body image · eating

What if?

CatThought experiments are a fun way to figure out why we do what we do. In Thought experiment about physical activity I asked, “Suppose that Crossfit/rowing/cycling/Aikido etc had no impact on the rest of my life, no effects at all, would I still do it? Let’s remove all instrumental benefits and ask if without them, I’d still work out the way that I do.”

Over at Fit and Feminist Caitlin posed a different question, “If You Could Have Good Health From A Pill Would You Still Exercise?”

This Matrix cat asks the same question about exercising for weight loss. It makes me realize how little I even think about that question. That’s a good thing because I exercise a lot and hardly ever lose any weight.

I worry that exercising for weight loss puts many people off physical activity. Why? Suppose you exercise and don’t lose weight. What then? Do you quit? Many do and then they lose all the tremendous benefits of physical activity. I worry too that thin people are hurt by this myth because they think they don’t need to work out. See How equating being fat with being out of shape hurts thin people too.

I’m not sure where this version of the Matrix cat meme came from. I’d be happy to give credit if I did. He showed up in my newsfeed day reposted by a friend.

8 thoughts on “What if?

  1. My dad was active and so was I, hockey/curling/rowing/trail running/tennis etc. I never thought about it as a weight loss solution as a matter of fact it kept the weight on for me and that was a good thing. I knew I had to be fit to compete, eating well and training hard did that. My eating issues all but disappeared during those times. But you know, I think the activity was not only good for the unfit body but good for my unfit mind too.

  2. I’ve always liked this thought experiment. There’s a similar one for chronic dieters — if you knew that your weight would never change EVER again, how would you choose to eat? This is a good way for chronic dieters who might want to change to intuitive eating to figure out what they actually like or don’t like, and in what amounts those foods feel comfortable. I like the workout one a lot. I’m happy to say that all of the things I’m doing now would stay in my life!

  3. Ooh, I love this! What a provocative question!

    Like you, I workout a lot. A ton! And I don’t lose weight. Well, at least not any since the 20 I lost from before (not working out ever) to after (working out daily). That 20 has tensioned off, but more importantly, I just feel so much healthier, and happier, now. So I guess the answer is yes, I would keep exercising. And I am.

  4. I wouldn’t object, of course, if exercise turned me into a skinny minny. But the truth is, it hasn’t. On the other hand, I have developed a gargantuan appetite and significantly appreciate my food more.
    I do wonder what keeps me out there. Running is a love/hate relationship for me after all.
    But anyway, the weight question is pretty much irrelevant for me. And anyway, there’s a lot more to loving your body than loving your weight. I love that I can run as much as I do and love that I feel fitter, younger and stronger than I otherwise(as in non running otherwise) would.

  5. I’m not sure exactly what the question is — If exercising had absolutely no effect on my body, then no, I would never do it. To be honest, I don’t do it nearly enough now, because I hate it. I like some yoga and taking a walk occasionally, I might still do those things, but that’s it. I find exercise the most boring thing I could possibly be doing at any given time.

    On the other hand, if we’re just talking about weight loss, then yes. I’d still do it for the good feeling I get afterward, and for the sake of being. able to do the things I want to do, like take those walks to interesting places, and not get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs. Those are the things I find valuable and the reason I exercise at all.

    1. I agree with Hannah’s sentiments. My answer varies with the nuances of the question. Would I still exercise if it didn’t make me “skinny” – absolutely. I already do. I do crossfit, yoga, and running, and I’m healthy, but certainly not skinny. Would I still exercise if it had no effect on me at all? If it didn’t make me stronger, happier, and healthier? Well, I’m not so sure.

      Do I enjoy running, or do I enjoy the runner’s high? Do I enjoy yoga, or do I enjoy the stress-relief that comes from a thoughtful practice? It’s hard, maybe impossible, to separate the two.

      I can say that I remember a time, back in high school, when I was playing year-round, competitive soccer. We had practices 5 nights a week and games every Saturday. It was too much, it felt like a job, and I hated it. I quit the team as a senior and I haven’t touched a soccer ball since.

      So while I’m not sure if I would exercise consistently just because I WANT to, I can tell you I certainly wouldn’t if I HAD to.

      1. Oh, that’s very true… If I feel like I have an external commitment and someone requires me to exercise, I’m actually much less likely to stick with it.

  6. Actual studies have been done on this, at Duke. They took a bunch of people who were “overweight” and had high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. They then helped them start and keep an exercise regimen, but the rule was, No Losing Weight. If you lost more than a few pounds they took you out of the study.

    I cannot find my bookmarks for these studies, dang it. But if I recall correctly, short term they started seeing lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and longer term they found that those that kept up the exercise were having better overall health in those who didn’t.

    There’s still a lot of good research coming out that says that exercise is the number one means towards health, no matter what your weight. Look at, for example, the stuff by Dr Paul Ernsberger, who studies the relationship between obesity, nutrition, and cardiovascular health, and Dr Glenn Gaesser, an exercise physiologist.

    Exercise has been repeatedly proven to improve cardiovascular health, as well as increase the function of insulin receptors in cells (helping defeat insulin resistance if it exists, and helping prevent it if it doesn’t). I just ran across a reference to another study that says that exercise without weight loss may help arthritis, as well. It seems to show that exercise reduces some of the inflammation from arthritis, reducing the pain.

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