Weight Loss Myth-busting

Monday, August 10, 2009

John Cloud, Time Magazine staff writer, talks about his article, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin."


John Cloud

Comments [44]

J. Weight

Exercise involves visiting a local gym or just going for a walk at a local shopping center. Having a workout partner may help to keep you motivated and it may help to keep exercising and losing weight fun and exciting for you.

Sep. 01 2009 01:37 PM
Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS from New York

If John Cloud had bothered to actually read the research on the subject, he would have come to a very different conclusion. But that wouldn't have sold magazines. Instead, he skewed the facts to support a conclusion that is spurious if not downright wrong. The upshot is that he's done a grave disservice to the general public. I'd encourage you to read my rebuttal to Mr. Cloud on my blog,, where I actually cite the research on the subject.



Aug. 12 2009 04:10 PM
ken wade from NYC

As a 5 foot-nine inch male approaching his 7th decade at 129lbs(30" waist) that has excercised everyday for the past 20 years, I can testify that John Cloud is full of...ahmem...poopoo. I would like to have a look at this fellow. From what I could hear from his voice, he sounds like a man about to fall off his chair.

Aug. 10 2009 08:11 PM
lee from LA

In my small anecdotal experience I think this is right on. I used to go to the gym and do hard workouts 2-4 times a week, and it never really helped me loose weight. In the past month I have been doing a short bike ride (3.5 miles each way) to and from work. Because it's a short bike ride, I don't skip it when I'm late or under the weather AND I'm not ravenous when I get to work.

Aug. 10 2009 06:45 PM
lee from LA

In my small anecdotal experience I think this is right on. I used to go to the gym and do hard workouts 2-4 times a week, and it never really helped me loose weight. In the past month I have been doing a short bike ride (3.5 miles each way) to and from work. Because it's a short bike ride, I don't skip it when I'm late or under the weather AND I'm not ravenous when I get to work.

Aug. 10 2009 06:45 PM
Park from NYC

I am a marathon runner. It's frustrating that Cloud's explanation for why exercise doesn't work is that people naturally cheat on their workouts. Probably true, but why not promote more exercise rather than less reliance on exercise. The problem is people expect too little of themselves. You have to push yourself. Many who will read this article can gradually build up to a sufficient level of exercise that they can enjoy donuts and pizza in moderation.

Aug. 10 2009 02:57 PM
alan hughes from nyc

For most people the issue is not weight but size. Exercise can increase ones weight - muscle weighs > fat - but end up smaller in size all over... and have to buy new clothes.

Aug. 10 2009 12:46 PM
Ian Clarke from NY

Doing long duration of exercise alone without changing your diet will not lead to waight loss and it's waste of time.

It is best to combine short burst cardio exercise along with strength training only
3 times per week. This will lead to fatloss
and gaining muscle which can shape your body
and makes you burn more calories.

We focus too much on weightloss. We should focus on fatloss and building muscle. If we exercise and eat more calories than we burn of course you are going to gain weight but,
To be successful at loosing weight are building muscle execise and good nutrition goes hand in hand not one without the other.

Aug. 10 2009 12:19 PM
Phil from Riverdale

Mr. Cloud omitted an important fact. Exercise builds muscle, muscle has weight, and is heavier than fat. If your caloric intake stays roughly the same, exercise will cause loss of fat and gain of muscle. Your weight could remain the same but you will have less fat and more muscle - much healthier.

Aug. 10 2009 12:17 PM
george columbus from Babylon NY

You exercise, you overeat, and you can't lose weight.
I've got an idea! Quit exercising! Brilliant!
Shame on you, WNYC!

Aug. 10 2009 12:14 PM

NPR's health blog gives a more complete picture on this story

Aug. 10 2009 12:11 PM
miyuki from elmhurst

I think exercise stimulate you to be active overall in your life and helps destruct from only thinking about meal or snacks. And right, as far as the calorie consumption by excercise was the same level as the calorie intake no weight loss happens. I was an athlete all though my student time, did 7days a week intense trainings. But unless eating less, I never lost weight. The biggest weight loss I have experienced was not when I had intensive exercise but when I had a bad breakup and did not eat for a week..!

Now I'm an office worker without regular exercise but as far as I watch what/how much I eat I do not gain weight.

Aug. 10 2009 11:54 AM
Lois from Harlem

I was laid off in February and have been spending time looking for a job and doing a lot of other things I don't usually do. And bingo, at the end of five months, I have lost 25 pounds. I just eat only when I am hungry, and very little when I do. It wasn't deliberate. I just wasn't eating out of stress the way I did when I was working. I do move around a lot more, but this slow, one pound a week weight loss seems entirely due to the decreased number of calorie intake. So that's my experience.

Aug. 10 2009 11:50 AM


Aug. 10 2009 11:48 AM

The part he hasn't mentioned about the psych research about self-control being like a muscle is that you can strengthen it over time by practicing it. (Admittedly most diets don't take advantage of this).

Aug. 10 2009 11:48 AM
Niamh from Brooklyn

Controlling calorie intake in tandem with cardio is key. It's surprising how few calories you burn during intense excercise. I was surprised that running more than 6 miles burned only 660 calories for me, that's ONE muffin or similar food item. But I totally agree that integrating walking and taking the stairs etc into your overall lifestyle really helps, along with regular targeted exercise and controlling your portions. Also, eating less later in the day, i.e. not eating big meals in the evening has helped me. (When I trained for a marathon several years ago, I lost just 3lbs because I compensated with food after long runs.)

Aug. 10 2009 11:47 AM
Lauren from Manhattan

Also, exercise does not physiologically make you hungrier. It's psychological.

Aug. 10 2009 11:47 AM
houseofcakes from brooklyn

for the most part, i would agree with him. if you lived in an area where manual labor or the outdoors is a daily part of life (e.g. rural areas), the idea of "going to the gym" is kind of ridiculous b/c you're leading an active lifestyle. so, for me, the takeaway message is that thinking about "exercise" as a separate part of the day's activity is strange and to me, brought about by the workout industry.

i would also say that losing weight is lifetime work for people (like me) who struggle with weight all the time (b/c we love to eat, b/c we are simply a little more on the chub side :) ), so hitting the gym for 6 months to lose some weight isn't going to work b/c once you stop, it all just comes back. living a life that is active and eating in moderation (a la julia childs) is more realistic imo.

Aug. 10 2009 11:47 AM
chefesse from brooklyn

When you see longevity studies the communities with people who live the longest are always very active...tilling the fields, drawing and hauling water, whatever.

Their diet is wholesome and fresh, without any processed food at all. They is no obesity...AND no health clubs!

Living an active life, eating "real" foods, connected to the earth, friends and family (in person, NOT on twitter) seems to be the way to keep ones weight and overall health in an optimum state.

Aug. 10 2009 11:46 AM

How in the world did your producers choose this guy for the Brian Lehrer show?? Congratulations to him for making up statistics based on the fact that the majority of people lie about how effective they exercise or that they over eat as a fake reward. That's not revolutionary--when you deal with mass population statistics that's what you will find. But to say that exercise is useless for losing weight among other things for everybody that exercises is ridiculous and obviously just a grab for attention--that mainstream dumb media like Time magazine bought--but I wouldn't expect WNYC to go for. Boo!

Aug. 10 2009 11:44 AM
Beth from NJ

It is critical to emphasize the total benefits of exercise vs solely tying it to weight loss. While the guest mentions the benefits, he puts the 'weight' on weight loss. The emotional and health benefits are critical. I began to exercise almost daily in December and the difference in my measurements, the way my clothes fit and the way I feel is dramatic. If you only focus on the scale it's easy to become frustrated. When you look at the total picture, exercise makes a huge difference.

While there may be truth to what is being said, we are living in a time of obesity. Giving people the excuse to stop exercising because they won't see a difference on the scale is really heading in the wrong direction.

Aug. 10 2009 11:43 AM
robert from new york

is this segment addressed to 5 years old? or the ones who eats entire box of donuts after the exercise? r

Aug. 10 2009 11:43 AM
JohnG from Manhattan

Re Bob #16, As anyone who has been through Boot Camp knows, in addition to exercise, your food intake is limited. Recruits can not take food from the chow hall to the barracks, so no inter-meal snacks, and recruits are discouraged from over eating.

Aug. 10 2009 11:42 AM
myles from brooklyn

but what about alcohol? i find that one reason i and many of my friends don't lose weight, despite hitting the gym four to five times a week, is that we drink too much. and now i hear that the body does not metabolize alcohol well and may actually slow down matabolism. what is his thought on that?

Aug. 10 2009 11:40 AM
cynthia from brooklyn, ny

this article is stating the obvious as if it's an eye-opening revelation. yes, no matter how much you exercise, if you continue to consume more calories than you burn, you will not lose weight. so exercise MIGHT not result in weight loss. where is the "myth" in all this?

the formula for weight loss is simple. use more calories than you consume.

Aug. 10 2009 11:39 AM
Sara from Queens

I feel like every few years we "re-remember" that eating less and exercising more leads to weight loss. Nothing has changed here.

Aug. 10 2009 11:38 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

Isn't the method diet AND exercise, not exercise AND eat like a pig?

Aug. 10 2009 11:37 AM
Spot from NYC

Putting aside the fact the Cloud is discounting the health and psychological benefits of exercise, his main problem is that he is using only people with a dysfunctional relationship to food and exercise as his sample. If one has grown up thinking the exercising is normal than you don't feel like you need to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's when you are done.

Cloud seems to only be saying that if you counteract the benefits of exercise through your diet than exercise didn't help. Well...duh.

Aug. 10 2009 11:36 AM
Bob from New Jersey

Please explain how the Marine Corps, in a couple of months, can transform virtually anyone into a V-shaped physical wonder. I think they exercise a little bit on Parris Island.

Aug. 10 2009 11:34 AM
Lauren from Manhattan

I am a personal trainer and I totally agree. I have clients quit their sessions with me all the time because they think that because they're working out with me, they can go eat whatever they want after their session. I am considering only taking on overweight clients who are also on a weight loss plan in addition to the training sessions.

Aug. 10 2009 11:34 AM
Robert from NYC

Exercise is Great! But weight loss? Calories in, calories out. It's a quite simple formula.

Aug. 10 2009 11:34 AM
Frank from Prospect Heights

All of this discussion just goes to show that reductionist science, especially when considering diet and exercise will always lead in wrong directions. Everything in moderation!

Aug. 10 2009 11:33 AM
Jeff from Brooklyn

I agree with Phyllis, this is merely a ploy for readers on Time Warner's behalf.

All personal trainers I have spoken with or used make sure to emphasize that excercize can only affect 40% of overall health, 60% is nutrition-based.


Aug. 10 2009 11:33 AM
ellen diamond from New York City

In the past month, I heard from my GP and cardiologist that overweight folks who exercise live longer than thin people who don't. I know when I go for a long walk I feel (and sleep) much better.
Ellen in Manhattan

Aug. 10 2009 11:33 AM
cindy harden from brooklyn

I am a 55 year old woman who has exercised regularly for the past 25 years. I am in much better shape than many women my age including having more muscle tone, even after menopause.
Sure, it's harder as you age, but if you exercise regularly and include weight training and aerobic exercise, you may not lose weight, but you will lose inches and have a firmer body. It's not a matter of pounds, but shape -if your clothes fit you better than the exercise has done its job.
But -- you really have to push yourself and not slack off.

Aug. 10 2009 11:33 AM
simon from ny

i have been steadily loosing weight for two months on a diet. i worked out this last week for the first time to get fit. i weighed myself this morning and gained two pounds. of course i had pizza last night.

Aug. 10 2009 11:33 AM
Jay from Norwalk, CT

so what does lead to weight loss? Can you describe the difference between weight loss due to water loss and fat conversion to muscle.

Aug. 10 2009 11:32 AM
Moishe from Rockland

P.A.C.E. is an exercise system that does result in weight loss, triglyceride and ldl reduction and an increase in hdl, the good cholesterol. In comparison to standard exercise this system wins every time. Basically it's a system that works by starting slow for only a few minutes, running fast for a few, then slowing down again. Exertion times are actually reduced and slower running increased. This type of exercising works the heart and lungs to their peaks. Standard exercise doesn't do this.

Aug. 10 2009 11:32 AM
the real truth from everywhere!

What is with all the overweight hate? And why do you think that YOUR experience is going to be universal? People are ridiculous about this!

Even when people don't engage in compensation, there is no direct relationship between reduced calories and exercise and weight loss.

Aug. 10 2009 11:31 AM
Gary from UWS

This guy is right. Controlling food intake is more important to weight loss than exercise. You have to be running around on a basketball court for hours in the sun to burn off a Big Mac. So, don't eat the Big Mac and stay thin.

Aug. 10 2009 11:30 AM
Suki from Williamsburg

For the most part, the author is correct. The article isn't exactly responsible but it's not inaccurate.

He is not talking about weight maintenance, he is talking about weigh LOSS. Exercise is imperative to maintaining a healthy weight, but it does little to further ones weight loss efforts where diet is responsible for as much as 80% of weight loss.

Aug. 10 2009 11:06 AM

I am astonished this is Brian Lehrer-worthy. Cloud's article is full of nonsense.

Aug. 10 2009 11:04 AM
Gil Rose from Queens

John Cloud's article is nonsense! Over the past two months I have used a short high intensity interval traing (HIIT) session each day, and have lost 15 pounds! I actually exercise for 8 minutes and rest in between for an average of two minues.

Aug. 10 2009 10:46 AM

What's going on with the Brian Lehrer keeping fat on series?

This article is ridiculous. Exercise keeps me thin, but if I started going to McD every week, it probably wouldn't. Of course you can't lose weight if you keep stuffing your face, especially with those Starbucks muffins. If you keep eating packaged or fast food or restaurant food, chances are you need to change your eating habits, because that stuff makes you fat. But that doesn't mean that exercise is a waste of time. Control your eating and exercise. It's not that big of a deal.

Aug. 10 2009 10:33 AM

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