By Marika Sboros
Many doctors and dietitians still want you to believe that obesity is from gluttony and sloth. In other words, all you have to do to lose weight is eat less and move more.
Canadian nephrologist Dr Jason Fung says that’s a recipe for starvation. Fung joins growing numbers of doctors and scientists who say you really can’t outrun a bad diet. They aren’t saying exercise isn’t important. It is – for stamina, toning and cardiac fitness. It just isn’t an effective weight loss tool.
Here’s what three world authorities say on the topic. It starts with their message about exercise and weight loss in an editorial in the BJSM (British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) in 2015. It has become a little lost in translation.
The authors are British consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, US physician scientist Prof Stephen Phinney and University of Cape Town emeritus professor and MD Tim Noakes. Their message is simple enough. They say that exercise is not the most effective weight loss tool.
Message some don’t like to hear
That’s a message that many members of Big Food and Big Pharma don’t like you to hear. In fact, they will go to great lengths to suppress it. Experts say it’s as if these interests want people to continue eating foods that make them fat and sick. They also want people to take drugs to treat symptoms of disease that will surely follow.
Click here to read: Cracking the obesity code: Dr Jason Fung’s secret
The editorial was “temporarily removed”, according to BJSM editor Prof Karim Khan. That was after “expressions of concern” over non-disclosure of certain interests by Noakes and Phinney.
That “non-disclosure” turned out to be due to nothing more sinister than an administrative error. The editorial was soon back with fuller disclosure. Thus, that presumably allayed any further “concerned expressions”.
It’s probably not surprising that critics seized upon the temporary removal with undisguised glee. It was after all a soft target. And it’s also a “classic tactic of an industry under extreme pressure”, says Noakes.
“If you can’t disprove what is written,” he says, “make the public believe that the authors have an ulterior motive other than what they wrote.
The real value of exercise
Some experts have attacked the editorial’s premise as irresponsible for “downplaying” the role of exercise. Yet none of the editorial authors says anything to downplay exercise.
None of them has ever said that exercise isn’t important. They say that it is a mood enhancer. They also say that exercise tones the body and builds fitness and stamina.
Research also shows that exercise lengthens telomeres that contribute to longevity. Khan gave a keynote address to a Royal Society of Medicine event in June 2015 on exercise. He called it “medicine for older people’s bones and brains”.
And while exercise can lead to some weight loss, these experts say that it’s just not the best weight loss aid.
That’s why exercise does not feature in Foodmed’s Idiot’s Guide to LCHF. That’s because the science isn’t there to support it for weight loss.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Noakes and Phinney unwittingly gave their enemies ammunition to attack the message by attacking the messengers. Both are not the first or last to err by default rather than design over declarations of interests.
After all, their interests are not exactly hidden.
COIs in perspective
I wasn’t able to contact Phinney in time to get comment for this article. However, he is acknowledged worldwide as an expert in his field, including exercise and nutrition.
Phinney has now also declared all interests. Among those is that he is on the Atkins Scientific Advisory Board and is author of The New Atkins for a New You.
The National Research Foundation of SA has given Noakes an A1 rating as a scientist. That acknowledges him as a world authority in his fields of research: exercise science and nutrition. Noakes has published more than 500 scientific papers. He has been cited more than 15 000 times in the scientific literature.
He is also the author of many books on diet, nutrition and sport, including the low-carb, high-fat “bible”, The Real Meal Revolution, and one devoted to exercise, The Lore of Running.
In more than 40 years of a scientific career, Noakes says he has “never been required to declare the books as conflicts of interest”. He admits that he was in a rush to get the editorial published but was not aware of books as an influential COI.
Noakes later commented on Twitter: “At least I EARN my conflicts of interest by writing books.Truly influential conflicts are unearned, even if declared.”
Clearly, though, Noakes and Phinney did get things wrong. They should have known the knives would be out, waiting and sharpened. They should have known that the goalposts on declaration of interests have moved radically and for good reason.
Corruption and collusion are rampant between doctors, scientists, food and pharmaceutical industries and journal editors. It has allowed bad science to survive and thrive.
Friends in high places?
Much has been made of Noakes’ friendship with Khan. Yet Khan has published many articles by Noakes over the years without anyone suggesting anything untoward.
The editorial has given some of Noakes’s critics the opportunity to make declarations about most doctors having to sweat “blood and tears” to get their research published. As if he and many doctors haven’t sweated blood and tears to produce powerful research. Or editorials that journals refuse to publish simply because the message challenges the status quo and vested interests. Or that any friends they might have among journal editors must, therefore, be without integrity and courage simply because of the connection.
So what became lost for a while, was an important message that even governments are receiving loudly and clearly these days. The science is there to support the editorial’s premise.
But you don’t need it to prove exercise is not the best weight loss aid. You just have to look at all those poor souls who pay for expensive gym contracts. They work out regularly, religiously follow conventional medical and dietary advice. They also stay resolutely overweight and sick.
Couch potatoes and weight
You also just have to read people like top US investigate science journalists Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise.
And British obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe, who says: “You can sit on the couch all day and still lose weight”.
You can also read Fung’s entertaining, informative blog on the topic of Exercise and Total Energy Expenditure.
Experst are saying that more than exercise, people need to know what and when to eat. And a healthy diet is proving to be one rich in real foods, not processed or refined.
These are foods that don’t constantly raise insulin levels, Noakes, Phinney and Malhotra say.
Likewise, these foods don’t increase your risk of serious disease such obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more recently dementia. Dementia is becoming so prevalent doctors are calling it type 3 diabetes because of the link with diet..
A healthy diet is not based on official dietary guidelines in place for nearly 40 years. Research shows that these guidelines have left people sicker and fatter, despite religious adherence to them for decades.
Harcombe’s meta-analysis in the BMJ Open Heart in 2015 showed the guidelines to be without science when they were imposed on an unsuspecting public in 1977 in the US, and the rest of the world thereafter.
Harcombe has developed her eponymous The Harcombe diet, which she doesn’t call LCHF. However, she says that people will tend naturally to eat that way. That’s because it’s the best diet for optimum health, wellbeing and weight control.
Her research supports the BJSM editorial message. Exercise simply isn’t the best way to beat the obesity epidemic, she says.