It all sort of makes sense in a strange and personal way. After training for a marathon a few years ago, I was mystified that I only lost about five pounds over a period of about six months and 500 training miles. But then again, I really didn't alter my eating habits, and in fact, I probably ate more bagels and pasta than normal, thinking I needed to eat more carbs to sustain energy for long training runs.
In our report on weight loss programs, we looked at the research around Weight Watchers, which is the most proven and studied diet program. The Weight Watchers plan emphasizes calorie reduction mainly, but also encourages exercise. And in a survey conducted by Consumer Reports in 2002, eight out of ten successful losers said that exercise was their number-one weight-loss strategy; 74% said exercise was key in helping them attain and maintain their weight loss.
So while the most recent clinical studies seem to conclude that exercise alone isn't going to help you lose much weight, there does seem to be a one-two punch when you combine better eating habits AND exercise.
In related news, a couple of new studies have looked at what happens when calorie data is posted on fast-food restaurant menus, something that started in New York and has been rolled out to about 16 other areas. One study showed that it made no difference at all in calorie consumption -- people still ordered foods with the same amount of calories. But a second study did show a small reduction. On the other hand, sales of Subway's $5 footlong sandwiches have tripled.