Are Exercise Labels The Answer?

Even with an increased education into the nutrition label added to all the apps out there that let us know exactly what we are consuming, some people are still finding it hard to apply meaning to calories. Okay we can identify how many we eat and we know how many we should be having, but being unable to understand them is still a massive problem for many people.

Well fortunately there is always someone looking to solve the major problems that we encounter as a society. The people at Johns Hopkins University have taken it upon themselves to tackle the problem with counting calories – and they think they have found the solution. Instead of wasting our time adding up the calories we consume and subtracting the ones we burn, they believe we simply need to replace the traditional nutrition label with the exercise label.

As a result you aren’t just looking at numbers that don’t mean a thing to you, but instead you are able to put a real value on the food you eat. By using an exercise count the calories in the food we eat are given a value of how much exercise we would need to do to burn off what we have just eaten. For example, instead of saying your bottle of Coca-Cola has 210 calories, you can now say it’s worth 50 minutes of jogging time, or even a 5 mile walk.

Clearly the benefits are obvious – you can now simply add up all the exercise you should be doing in a single day and then set out to meet your requirements. Great!

Just as always though, it really isn’t that simple. Exercise should never be seen as a punishment. The more you enjoy exercising, the more you will get out of it. And unfortunately the use of an exercise label is likely to just create a huge amount of guilt for some people. When you give yourself a treat, be it a tub of Ben & Jerry’s or even a Domino’s, you don’t want to think about how much exercise you have to do to burn it off, you just want to enjoy it.

That’s not the only problem. Think of it like this – you go to the fridge to grab a bottle of coke and see that it means you need to do a 50 minute jog. So your options are now as follows: drink it and be forced into the jog, or give it a miss and have an extra 50 minutes sat on the sofa! Now we all know that isn’t right. Exercise isn’t something we do just to offset what we consume, it has benefits far beyond that! The danger is that with an exercise label some people might just cut out foods to avoid exercise. I mean, yes, if you’re eating less of course you are more likely to lose weight, but guilt really isn’t the best way to go about it.

Imagine somebody who is overweight doing the exact same exercise as a physically fit person for the exact same period of time. In your mind, do both of those people burn the same number of calories? Of course the answer is no, and this is another point that needs to be made. Your requirements differ based on a whole range of factors: age, size, gender, fitness level, goals, etc. And we all burn calories at different rates. In fact, throughout the day we all naturally burn calories, even if you were to just stay in bed! Weight loss still comes down to calories in vs. calories out, but that isn’t exercise done vs. food consumed, there is a key difference!

This doesn’t mean all of the findings are wrong though. Yes, over the period of time studied the amount of fizzy drinks purchased decreased. But we are talking about a study that lasted under a year at just 6 stores considering 12-18 year olds. This isn’t conclusive.

The idea of quantifying what we eat into something we can understand is superb. Not to mention the fact that using an exercise label would probably help encourage eating smaller portions of food and cut out fizzy drinks. These are all things you want to consider if you are trying to lose weight – but it’s essential we go about this in the right way, and unfortunately this isn’t quite it.

Ollie Lawrence
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