folks from doing it and how much effort is involved to really get any benefit from it. He spends a lot of time on the traps and pitfalls a lot of folks who try to make a go at it end up falling into. All in all it would be a pretty depressing article if it weren’t for the end where he has suggestions for those of us who just can’t seem to get into exercise:
There is another option to assist weight loss for the non-exerciser, and it’s pretty neat.
Actually, make that NEAT. It’s Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is burning calories via methods other than traditional sport or exercise. It’s movement with a purpose, like walking instead of driving, using your bike as a mode of transportation, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting up and walking to a co-worker’s office to chat instead of picking up the phone, pacing while on the phone instead of sitting, doing housework, shoveling snow, yard work, carpentry, playing with your kids, walking the dog, doing laundry, moving furniture … All those things people stopped doing because of technology.
When you adopt a mindset of looking for every possible excuse to add in extra movement, traditional exercise be damned, you can burn more calories each day without the pain and hassle, and without nearly the risk of developing a reward mentality in regards to “earning” a tasty treat. What’s more, movement begets more movement. Starting slowly, you’ll find over time that you transform from a sitter to a mover, and you’ll rack up some caloric burns while achieving greater fitness.
And in terms of weight loss, if you sit less, spend less times in front of screens, and keep those hands busy you’ll be less inclined to engage in mindless snacking, and more likely to establish a regular meal pattern.
In other words, the NEAT approach to fitness can help you on the food intake side, which is where lasting weight loss really happens.
This makes a lot of sense to me and not just because it excuses my inability to develop an exercise habit.
Even as a skinny-ass kid I hated exercise. When it came time in gym class to do exercises such as push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, or running laps I always hated every second of it and did them in as half-assed a manner as I could and still claim I had done what I was asked. However, when it came time for dodge ball or basketball or volleyball or any of a number of other similar games I’d put my all into it and loved it. I also tended to enjoy swimming and riding my bike, two things I haven’t done in years. Anne and I keep talking about buying a couple of bikes, but living in an apartment makes figuring out where to keep them difficult. If I have to carry them up and down from the basement then I know they’re not going to get used, but I don’t have anyplace safe to store them outside where they won’t be stolen or damaged by the weather.
It’s clear that I’m never going to be an avid exerciser so perhaps it’s time I stop trying to become one. Perhaps the solution I should be trying is to just get up from my computer screens more often and seeing if I can’t find something I love to do that involves more movement. Playing is what kept me skinny as a kid, maybe it can help me as an adult.