Fat is everywhere. Fat dominates health and fitness magazines, conversations, medical news, and it is literally weighing on America’s health, from children to senior citizens. Today, I am jumping into the current of fat with some information from a couple of studies and a personal note.

A meta-analysis of over 100,000 adults taken from three prospective cohort studies, shows that many small lifestyle choices an adult can make; such as food choices, quantity of sleep, alcohol intake, TV watching, and exercise, can each contribute or attenuate the gradual weight gain many people experience in their middle years.

At first I thought ‘Haven’t we studied this over and over already?,” but some of the results actually surprised me. The findings challenged some of the conventional wisdom that managing weight gain was a simple matter of the equation calories in = calories out. The analysis suggested that a diet that promoted weight gain contained more starches and refined carbohydrates, and that a diet richer in fat may actually promote weight loss. No significant differences were seen for low-fat and skim milk vs. high-fat and whole milk. Greater intake of dairy foods overall, regardless of whether they were whole fat or low-fat had a neutral effect on weight. Also, the consumption of nuts was inversely related to weight gain. Increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and yogurt led to weight reductions. These foods were associated with less weight gain when consumption was actually increased, suggesting that the increase in their consumption reduced the intake of other foods with a higher caloric content. In other words, they scored higher on the “feeling full” index.

The more TV watched and alcohol consumed resulted in significant weight gain measured in four-year intervals.

More physical activity corresponded to less weight gain over the same time period.

One of the beliefs common among gym rats and athletes is that by exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat. The theory, popular over the last decade, is that by doing so forces the body to dip into fat stores for fuel, rather than the carbohydrates muscles prefer. However, recent research suggests that exercising in this way doesn’t offer any benefit and may actually work against you.

A report published this year in Strength and Conditioning Journal concluded that the body burns roughly the same amount of fat regardless of whether you eat before a workout, but you are more likely to cannibalize your own muscle by exercising in a depleted state. In addition, without fuel to aid the workout, exercise intensity and overall calorie burn will be reduced.

In a separate study, scientists found that healthy women who consumed 45 grams of carbs prior to their workouts ended up eating less throughout the remainder of the day. Bottom line: Exercising on an empty stomach does not increase fat burning.

I used to follow the empty stomach credo until a few years ago until I realized that I performed much better with half an apple or some watermelon in my belly.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.