Can you out run a bad diet?

By Clem | In Nutrition, Personal Training | on May 4, 2015

Happy Monday y’all! As punishment for my self-imposed hiatus from blogging over the past three months, I’ve decided to set myself a challenge to blog on a weekly basis until I start my next clinical placement in August. Big task but its for my own good. This past week I have launched my new blogging and personal training website which seems to have tickled many a fancy. Thanks for the support guys and for all those that pointed out my spelling mistakes, I am greatly indebted to you (I mean it, the perfectionist in me needed those suggestions).

I’m going to discuss a topic that got my back up last week. I’ll try not to get all ‘grumpy old men’ on your asses here and keep it light hearted. Almost two weeks ago, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published an article by cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra entitled “It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet”. I really liked most of this article in that it highlights popular misconceptions like ‘a calorie is a calorie’ and points out that companies are prioritising profits at the cost of their consumers health. The article goes further than most in the past by naming Coca Cola as one the culprits in supplying misleading information. Interestingly, the article may have stepped on a few toes as it has since been removed from the BJSM website due to an “expression of concern”. If you want to get access to the one page article it can still be found in places like here.

In spite of my general acceptance of the articles message, I was a bit worried that it might be misrepresented in the mainstream media. That concern was proven correct just a few days later. The article claims that obesity has rocketed in the western population in the past 30 years whereas physical activity has not and references this article from Luke & Cooper (2013)  to back that statement up. This statement is only half true in my opinion. Obesity has rocketed in the past 30 years or more, that is very clear. However to say that physical activity in the western world has remained unchanged is very wide of the mark. A response to the Luke & Cooper article has also been published to highlight the limitations of this claim.

In spite of that claim, Dr. Malhotra’s message is clear that we need to place much more emphasis on what we are eating to tackle the obesity epidemic than moving more. Moving more while eating poor quality, processed food will not lead to any changes. Research involving almost 100 sedentary individuals done at the University of Texas looked at one group carrying out 12 weeks of high intensity training without controlled nutrition. The control group simply did nothing. At the end of the 12 weeks, you might assume that the group that exercised would have lost more fat but the difference seen was a mere 1% loss of body fat. Not good.

The message here however is not “Exercise does not work for fat loss” it is “Exercise ALONE does not work for fat loss”.

Shortly after the BJSM article was released the Guardian newspaper in the UK published a story entitled “Exercise is good … but it won’t help you lose weight, say doctors”.

Guardian Newspaper fail

Mainstream media, and a lot of other media sources and experts for that matter, love dealing in absolutes. Research comes out saying we should focus on physical activity more than exercise for fat loss. An editor see’s this and needs a sensationalist headline that will attract more attention. Suddenly people around the UK are jogging past newsagents, seeing the Guardian article and calling a taxi home (that may be another sensationalist statement).

Eating real food and reducing processed food choices in your diet will make a huge effect to not only your waistline but also to your energy levels and your potential for achievement. Combining that method with regular strenuous activity (call it exercise or whatever you want) will lead to even more benefits including improved insulin sensitivity, greater stress reduction, increased motivation to change other health behaviours and sense of accomplishment.

obesity children


67% of men and 57% of women in the UK and Northern Ireland are overweight or obese according to a 2013 Health Survey for England (judged by BMI which has its own flaws). Even more staggering is research showing that over a third, that warrants repeating, over a third of children in the UK are overweight or obese.  The answer to the obesity problem is not to place exercise and diet in a battle to see who wins. We as a population need to become more mindful of the quality of foods we are putting in our bodies. We also need to ensure we are moving often to account for those calories going in and to generally ensure our overall health is close to optimal.

For more information on how to fix a poor diet, have a look at this excellent infographic below from the awesome guys at Precision Nutrition.


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