Moment 143 This Is Why You Can't Lose Weight Daniel Lieberman

Summary Notes


In a discussion about misconceptions in exercise and health, the speakers, including the author of a book on the topic, debunk common myths about sitting, sleep, and step counts. The speakers clarify that while sitting is natural, it's the uninterrupted sitting that's harmful; frequent breaks can mitigate health risks. They also challenge the notion that eight hours of sleep is optimal, revealing that many people naturally sleep closer to six or seven hours without napping. Additionally, the origin of the 10,000-step goal is traced back to a Japanese pedometer company with no scientific basis, though the number isn't far off from what's beneficial. The conversation also addresses the effectiveness of exercise in weight loss, with an emphasis on the importance of combining exercise with diet for preventing weight gain and maintaining weight loss post-diet. The speakers highlight the interconnectedness of exercise and diet, both of which tend to improve simultaneously and are markers of privilege in modern society.

Summary Notes

Exercise Myths

  • Myths about exercise and physical activity are numerous and widespread.
  • The author had to limit the scope to ten myths for their book.
  • Understanding physical activity requires also understanding inactivity.

Gosh, there are so many, I had to actually limit, limit it to ten.

This quote indicates that the speaker encountered a vast number of myths while researching for their book but chose to focus on ten significant ones.

The Myth of Required Sleep and Sitting

  • Common beliefs include the necessity of 8 hours of sleep and that sitting is highly detrimental to health.
  • The speaker challenges these notions as contradictory, especially when considering the natural behavior of animals and humans.

And I think one of the biggest myths out there is that you need 8 hours of sleep a night and that sitting is the new smoking.

The speaker identifies two prevalent myths regarding health practices and questions their validity.

Sitting Patterns in Humans and Animals

  • All animals, including humans, engage in sitting behavior.
  • Hunter-gatherers and farmers sit as much as Westerners, debunking the myth that sitting is a modern issue.
  • The problem is not the sitting itself but the lack of activity interspersed with sitting.

Turns out that all animals sit, right? My dog sits, cows sit, chickens sit, every animal sits, and hunter gatherers also sit.

This quote emphasizes that sitting is a natural and universal behavior among animals and humans, contradicting the idea that it is uniquely harmful to modern humans.

Interrupted vs. Non-Interrupted Sitting

  • The health impact of sitting is more about the frequency of interruptions than the duration of sitting.
  • Getting up regularly activates various cellular mechanisms that can have health benefits.
  • Short, frequent breaks from sitting can improve blood sugar levels and activate beneficial genes.

So much how much we sit, but how we sit. So turns out that people who, if you get up every once in a while, right, interrupted sitting is actually much more healthy than non interrupted sitting for the same amount of time.

The speaker clarifies that the key to healthier sitting habits is to take frequent breaks, which can mitigate the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Strategies for Interrupting Sitting

  • Simple actions like getting up to use the restroom, make tea, or interact with a pet can serve as beneficial interruptions to sitting.
  • The speaker personally practices getting up during flights by choosing aisle seats to facilitate movement.

Just get up every once in a while, just pee frequently, make a cup of tea, pet your dog, whatever.

This quote provides practical advice on how to interrupt long periods of sitting, suggesting that even minor activities can have a positive impact on health.

Sleep Myths and Modern Technology

  • The belief in the necessity of 8 hours of sleep is tied to the industrial revolution.
  • Modern technology is often blamed for disrupting sleep patterns.
  • Research on individuals without access to electricity and gadgets challenges the idea that these technologies have destroyed sleep.

So this idea that you need 8 hours of sleep has been around for a long time. It's been around basically since the industrial revolution.

The speaker references the historical context of the 8-hour sleep myth, implying that it may not be as firmly based in human biology as is commonly thought.

Sleep Patterns and Duration

  • Natural human beings do not necessarily sleep 8 hours a night; they average 6 to 7 hours without napping.
  • The relationship between sleep duration and health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease or mortality, follows a U-shaped curve.
  • Optimal sleep duration for most people is around 7 hours, where the bottom of the U-shaped curve lies.
  • There is individual variation in sleep needs, with teenagers requiring more sleep and older people less.
  • Illness can affect sleep patterns, leading to more sleep and introducing biases in data analysis.

"And they don't nap. So this idea that natural human beings sleep 8 hours a night is just nonsense." This quote challenges the common belief that 8 hours of sleep is the natural pattern for humans, emphasizing that this is not the case.

"How many hours a night you sleep on the x axis and sort of some outcome like cardiovascular disease or just how likely you are to die, it's kind of a ushaped curve." This quote describes the research findings on sleep duration and health outcomes, indicating that both too little and too much sleep can be detrimental to health.

"So people actually do better if they sleep 7 hours rather than 8 hours." This quote suggests that 7 hours of sleep may be more beneficial than the often recommended 8 hours.

"But basically it turns out that seven is, for most people, optimal." This quote summarizes the finding that 7 hours of sleep is generally the best for health outcomes for the majority of people.

"Teenagers sleep more, older people sleep less. It's complicated." This quote acknowledges the variation in sleep needs across different age groups.

The Origin of the 10,000 Steps Goal

  • The 10,000 steps a day goal originated from a Japanese pedometer company before the Tokyo Olympics in the 60s.
  • The number 10,000 was chosen arbitrarily because it was considered auspicious and sounded reasonable, with no initial scientific backing.
  • Hunter-gatherers typically walk between 10,000 to 18,000 steps a day, depending on various factors.
  • Health benefits plateau around 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day according to large epidemiological studies, suggesting that more than that may not provide additional advantages.
  • While 10,000 steps is not a perfect number, it is a reasonable goal for health.

"And they picked out of, just out of the blue, they picked 10,000 steps, because that's apparently an auspicious number." This quote explains the arbitrary selection of the 10,000 steps goal based on cultural beliefs rather than scientific evidence.

"Your average hunter gatherer walks between ten to 18,000 steps." This quote provides context for the 10,000 steps goal by comparing it to the activity level of hunter-gatherers.

"About around 7000, 8000 steps, the curve kind of bottoms out." This quote indicates that the health benefits of walking are maximized at around 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day.

"So it turns out to be not that bad a goal, but it's not a perfect number, like a lot of things, right?" This quote reflects the idea that while the 10,000 steps goal is not scientifically perfect, it is still a decent target for maintaining health.

Exercise and Weight Loss Debate

  • There is a significant debate surrounding the role of exercise in losing fat, particularly belly fat.
  • The discourse includes a wide range of opinions and is a source of confusion for many.
  • The complexity of the debate is indicative of the nature of scientific inquiry and understanding.

"One of the biggest debates on the planet." This quote emphasizes the global scale and significance of the debate on exercise and weight loss.

"It has been a huge debate, even on this podcast." This quote indicates that the weight loss debate has been a recurring topic of discussion on the podcast, highlighting its contentious nature.

"Well, anybody wasn't confused, doesn't understand what's going on, right?" This quote implies that the debate is so complex that confusion is a natural and expected response for someone trying to understand the issue.

"But that's how science works, right?" This quote suggests that debate and uncertainty are inherent to the scientific process and contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

Physical Activity Recommendations

  • Major health organizations recommend 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) uses this benchmark to differentiate between sedentary and active lifestyles.
  • Many people find it challenging to achieve the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week, especially those who are unfit or overweight.

"So pretty much every major health organization in the world recommends that you get 150 minutes per week of physical activity. That's what the WHO, the World Health Organization considers the division between being sedentary versus active."

This quote emphasizes the global health recommendation of 150 minutes of physical activity per week as a standard for maintaining an active lifestyle.

Physical Activity and Weight Loss

  • Walking 150 minutes per week, or roughly 20 minutes a day, does not lead to significant weight loss.
  • This level of activity burns only about 50 calories a day, which is minimal compared to caloric intake from food.
  • Studies show that 150 minutes of physical activity per week is not very effective for weight loss.
  • Higher doses of physical activity, such as 300 minutes per week, can help with weight loss, but the process is slow and the amount lost is not large.
  • Losing weight rapidly through exercise alone is unrealistic due to the high caloric content of common foods and the body's compensatory hunger response.

"When you walk 150 minutes a week, which is what, 20 minutes a day of walking, which is about a mile a day, you're not going to lose much weight. You're basically burning about 50 calories a day doing that, right?"

This quote highlights the limited impact of walking 150 minutes per week on weight loss, as it burns only a small number of calories.

Physical Activity for Weight Maintenance

  • Physical activity is crucial for preventing weight gain or regaining weight after a diet.
  • Studies, including one at Boston University involving policemen, have shown that exercise contributes to long-term weight maintenance.
  • Policemen who combined dieting with exercise and continued exercising after the diet were more successful at keeping the weight off compared to those who only dieted.

"The policemen who's kept exercising even after the diet was over, and they went back to eating whatever the hell they wanted. Donuts, whatever. They're the ones who kept the weight off, but the ones who didn't exercise."

This quote illustrates the effectiveness of continued physical activity in maintaining weight loss, even when dietary restrictions are no longer in place.

Weight Regain Post-Dieting

  • Weight regain is a common issue after dieting.
  • Reference to the TV show "The Biggest Loser" where contestants lost significant weight.
  • Kevin Hall from the National Institute of Health studied contestants and found most regained weight.
  • The exception was a contestant who continued exercising post-show.
  • Exercise is crucial for preventing weight gain or weight regain.
  • Exercise should accompany diet in weight management.

"Guy named Kevin hall at the National Institute of Health studied them for years afterwards and looked at. And most of them regained a lot of the weight that they lost."

This quote highlights the long-term study of weight regain among "The Biggest Loser" contestants by Kevin Hall, emphasizing the commonality of regaining weight after extreme weight loss efforts.

"And there was one person on the show who did not, and that was the person who kept exercising."

This quote points out that continued exercise was a key factor for the one contestant who did not regain weight, suggesting the importance of physical activity in maintaining weight loss.

The Interplay of Diet and Exercise

  • Exercise and diet are often presented as alternatives rather than complementary.
  • Diet is foundational for weight loss, but exercise is also essential.
  • Exercise can reinforce dietary habits by discouraging unhealthy eating after workouts.

"When we talk about dieting, we talk about exercise or diet. Exercise or diet. Like, why is it an or why isn't it exercise and diet?"

The speaker questions why diet and exercise are often considered separately when both are important for weight management.

"Diet is, of course, the bedrock for weight loss. But exercise also plays an important role and should be part of the mix."

This quote reinforces the notion that while diet is critical for weight loss, exercise is a significant component that should not be overlooked.

Personal Experience with Diet and Exercise Correlation

  • Personal commitment to exercise correlates with healthier eating habits.
  • Avoiding unhealthy food after exercising feels like preserving the workout's value.
  • Motivation in one area (exercise) can boost motivation in another (diet).

"Because if I go to the gym, I will not then leave the gym and have a donut or a pizza. Absolutely not. It seems like wasting the effort."

This quote illustrates the speaker's personal experience where exercising discourages them from eating unhealthy foods, viewing it as counterproductive to their efforts.

"The minute I managed to get in the gym and do a big workout the same day, my diet came back."

Here, the speaker shares a personal anecdote that demonstrates how motivation for exercise can directly influence and improve dietary choices.

Covariation of Diet and Exercise in Studies

  • Diet and exercise often covary in studies, making them difficult to separate.
  • Both are considered markers of privilege in modern society.
  • People who can afford gym memberships often also afford healthy foods.
  • Those who care about physical activity usually care about their diet.
  • In controlled studies, diet and exercise can be separated to study their effects.

"And they covary. Right? And that's one of the reasons why when people do big studies, you can look at what people die of, right? What's on the death certificate?"

This quote explains how diet and exercise covary in large-scale studies, affecting health outcomes and making them challenging to study independently.

"However, if you're studying a particular component of a system in a randomized controls trial in a lab, you can separate them out. And so we know that they have independent and also interactive effects."

The speaker indicates that while diet and exercise are intertwined in real-world scenarios, controlled studies can isolate these factors to understand their individual and combined effects on health.

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