One of the things I hear often is that I am lean because I frequently go for walks and a few of those walks tend to be long. When I try and correct the misinformation by stating I leaned out strictly from diet, my accuser will respond by saying it was both. It was not both, it was just diet. I know that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but I’m ready to back up my claim in this post.
When I arrived in Seattle in 2007, I weighed 211 pounds. In 2008, I began documenting my urban hikes and by 2009 I was weight stable at 190. On the surface it looks like walking helped me lean out, but in the two years prior to leaving San Diego, I was hiking a few times every week. You can go back and see the archives of this site. In the span of 2 years, I hiked all over San Diego County. I was also doing urban hikes in the city. Yet I remained weight stable at 210.
Here is me hiking Canyon Sin Nombre in 2007. I weighed 210 pounds. Hiking didn’t lean me out. The Cliff Bars in my backpack were keeping me heavy.
Prior to getting into hiking in San Diego, the only exercise I did was lift weights. That has been the one constant throughout the past decade. From 2001 to the start of my serious hiking in 2005, I was also weight stable at 210. Hiking San Diego did not cause a single inch to come off my waist. Nor did urban hiking in Seattle. It was all diet.
In 2008, I slowly incorporated ideas from the Paleo Diet. Those included reducing grains and Intermittent Fasting. I also became interested in cooking. By 2009, I was almost 100% gluten free and I was cooking with healthy oils. That is how I dropped the 20 pounds of fat.
Walking more increases appetite to compensate for increased energy demands. Walking less decreases appetite. The key to fat loss is not exercise, it is eliminating toxic foods and loading up on the nutrient dense ones. I wasn’t even trying to lose weight. My body decided for me that I was carrying too much fat. It fell off effortlessly once I gave my body the correct nutrition.
Arguing The Opposite
At this point some throw up the straw man argument that had I not walked at all, I’d be heavier. That might be correct, but that is not the same thing. I walk because I’m human and each time I get up to take a step, I’m reminding my body that I’m an active species. Walking is essential for excellent health, but as a fat loss strategy it sucks.
If you don’t fix the diet, you can’t get lean. It is that simple. This is why I often will say the time you spend in the kitchen cooking is far more valuable than the time you spend exercising. I’m not anti-exercise, I just believe its role in fat loss is highly over rated. In my next two posts, I’m going to cover how exercise indirectly kept me fatter and how my current exercise program maximizes fat loss potential with minimal increase in appetite.
Apr 6, 2012 — 11:29 am
This is a very interesting topic, and I’m looking forward to reading the follow ups. I regularly enjoy your blog, and it’s in rotation with Paul Jaminet, Mark Sisson and a few others. Thanks for taking the time to help make paleo practical!
Easter greetings from Canada,
Apr 6, 2012 — 11:31 am
@Dan – Thanks for kind words. Paul has my favorite nutrition blog and Mark has the best book on Paleo.
Apr 6, 2012 — 2:27 pm
I agree weight loss mostly comes from the diet.
To ‘prove’ to people you can get lean from diet alone, one would have to ditch exercise. Otherwise they will never buy this argument from active people like us. If I remember correctly, Drew Baye did this many moons ago with great success (actually getting super cut)
But what’s to prove? … it’s no secret that eating well gives you the energy for hikes, sprints, lifting and to live an active lifestyle in general. They go hand in hand. Doing chronic cardio, however, just made me ferociously hungry all of the time.
Apr 6, 2012 — 2:35 pm
@Aaron – I guess in this case I am speaking directly to the people in Seattle that credit my getting lean with urban hiking. By showing 2 baselines: 2001-2005 (just weights) and 2005-2007 (weights + hiking) where my weight was stable at 210, I think I demonstrated the only variable that can explain my fat loss is diet. I don’t think I need to ditch the exercise. That would be proving something else.
Part 2 might take a few days to complete.
Apr 7, 2012 — 3:23 am
I agree 100% – leaning out is mostly diet.
For example I did about two hours of walking yesterday – something I rarely do – and I was amazed at how hungry I was for the rest of the day.
Apr 11, 2012 — 9:54 am
What about cold?
I agree that vigorous exercise just increases appetite, so you eat to compensate. (I’ve done lots of that.) And eating properly just melts the extra weight off. (I do that from time to time.) But I’ve been eating as badly as ever lately and I think I’m losing weight. I started acclimatizing to cold in January, inspired by your posts on the subject, but then in late March the building furnace went off, even though it was still below freezing at night (I’m in Montreal) and on went the sweater again, even to bed (and I layer my coat over my duvet too) and some days my apartment is so cold I turn the oven on and open the oven door. So I’ve definitely been exposed to more cold than usual lately. And I do seem to be smaller around the middle. (I’m also standing a lot more, which might have an effect – it’s definitely shaping my muscles. It’s supposed to burn more calories, but I have no idea whether that would increase fat burning or increase appetite. I don’t think I’m eating any more but it’s hard to tell.)
I also wonder about very gentle exercise in general – like standing more or going for a leisurely stroll – whether it would make a difference.
Apr 11, 2012 — 9:58 am
@Anemone – When it comes to cold and fat loss, I really don’t the answer. There seems to be a resurgence of interest on the topic at Free the Animal and Jack Kruse. I’m planning an updated post on the topic. It will ask more questions than provide answers.