I’ve never been fond of exercise. Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to force it.

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.

This pic is 5 years old, but other than being a little grayer in the beard I still look more or less the same.

This pic is 5 years old, but other than being a little grayer in the beard I still look more or less the same. Click to embiggen.

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.

Taken on my wedding day, this was 14 years ago and I was at my heaviest weight.

Taken on my wedding day, this was 14 years ago and I was at my heaviest weight. Click to embiggen.

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.

12 thoughts on “I’ve never been fond of exercise. Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to force it.

  1. All rings true to me. I’ve been reading SEB for *years*, including 2008 when I was 300lbs+, and 2011 when I was 201lbs. I lost weight in a gym, and walking / jogging / running – but didn’t find stability until I started participating in obstacle course events (Spartan Race, Tough Mudder) – they look scary and intimidating from the outside, but people of all sizes can participate, and they are *fun* – like, genuine FUN.

    Today, I’m 240lbs, and did 7 miles on my local mountain this AM with little problem. I’m stronger than ever, if not lighter than ever (and still have a 32bmi score)

    Find the fun. It’s there, and it’s not on an elliptical or a on a weight machine at the gym.

  2. Well I did buy a treadmill. I did buy a small flat screen TV and attach it to the wall in front of it. I did hook up a playstation 3 to said flatscreen with the intent of playing games while walking. Now, the treadmill is under a ceiling fan and in a separate room I can use anytime. I was sooooo stoked. I played Rachet and Clank for the first time and nearly broke my leg while walking on the treadmill at the same time. The second time, I nearly fell off while attempting a mini boss. Now, I go in and dust my playstation and the treadmill and remember fondly the two times I tried to get healthy. I am 49 this Christmas and almost ok with being fat. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t eat all the chocolate and drink all the margarita’s I do. Life is short. Enjoy what you have. My husband loves me. We embrace fat nerdness together. Go mental health!

  3. I started a weight loss program of my own on April 15th because I HAD to do something to try and get a handle on my weight.

    My starting weight was 366 lbs. This is BY FAR the heaviest I have ever been in my almost six decades of life. I used to hover right around 240 lbs for my 20s thru 40s, and in the past year, for no apparent reason at all, I ballooned up to 366 lbs.

    I was having problems breathing. I couldn’t even put on my shoes, let alone tie them. My waist went from 40 inches to 54 inches, and finding clothing was starting to become a hassle.

    Let’s not forget that carrying around that kind of weight is almost death-defying.

    So I decided to DO something.

    Eating is a habit, and like all habits, there are some good and bad things that happen. I needed to change my habit.

    As a former psychologist, I am more than familiar with the creating and shaping of habits. First off, it takes the average person 21 days to either learn or change a habit. Take for example, smoking. If you have ever tried to quit smoking, you would know that the first three days are the worst. If you can get past those first three days, you have it made. The remaining 18 days are just a coasting for you.

    The same thing goes for eating behaviors. I needed to change not only WHAT I eat, but HOW I eat it and WHEN. These are very important things.

    It has been estimated that it takes roughly 3500 calories to burn a pound. At least that is what scientists found several decades ago when they wanted to know the caloric value of a pound of fat. 3500 calories. They took this data and tried to say that it would take 3500 calories to burn one pound of fat. But it really isn’t quite that easy. You DO have to burn more calories than you take in if you want to lose weight, but that magic 3500 calorie figure is just that: magic.

    So I’ve put myself o a 900 calorie a day diet. I know, it sounds almost like starving — especially if you are used to taking in 5000 calories or more a day. But I needed to lose a lot of weight FAST, so this is the route I took.

    My initial goal was to go for one of the Bariatric surgeries, like a lap band or gastric bypass. But I didn’t want the permanence or intrusiveness of surgery, so I thought, why not eat as though I actually had the lap band?

    So that is what I’ve been doing. Eating less food more times a day. In the morning, I take a glass of Metamusil fiber. It fills up my shrinking stomach so that I don’t get the hunger pains. I will get a cantaloupe or other melon slice two hours later. I follow with glasses of V8 Low Sodium juice with chia seeds in it whenever I am feeling notably hungry, and a glass will last me several hours. I will grab a meal consisting of a meat protein a vegetable and a carb at the same time every evening. Once I’ve had that meal, I will not eat anything until the next day.

    So where am I at right now? Remember, I started at 366 lbs on April 15, 2015. Today, I weigh a whopping 297 lbs and I almost feel like I am floating on air right now. I have a LONG ways to go, and as far as exercise goes, I am just walking and moving around more. I think I will wait until I get down another 25 lbs before I start thinking about exercise.

  4. I have always heard the best exercise to lose those pounds is to put both hands on the table and push yourself away early. I would have to try that and quit eating snacks in between I guess. I’ll see.

  5. I have just one trick that I use: I removed the chair from my computer and now stand while viewing and typing. The other tricks mentioned, walking just a little more and using the bike, sound like good ideas, also. Let me know if you find this useful.

  6. Exercise isn’t everything when it comes to weight loss. I am living proof.

    For the past few years, I’ve done an hour of fairly intense cardio every weekday, plus some lifting and ab crunching. I do a 5k-10 mile running event and swim 1km on weekends. My pulse is 60 bpm, and my times and weights are clearly above average. By all accounts, I should be a rail, like I was when I grew up. But, I’m not. As I tell the people who work the front desk at the gym: “I work hard for my mediocre body.” What I do is just to barely maintain, which is why I do it.

    I did manage to lose weight, down from 400 lbs to 250 (have since gained a little back) but it was with bad dieting practices that led me to the hospital twice, so I don’t repeat them. Still, I drink soda rarely, have cut back dramatically on pastas, and rarely eat more than a meal per day. I don’t really eat fast food. I ate essentially the same food that a friend of mine did for a week on a trip. They lost two pounds, I gained five.

    There’s a lot we don’t understand about “metabolism”… gut microbiota as a big environmental factor, the myostatin suppressing genetics, etc. So, I won’t argue at all with anyone who says “exercise may not be the answer for me”.

  7. Your biggest problem is modern foods. The major part of weight loss is diet. The problem is sugar – its actually incredibly dangerous for the body. Not the stuff in an apple, but the processed stuff. Not just the white processed stuff for coffee, but the various glucoses added to modern food. The west is literally addicted to it – the body craves it. And they add it to everything – because people won’t eat as much unsweetened stuff. There are calls in Britain for a sugar tax, to try and cut consumption – but apparently that is ‘nanny state’, ‘anti-business’, ‘anti-choice’ yada yada yada.

    You can almost track world obesity by the arrival of the ‘American Diet’ – 1st McDonalds in your country? Welcome to your Grandchildren being obese.

    The problem is with how our bodies handle our diet is that it is EVOLVED (don’t tell Republicans). Its also why some health people are recommending this ‘do it manually’ approach. The way the body deals with burning 1000 calories off in half an hour is different to the way it deals with burning it off over the course of a day. This regular movement is good for diabetics. Every time you move the body needs energy, and the cells supplying open up. frequent small uses keep these cells opening, rather than one big splurge, then not using them for the rest of the day.

    Also lets face it – you possibly physically CAN’T do 30 mins exercise, you are not fit enough. But 5 minutes an hour – walking up stairs to your colleague instead of phoning etc, 12 times a day IS achievable. Is the ATM within half a mile? Walk, don’t drive, etc.

  8. Sounds pretty much on target, though in my case another problem is having energy left over at the end of a shift at a physical job, and the attraction of “Fuck it food”, (Fuck it, I’m tired, throw something frozen into the oven.).

  9. On that bicycle thing, consider thrift shop/garage sale bikes that wouldn’t dent the bank account badly if they were vandalized or stolen. If the local terrain’s flat enough, something with coaster brakes is a lot less maintenance-intensive than a multi speed bike. And good luck.

  10. I wish this was a more talked about approach, rather than trying to get people to go to the blasted gym. I have hobbies* that make me sweat, but it doesn’t feel like a chore, and I have to remind myself to stop, rather than motivate myself to go to the gym.

    * For those that care – at various times over the years this has included; Dance classes, rock climbing, cycling in various forms, a couple of martial art forms, Ultimate Frisbee, Frisbee golf, and walking goddamn everywhere.

  11. Cutting calories is the way to go for weight loss. Exercise doesn’t do as much to help you loose weight as people think it does. If you’re in decent shape, you can sustain 10 calories per minute on a treadmill. That comes out to only 600 calories in a whole hour.

    Which is about the difference between a large Big Mac combo and a Supersized Big Mac combo. It’s a lot easier to just not eat so much food in the first place than to eat normally and try to burn it off with exercise. Even doing nothing at all, you’ll burn about 2500 calories a day, just breathing, eating, and sitting at a desk job. You’d need 4 hours a day on the treadmill to burn as many calories as you burn just from doing absolutely nothing at all.

    There are other benefits to cardio – it improves heart health in other ways, and will certainly improve overall health and make you feel better. You get those benefits at 20 minutes a day. I don’t do much more than 20 minutes a day cardio when I do any at all.

  12. Pingback: News Flash: Americans are lazy which makes us fat. | Stupid Evil Bastard

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