One of the wisest researchers who I know writes that exercise won’t help us to lose weight. But in my experience it does, and weight loss is crucial for almost all of us who have diabetes, because our weight is a big factor in high blood sugar levels.
“Appetite and thus calories consumed will increase to compensate for physical activity,” writes Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories. When I read the first edition of this book in 2007, it finally convinced me that I could control my diabetes and my weight on a very low-carb diet. It worked: my current A1C is 5.4 and my current BMI is 19.2. Both of these numbers are big improvements over what they were six years ago.
In his subsequent book, Taubes elaborated on his statement. This does sound persuasive.
“There are very good reasons to be physically active,” he wrote in Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. “But weight loss … does not appear to be one of them. Exercise will make you hungry, and it’s likely to reduce your energy expenditure during times when you’re not exercising. The goal is to avoid both of these responses. Trying to drive weight loss by increasing energy expenditure may be not only futile but also actively counterproductive. You tend to be sedentary when you’re overweight or obese because of the partitioning of fuel into your fat tissue that you could be burning for energy. You literally lack the energy to exercise, and so the impulse to do it. Once that problem is fixed — by avoiding the carbohydrates that made you and keep you fat — then you should have the energy to be physically active and with it the drive or impulse to do so.”
Unquestionably, Taubes is right about the reasons to be physically active other than weight loss. Once we start exercising, we feel better. And, indeed, exercise can make us hungry.
In a couple of my recent experiences I did eat more after extensive exercise. But I still lost weight. My companion on both of these trips had an experience similar to mine.
I just returned from almost two weeks of active birding on a tour of Costa Rica. I ate very well, as I wrote in a photo essay “Birding Rancho Naturalista.” In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had gained up to five pounds. But because of all my exercise, my weight went down from 156 to 153.8 pound in the 12 days I was away from home.
I also spent the entire month of January on a really active birding vacation. I rented a condo on Florida’s Gulf Coast, as I wrote in a series of photo essays starting at “Pine Island’s Blue Crab Key.” I ate out at almost every meal, and partly because the restaurants’ cooks are a lot better than I am at making tasty dishes, I did eat more. Still, my weight went down from 156.4 on January 1 to 155.6 on February 1.
My message is that I won’t stop being active for fear of gaining weight, and I hope that you won’t either. Gary Taubes is an expert on diet, but he doesn’t know everything.