Random Thoughts: Obesity, Weight loss, Metabolism, Diet & Exercise

In the interests of saving a bit of time and gathering thoughts, I thought I'd jot down some would-be comment replies in a blog post instead.  First, so we're all (newer readers especially) on the same page, I did no formal exercise during the active weight loss phase and long plateau from sometime summer 2007 through spring 2009.  This was not really by design, but more out of fear as the last time I low carbed I experienced the racing heart mostly when doing rather short periods of pilates and such.  So I kept meaning to up the activity level a bit but never really managed to get around to it.  In 2009 I did start doing concerted cardio -- walking and biking -- and later some more cardio-like exercise DVD's.  As for strength training, the only formal training I have done was that 100 pushups thing that was popular in 2010.  I got to 100 "girlie" pushups and was on my way with the regular ones when I pulled something in my side that made rolling over in bed painful!  So for me personally, regular exercise is a sporadic thing at best ... something I am trying to dedicate myself to just never seems to stick.  That said, I am very active.  Initially this was just doing the "parking far away at work" thing and such, but has progressed to deliberate short bouts of exercise like walking around the yard when I bring the garbage out, always running up stairs, just going up and down stairs for the heck of it, etc.etc.  Additionally, we go through a lot of wood with our fireplace to heat part of our home and I do pretty regular "workouts" transporting/stacking, chainsawing, etc. wood.  

Should the Obese Exercise?

My 2007 before picture is of me catching my breath after planting peas.  In those days, walking even normal distances had me with swollen painful ankles by noontime.  So when I discuss exercise here and by all means encourage it, it is with several qualifications/reservations.  Depending on one's level of obesity and accompanying fitness, exercise may be counterproductive.  If you're enough overweight that it impacts your ability to walk/move and your endurance is poor, obviously starting an ambitious walking program is not a good idea.  I must say that I've been surprised there aren't more injuries and health-scare events on shows like The Biggest Loser.  It's really just not a great idea for very overweight people to move a whole lot more in weight bearing/impact movements.

What's the Best Exercise for Obese?

Answer:  Whatever activity gets you moving more with smallest risk of injury.  The end goal is to be an active slimmer person.  When still obese, some light cardio may be best to get that "moving more" going.  Aqua-aerobics or stationary cycling may be good places to start.  If you're reasonably active, significantly obese, resistance training is likely not that big a deal for weight loss.  Yes, it can impact insulin sensitivity, but IR is not what's making/keeping you fat and will likely resolve as weight drops.  A crash diet seems to be more effective in resolving "critical mass" metabolic issues than exercise.  So initially the goal should be habit-building for moving more if anything.   As weight loss progresses, the goal should be to increase activity.  As stated earlier, I did practice what I preached here, just not in the form of regimented "exercise".   Also as weight drops, preservation of lean mass becomes more critical.  Unless you were a total couch potato, when you got obese you've also gained lean mass -- especially on the rebound off LC if "drifting" off LC means just eating more "bad carbs" while still eating all those meaty treaties ... Think that recent Bray overfeeding study.  Some of that lean mass is organs and bones, not just skeletal muscle, and will/should be reduced along with fat mass.  As you get closer to goal/normal, this is probably the better time to address a resistance program.  I suppose if you're  total couch potato -- especially a long standing older obese -- it's never too early in the intervention to focus on lean mass retention and building -- but in the beginning it's really probably not that critical.  

I'm all about functional strength.  So think about it, you are already strong where it counts if you can climb stairs with 100 extra pounds on your bod.  Now after significant losses -- perhaps 30 or so pounds -- it may be time to actively "train" those muscles to maintain the strength.  After all, you're now only "lifting" 70 extra pounds.   Personally I'm not a fan of the 15 minutes a week vein of resistance training.  If you're a weakling unable to lift a 10 lb bag of cat litter onto the belt and carry it  to your car, perhaps this is for you as you are strength deprived.  But if you're talking building actual muscle mass and such, it's not going to cut it.   

At about the 50% to goal point I think is likely the best time on average to ramp up some cardio and/or add some high intensity interval training.  Still, "sprints" are really not a great idea for the obese, and let's face it, many are still obese at 50% to goal.  If you're going to do it, choose non-weight bearing or add incline/weighted vest to a walking regime.  That's my best rec to fat folks.  Too many never fat folks selling potentially dangerous routines on folks still too large to do them.  I had a rude awakening a couple of years ago when I had visions of doing a 20 year anniversary repeat of a sprint triathlon.  No can do on the running peeps.  My joints do not know nor care what the composition or size/shape of my bodyweight takes (and I'm an outlier there).  They just know it's too much to be pounding pavement with.   

Is Exercise Essential?

It seems that exercise may not be essential to lose weight, but to maintain and achieve optimal results?  That's a whole 'nother story.  I'm sure that formal exercise can only improve my own outlook moving forward, and I'm a difficult case in that I'm quite sure a lot of my "moving more" is quasi-exercise, just not rigidly or even haphazardly scheduled.  Still, if you've lost enough weight to improve ambulatory capability and resolve some weight-bearing issues on joints and you're not moving more, this is not generally a good sign for maintenance.  Can it be done?  Sure.  But chances are you'll at least have an easier time of it exercising in some way, shape or form.

What the study in my latest blog post revealed, is that sufficient protein + good ol' cardio exercise seems to kick in a way to gain muscle mass -- if not total lean mass which was not assessed.  Since low carb tends to be higher protein by default vs. the standard 15% protein diet, there's opportunity here folks, for adding just a bit of exercise to retain lean mass.  Studies are inconsistent with diet only.  Just eating more protein in energy deficit does not seem to preserve lean mass any better than a standard diet so long as that standard diet contains sufficient protein in an absolute gram amount.  But "use it" and protein is partitioned to lean mass accumulation while fat mass is catabolized further?  Seems perhaps so.

On the metabolism front, and I'll have a more organized post on this topic, there's certainly a "metabolic advantage" to exercising/activity.  As we age, weight cycle, etc. metabolic rate falls.  Not always, not always to the same extent, but on average and with considerable predictability, it does.  AND, energy needs will fall as body weight including lean mass falls.  One must adapt intake or plateauing and/or regaining is inevitable.  But let's look at two scenarios, again referring to the study from my previous post.  Establish 2500 cal/day deficit by either diet or exercise, lose same amount of weight, likely close in percent total lean/fat (this wasn't quantified).  But, keep that up over time and the exercisers will likely retain more lean mass and RMR and TDEE while the calorie restricters will likely lose LBM and go into some degree of compensatory reduction in RMR.  End of the day the exerciser burns 2000 cal/day and stops exercising and gains weight as does the dieter.  But the dieter now burns 1800 cal/day so likely gains faster and is more prone to binging after prolonged restriction.  Nasty cycles, eh?

To be continued ....  


ProudDaddy said…
Gosh, near as I can tell, we agree on ALL of this. Couple of thngs: I think you meant 2500 cal per WEEK deficit, and the fancier recumbent exercise bikes have "Interval" settings that allow HIIT with less risk of injury.
Jim said…
For me, racing heart on low-carb is a chromium deficiency. Chromium picolinate does not cut it; it has to be real food-like chromium such as a yeast-derived "GTF" chromium at 200 mcg. three times a day. It only takes two days for the symptom to go away.
CarbSane said…
Yep ... meant per week. I think stationary cycling is likely ideal for most. Comfy seats, adjustable resistance, little chance of falling off or dealing with shifting gears for hills, etc. Pretty crappy for training for real bike races, but ...

That said, it's pretty boring and I'll take a real bike ride outside any day. There's where trade-off's come in though. I don't like to ride my neighborhood as it has short blocks with stop signs. Yet I have access to nice paved off-road trails. But that involves loading the bike, driving to parking area, hopefully there's a spot, unloading, etc.etc. Oh ... and the seat's not quite as comfy as a life cycle. ;)
Two things. First, having done Body By Science until my back problems (unrelated to BBS), I loved that half-hour workout a week; I may not be all that, but I don't think that workout just for weaklings. Diana Hsieh is also a fan; she took up Super Slow for some of the same reasons I liked BBS: easy to fit into your week, very low risk of injury, and the ability to progress at a reasonable pace.

Also, while I wouldn't advise the obese to actually go out and run sprints, I do think there are ways to safely incorporate HIIT if folks are so inclined. This study showed how HIIT benefited cardiac patients.

I wasn't able to do the pool recently and so was doing my HIIT at work by taking the elevator down 4 floors, walking up a flight, walk around to the other side of the building, up a flight, around the other side, and so on. Not exactly super strenuous, but it's essentially a 4x20 set of intervals. Works for me!
Woodey said…
I love walking. Its easy on my joints and is a great stress reliever. I walk about 2-2.5 miles a day usually six days a week. I also like to do light weightlifting, I have about 125lbs of weights at home that I do various exercises with.

My motto is the best exercises for me are the ones I like to do. Even if the biggest science guy with all the knowledge in the world about the best way to exercise shares his/her wisdom, the bottom line is if I don't like it I'm not gonna do it.

45 min on the dreadmill (or any cardio machine)is about as stimulating as the Bataan death march.
bentleyj74 said…
High intensity might look different for an obese person than expected given their relative load. A woman was embarrassed walking next to me while I ran on a treadmill but actually she was working out harder than I was. Her heart rate was higher and she was dripping sweat. Strap a 120 pound weight vest on me and just see how far I run...lol...but not before you make popcorn and get your cameras at the ready. Maybe make sure your children haven't got their tender young ears in close proximity either :)
ProudDaddy said…
I routinely bike rural roads 15 miles a day at about 15 miles an hour during summer days without other activity (such as lawn mowing, strength training, etc.), and I love it! But I can't stand to do even 10 minutes on a stationary. But for HIIT, the situation is reversed. I hate the road because I have to push myself to accelerate and go all out because only speed will sufficiently increase the effort. On a stationary with Interval setting, the load is increased by the programming, and all I have to do is keep pedaling. Since in Minnesota, summer only lasts about 3 weeks, I'm pretty much confined to stationaries most of the year. HIIT of 15 minutes twice a week is almost enjoyable and certainly less of a bore than an hour of steady state. I realize others may not be as lazy as I, but I encourage everyone to try it, recognizing that, as Nigel says, we are all different.
ProudDaddy said…
Way to go, Beth! There may be studies yet unseen that disprove it, but I have yet to see one that doesn't yield a time advantage of about 5 to 1 for all types of benefit. I think Evelyn now realizes that HIIT does not mean forcing sprints on the unable, just intervals of high intensity which for some may be walking a slight incline and stopping to rest and repeating 9 times.
Tomas said…
The brain consumes a heck lot of calories in proportion to the body, so walking or cycling outside is always a good idea, even more so when your goal is to lose weight. Less comfortable, more sustainable for most people. And sustainability is what matters imo.
Now if you'll excuse me I have my 15 minutes/week HIIT workout scheduled... :)
CarbSane said…
Thanks Jim, I didn't experience it this time and had many tests run on me back in 2004-5 when it happened so it's nothing physical. Whatever I did differently this time (perhaps the intermittent cheats and higher protein to fat of my meat choices kept glycogen stores fuller to avoid hypos?) seemed to work. I'll remember this to try if I ever experience it again.
CarbSane said…
I think we're also confusing HIIT workouts for resistance training v. "cardio". I'm not against it, far from it, my wood workouts are high intensity intervals. I guess I'd like to see more caution exercised in the popular chat as to what constitutes "high intensity" for the obese. Are there benefits? Sure. And as PDaddy points out, it's difficult (pointless even) to argue against the time cost/benefit ratio. If an obese person loses 100 lbs and maintains their sedentary habits and adds a highly time-efficient workout to their routine, I think this person is likely going to have far greater difficulty maintaining that loss.
CarbSane said…
My motto is the best exercises for me are the ones I like to do.

Amen to that! Part of my own decline was compounded by lack of access to sports. I did it all as a kid, and was a year round varsity athlete in addition to swimming/diving & recreational softball or volleyball all summer long. In college, there weren't many sports that I did for women -- it was club sports that weren't very challenging, though co-ed volleyball was great while I was thin. I couldn't keep up when I was heavier so gradually just pretty much gave up on it. It's such a shame that raquetball went out of style. This is definitely the appeal of Zumba too. I used to play in several leagues and then there was wallyball too. For pseudo gymnastics, I'd love to get a trampoline for the back yard. The neighbors already think I'm nuts sunbathing in November last year!
Lesley Scott said…
"Whatever activity gets you moving more with smallest risk of injury." As many people who have lost a bunch of weight & are keeping it off will tell you: the best exercise program is the one you stick to for the long haul. I do an at-home weights DVD 3 times a week pretty religiously & then after I read that study about the women who maintained their weight loss walking around 4 miles a day, which is around 10000 steps, I now always have a pedometer strapped on & take a 3 mile walk every night after dinner with my giant malamute/wolf-cross puppy (well, she's more of a hairy rambunctious teen at this point). She wins & I win, and the combo for me, is winning. Not fancy, but it works, plus from walking around I know the area pretty well & have gotten to know a lot of people which is nice as well.
CarbSane said…
Oops, forgot to respond to the "weakling" comment. I didn't intend to say that BBS type workouts are only good for weaklings or anything like that. I often have to remind myself that I'm freakish in the strength department. I'm like PDaddy's wife (even when I was 110 lbs in my yoot). Back in the Nautilis days I always felt bad for the men who followed me on the machines and sheepishly moved the pins to lighter weights. If someone is very sedentary, the likely have atrophied muscles -- resistance training with bands is a good place to start at any weight.

The reason I asked a while back how close you were to goal is that I think things will change some more for you when you get closer. I guess all I'm saying is that in the early going for the very obese, caloric restriction (however achieved) to reduce to a more manageable weight/size is priority numero uno and the exercise can wait.
ProudDaddy said…
I can't recall HIIT (High Intensity INTERVAL Training) ever being used in other than a non-strength context, but then I often can't recall what I had for breakfast. HIT, on the other hand, is used in so many ways that it is becoming meaningless. Please correct me if I err when referring to interval training ala Gibala, etc., the BBC Horizons show, again etc., as HIIT.
I totally agree with you. If you are Obese I suggest a more of a knee friendly exercise. Swimming is the best together with your family. Over all family health is important.
Re BBS and goals, that's the reason I posted the link to Diana Hsieh's experience with BBS/SuperSlow. She is at goal and has similar reasons for why she likes that protocol for her resistance work.

I don't think everyone needs to do BBS/SuperSlow. But I think it's a nice option for some, and not just the obese.
Unknown said…

The Best CHD Advice You’ll Ever Get in One Sentence

Folks, stop obsessing over your irrelevant cholesterol levels, and get off your fat asses and start exercising, eat a nutrient-rich diet of fresh meats and plant foods, keep your serum ferritin between 25-75, keep your stress levels as low as possible, don’t smoke, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, lose weight via sensible diet and exercise if you are overweight, avoid refined suagrs, avoid anti-nutrient-ridden whole grain products, run from linoleate-rich vegetable oils and trans fat-laden margarines, keep good sleep hours, utilize judicious supplementation of critically important nutrients including but not limited to magnesium, vitamin D and CoEnzyme Q10.

There ya go folks…in just one sentence, albeit a kinda longish one, I’ve just given you more useful recommendations than Pee Pee and his legion of fellow truth-hating vegan wankers could ever dream of.
CarbSane said…
@PDaddy: I didn't mean that you were confusing the two, just that discussions of the two get confused. Plus, what's a little "I" in many fonts. I'm mostly referring to the Slow Burn style workouts when I say that's "not going to cut it" ... and I'm meaning in the sense of increasing overall energy expenditure of activity. I hope my next post clarifies this a bit more.
Tonus said…
"I do pretty regular "workouts" transporting/stacking, chainsawing, etc. wood."

And then you sit down and start chainsawing bad science! :D

Perhaps the most helpful advice I've gotten here, from both the posts and (mostly) the comments, is regarding exercise. As others have said here, it's critical to find an exercise regimen that we can ease into and that we can stick to. Find exercises that you like to do, and do those. Be very cautious when reading about exercise and exercise programs-- even the best exercise program will be useless if we drop it after a short while.

I think that exercise, much more than diet, should be guided by N=1.
Galina L. said…
I like exercising, probably mostly because it causes "exercise high" very easily for me. Even fast walking gives me almost the same pleasure as dancing. I also do rollerskating, Zumba, hiking, thi-chi and yoga. I was diagnosed with asthma at 35 after moving to Canada. I was getting short of breath during walks, and the logical solution was to increase the threshold of exercise tolerance. It was the beginning of regular exercise routine for me, however I had been physically active all my life, in Moscow even without skiing and skating it was a lot of walking as a part of a life-style. Often people there who want to spent time together and talk just walk together - it is a social activity. I didn't have a washing machine in my first marriage, all groceries were bought without using a car, not every appartment building has an elevator, things like that. My main exercise sin - I hate intentional muscle building, it bores me out of my mind. I hope yoga is enough to keep my upper body in shape.