Thursday, January 25, 2007

Femme fat-ale?

"Promoters of weight-loss schemes would have you believe that a special substance or combination of foods will automatically result in weight reduction," says Quackwatch founder Dr. Stephen Barrett. "That's simply not true. To lose weight you must eat less, or exercise more, or do both." Barrett points out that there are about 3500 calories in a pound of body weight. "To lose one pound a week," he says, "you must consume about 500 fewer calories per day than you metabolize, period."

That's a rather depressing truth. But increasing evidence suggests an even sadder truth for women: that Mother Nature simply doesn't want Her girls to be too slim. And She'll fight them tooth and nail when they attempt to challenge Her on that prerogative by burning off unusual amounts of calories.

As part of the ambitious, multidisciplinary Heritage Family Study (HFS), researchers at Texas A&M put over 500 men and women on a 20-week endurance-training program. The clinicians expected the nature and intensity of the exercises to yield permanent biophysical changes. It didn't quite pan out that way. Though improvements in exercise tolerance were clear, the results in weight loss were underwhelming for the men, and downright shattering for the women, who lost, on average—this is not a typo—.1 kg.

That’s 3.5 ounces, people.

A fluke? Other data suggest that the HFS women should count themselves lucky. The Midwest Exercise Trial, whose results were reported in August 2003, put a random mix of men and women on a demanding 16-month fitness regimen. They exercised regularly at up to 75 percent of their maximum heart rate, thereby burning an additional 2000 calories per week, on average. Men lost about 11 pounds. The typical woman gained a bit over a pound. And it wasn't that they replaced fat with heavier, bulkier muscle tissue, either. The women's collective body-mass index remained almost constant throughout.

So let's do the math about the bargain these latter women struck: Each of them burned about 138,000 extra calories. During 16 sweat-filled months of exercise. In order to gain a pound. (It seemed worthy of italicizing a second time, in this case). Glenn Gaesser, associate professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia, put it all in perspective when he observed that in caloric terms, the women in the study "did the equivalent of walking from New York City to Seattle, and then down to San Diego." And ended up weighing more.

Not exactly what you see in those Bally's ads, is it? For that matter, it wasn't even what you saw in the official summary of the study, whose authors apparently were so dismayed by the results that they felt compelled to spin them. "Moderate-intensity exercise sustained for 16 months is effective for weight management," reads the blandly upbeat conclusion, in part.

There is, however, a possible way around this: Become a movie star like, say, Linda Hamilton, training for her role in Terminator 2. Hire a personal fitness consultant, be prepared to commit several grueling hours each day (including weekends) to working out, micromanage your entire schedule and all of your menu choices around the single-minded goal of getting buff. If that's a realistic option for you and your lifestyle, go for it.

Short of that, for most women, lasting weight management may be a tough road in which they're fighting biology, anthropology, and heredity every step of the way.

(And as for the title of this post... Look, we all have good days and bad days. Put this down as a bad one.)

READ PREVIOUS SHAMblog POSTS ON DIETING AND WEIGHT LOSS:
Those lumps, those bumps...those chumps.
DietLand: A brief history of federal oversight(s).
Only the data are slim. Part 2.
Only the data are slim. Part 1.
Hoodia wanna believe?
Waste size.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Right on! The problem is not that women look like curvy, full-bodied women, but that men apparently can't stand it unless they (women, that is) have the stick figure of a 13-year-old boy, possibly with breast enhancements for good measure. So women fight their figures, not for their health, but for their men. How did we ever come to this?!

Steve Salerno said...

I don't know, anon, but I just got my Feb. issue of Allure (more evidence of my latent gayness, I guess), a magazine edited almost entirely by women, and I was aghast anew at some of the models in its photo layouts. They seemed more gaunt and anorexic than ever, despite the recent movement away from the "heroin chic" look. (Work commitments had prevented me from sitting down with recent issues, so you could say I was looking at the magazine with a fresh eye.)

But you're right: Amid their overall, sickly gauntness, these women did, somehow, manage to have breasts. The whole thing is as curious to me as it is disturbing to you, and many others who feel as you do.

Anonymous said...

I think the anorexic Barbie you displayed in an earlier post says it all. The original Barbie was super-curvy, and her figure drew a lot of ire, but some of us in fact had that 34-24-34 body (or 34-17-34, in my case). Now that they've trimmed Barbie down to a stick figure, I don't think any girl over the age of 12 could have that body without starving.

Anonymous said...

Despite all this talk about women losing weight for men, I find it hard to believe that ALL men prefer that a woman's weight should only be distributed on her chest, and hardly anywhere else. Am I being naive? I'm not denying that many, many men have those preferences, but come on. There's got to be some hope for those women that are of a healthy weight. Seriously, guys, I'm curious: Is there anyone out there that actually prefers women NOT to look like the ones pictured in magazines? Maybe if women would get more support from their men and were told that they are attractive just the way they are, women wouldn't feel obliged to take health risks in order to be thin. Maybe, also, if women know that there are guys out there who will appreciate their bodies for what they are, they can ditch the guy they're with (and leave him alone with his precious men's magazines) and find someone who they can be comfortable around, instead of feeling pressured to be someone else.

Steve Salerno said...

I have my own (very strong) feelings here, but I'm inclined to let others reply first, if they care to. Any guys who want to weigh in?

Steve Salerno said...

And please excuse the awful pun in my closing question, there. That was unintentional. Gads....

Anonymous said...

Maybe its an age thing but I like a woman to look like a woman, like the stars from years ago. Sophia Lauren, Raquel Welch etc. That doesn't mean they have to look like that- so full-bodied. In fact they don't have to look like anything in particular. An attractive woman is an attractive woman, as long as there's some woman there, not just a bag of bones. That's just a personal opinion and maybe it sounds sexist but sinc eyou asked.
-Carl