Fact: Exercise is important for weight loss and overall health, but Drink Your Carbs also recommends exercise for a reason unique to the diet. On Drink Your Carbs, exercise acts as a barometer for reasonableness. If we can get up in the morning and go for a run or face some hideous workout at the gym, we are not drinking too much. The moment we skip a workout, we dial back the drinking. The tyranny of exercise turns Drink Your Carbs into self-correcting system. At the risk of sounding like a Yoga Instructor: exercise brings balance to drinking just as drinking bring balance to exercise.
All diets agree: exercise matters. Regardless of whether an author recommends that you eat a strict vegan diet of raw fruits and vegetables or one consisting of zero carbohydrates and as much meat as you can choke down, they all require physical activity as part of their program. They may not agree on the type, frequency, duration or intensity of that activity, but they universally agree on the overall importance of exercise.
Dr. Dean Ornish, in his Program for the Reversal of Heart Disease, recommends moderate walking for 30 minutes per day. On the opposite extreme, many of the advocates of the Paleo Cave Man Diet advocate weight and interval training at an intensity somewhere between our recommendations for Advanced and Insane Exercise. Dr. Atkins, in New Diet Revolution, falls between the two, recommending moderate walking at first and then intense weight lifting and aerobics as you lose weight and your body becomes more accustom to physical activity. Even the USDA Food Pyramid has been recently updated to require physical activity—oddly, the exercise requirements on the new “My Plate” website are categorized as a food group. There is no question about it. Every major diet, regardless of its approach, agrees that successful dieting must include exercise.
The reason is simple: calories in vs. calories out. If you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight. Since exercise is all about burning calories, it makes sense that this is the one area on which all diets agree.
Fact: There are a few outliers that promise dramatic weight loss while sitting stock-still on the couch, but those diets tend to fade quickly from the marketplace as the founders are arrested for making misleading medical claims, selling unregulated diet pills or, often, simple credit card fraud.
Although diets agree on its importance, the advice given on what exercise is best and how much should be done is so varied and contradictory that it can be difficult to figure out where to start. Every form of media is overrun with exercise programs that sell overnight transformations. They remind us of the old, Charles Atlas “Dynamic Tension” ads that have appeared in comics books since the 1930s. In just seven days, Atlas claimed, you could pack on visible muscle and learn all of the skill necessary to vanquish a bully from the beach. Sadly, it simply is not true. It was not true during the Great Depression and it still isn’t true today. Thousands of books, infomercials, magazines and websites still echo Atlas’ empty promise. They are all equally untrue, even those that carry the imprimatur of B-list celebrities.