Calling out Women’s Health

This is more of a rant, so I will apologize, but I will also support with research.  Lets talk about Women’s Health magazine, and this “Body Fat Breakthrough” program they are sponsoring and advertising on their website:

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Drop 30 pounds in 30 Days!

Whoa.  30 pounds in 30 days.  Thats pretty impressive.  Lets click on it and see what its telling us to do.

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I have pointed out some red flags for you with the red arrows.  This plan that asks you to pay money to do, claims you can lose 30 pounds, in 30 days, by only exercising 30 minutes a week, and without changing your diet.  I’ll save you the time and money, and list here the things this Dr. Ellington Darden tells you to do in his program, which he terms “Fat Bombs”:

  1. Fat Bomb #1: Negative accentuated strength training. In the exercise science world, this just means eccentric based exercises rather than concentric.  But Dr. Darden seems to enjoy overcomplicating things so that it sounds like a new concept.  An eccentric muscle action, according to the National Strength & Conditioning Association, is when the muscle lengthens because the contractile force is less than the resistive force.   AKA the lowering phase of pretty much any resistance exercise.  Only do that part, says Dr. Darden.
  2. Fat Bomb #2: A Cold Burn.  This says basically that if you sit in cold water or take a cold shower or put an ice pack on your back, then you will lose weight via brown fat.  Dr. Darden mentions a Stanford study about black bears, but doesn’t cite it, nor does he tell you the ultimate results.  And the rest of his evidence is completely anecdotal, so who knows whether it actually works.  Brown fat is a thing though, and you can learn all about it in this article.  Meanwhile, there doesn’t seem to be anything about brown fat and weight loss, only that leaner people tend to have more activated brown fat than overweight and obese people in response to cold.  you can read that article here.
  3. Fat Bomb #3: Carbohydrate Rich Meals.  In this chapter, Dr. Darden says you should get 50% of your calories from carbohydrates, but doesn’t give you any idea about what kind of carbs you should be looking for.  Carbs from white bread are very different from carbs from oatmeal.
  4. Fat Bomb # 4: Descending Calories.  WAIT.  I thought you didn’t change your diet for this plan?  Well step 4 for ladies Dr. Darden has you going from from 1400 calories a day to 1200 calories a day, and for men you get 1600 down to 1400.  In addition, he’s got planned meals for you, in which he drops specific name brand items, and a lot of lean cuisines.  I have a couple problems with this, the first being that he contradicted himself by having you changing your diet, and the second being that he favors low calorie frozen entrees, rather than teaching you how to cook your own healthy meals.  So even if you do drop weight, how realistic is the longevity of this program?
  5. Fat Bomb #5: Superhydration.  Dr. Darden does have great points on hydration!  He coins the term superhydration as meaning you drink more than a gallon of water a day, but a more common term for being more hydrated than not is hyperhydration.  I agree that its great for your joints, organ function, digestions, helps in appetite control, and all that.  However, I did not find any readily available studies on water consumption and fat loss.  In fact the only study I found regarding body composition and hydration found that an electrolyte beverage was better at attenuating body composition change than straight water in already active individuals.  You can read that here.  Nothing on water consumption and fast blasting though.
  6. Fat Bomb #6: After dinner walking.  He’s got a ton of good reasons to walk after dinner, like jump starting your metabolism and such.  Hey, I even told you to do that here!  AND, I believe this counts as extra exercise Dr. Darden…
  7. Fat Bomb #7: Extra Sleep. I can agree with this because I am doing my thesis on sleep. However, since I also have done a ton of research in this area, and work with some renown professors on the topic, I can also tell you that this is correlational, meaning that leaner people tend to get more sleep, and that less sleep (meaning you chronically get less than 6 hours of sleep a night), tends to be more correlated with metabolic syndrome.  You cannot say, however, that sleeping more will help you lose weight, that has not been scientifically proven as a causal relationship just yet.  You can read about sleep and metabolic syndrome here if you like.
  8. Fat Bomb #8: Social Network Connection.  Finally, I can agree with this one too.  Its more fun and people are generally more successful when they have a friend or group to work out with.  Get a buddy or join a run club.

Lets talk about whats realistic in terms of healthy weight loss and muscle gain.  Here’s an easy list to point out the high lights:

  • You will have to exercise more and change your diet.  When thinking of weight loss, thinking of it in terms of energy balance, and burning off more than you consume.  Your body has a basal metabolism, meaning the amount of calories needed to function and perform activities of daily living, plus your caloric expenditure .  In general, according to ACSM, to maintain weight, you need to exercise about 150 minutes a week, (think of it as 30 minutes 5 days a week).  But to lose weight, you’re looking more at 250-300 minutes a week, so an hour 5 days a week.
  • Its going to be gradual.  If you lose weight too fast, there is no guarantee that it will all be fat loss.  In fact the faster you lose weight, the more likely it is that you’ll have lost lean tissue too.  Less lean tissue actually slows down your metabolism, and will make it harder to keep off the weight and lose it later.  This is widely disputed but I think it is a good way to think of it: a pound of fat loss is roughly 3500 calories you need to deficit.  Think of that number as exercising at a high intensity for at least an hour every day of the week.  Thats a lot.  Losing more than a pound or two a week by changing up your diet and exercise is unrealistic in the long term.  Keep it slow, and aim for a pound a week, and you’ll be more likely to keep the weight off and have a salvaged metabolism.
  • Its going to take a while. You’re not going to gain 7 pounds of muscle in a month.  You’re just not.  It takes about 16 times doing the same workout before you get neural adaptations.  Your body needs to figure out how many motor units to contract and create new pathways and so on.  So if you are lifting weights twice a week, its going to take about 2 months before you actually start to feel and see changes in your muscle composition.
  • Finally, aim for longevity.  Find workouts and meals that you like to do.  Try one new thing at a time, and create new healthy habits.  A highly restrictive diet and rigorous exercise plan for the new exerciser is going to be hard to keep up, its not healthy, and it’s just not realistic in the long term.  You should ultimately choose to lose weight to be healthy, and you want to be healthy for life.

If you read this all the way through, thank you so much, and I hope you can better judge fad workout programs.  And shame on Women’s Health magazine, for sponsoring such an unrealistic weight loss program.  Your magazine should be about empowering women and helping them lose weight in a healthy, achievable manner.  Anything that says you can lose 30 lbs in 30 days is inherently not healthy.

-jules


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