It’s the age old question: Which is more important for weight loss, diet or exercise?
Just google the question and a million results pop up, each with fancy pictures of already in shape people smiling, large bright text, and ads for Hydroxycut that entice you to click them. There are arguments for and against exercise alone or dieting alone. As consumers and people looking for the right answers, how do we know what to believe anymore? It certainly isn’t easy. So let me break it down into one simple sentence:
“Okay, Erica (me)… how can you be so sure?” – You
If you didn’t know, I went to medical school for 2.5 years. I went through all of the book learning and medical jargon and even went into the clinic where we counseled patients in weight loss. Even outside of that, I am a science teacher with a critical eye for data and clinical studies. I have taken the liberty of examining key scientific articles which all point to the above fact. Believe me, I HATE it as much as you do because if abs were made in the gym, I would definitely have a 12 pack. Alas, a majority of weight loss comes down to what you are cooking up in the kitchen.
Is it that simple?
No. There are a ton of other factors that influence weight loss such as if you are a female/male, body fat composition, genetics, pregnancy, hormones, etc. Before you engage in any type of “diet” or exercise program, ALWAYS CONSULT WITH A PHYSICIAN. They know the factors that contribute and hinder to your goals. It is important to manage expectation versus reality.
So, then what’s the point of exercise?
Exercise has a multitude of health benefits outside of weight loss. I don’t exercise to lose weight. I exercise to FEEL better and that actually is a clinically proven fact that exercise has beneficial mental health implications. It is also shown to regulate sugar levels, promote a good night’s rest, increase bone density (important for females), have skeletal benefits, and enhance metabolism. Notice how none of these has anything to do with losing weight per se. Exercise helps create positive conditions for the changes you are supposed to be making in the kitchen.
In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a great article details out the key diet plays in weight maintenance and loss. As a half-marathoner myself, I can attest that I could not out-run my poor diet. In fact, lots of marathoners will use their running as an excuse to eat whatever they want and their waistlines will show it! For some more benefits of exercise, see below.
Is eating healthy only for weight loss?
No. Eating healthy isn’t just for people trying to lose weight. This blog is not about losing weight. It is about living a healthy life and the journey it takes to live one. I wish not to promote weight loss but more self-love. I write to clear up misconceptions people have and the most common questions I hear from friends and family.
I eat “healthy” probably 60% of the time. I eat intuitively 100% of the time. What is the difference? Eating intuitively is listening to your body and listening to its cravings and likes/dislikes. Nothing is forbidden or deemed “bad” for me. Eating “healthy” is what the world dictates as “healthy” (green leafy veggies, lean proteins, clean carbs, etc.). So what do I care more about? At this point in my journey, I care more about eating intuitively and I trust my body to tell me what I want and when I want it.
Nothing should be this much of a battle, especially something as fundamental as eating. I like to honor my body, I like when i feel strong and capable. I like when I exercise and I love when I feel productive. I don’t like when I feel sluggish and drained. **notice how I don’t mention any of the words that are ingrained into our brains like FAT or SKINNY**
Sum it Up
In summary, there are a bunch of clinical trials and research that show the importance and key role diet plays in weight loss and maintenance. You should exercise to supplement any changes you make in the kitchen and eat for your goals and nourishment. Consult with a physician if you are thinking about any kind of eating program and listen to your trainer when they talk about diet’s role in fitness. Combine diet and exercise together, and you get the best results. If you do one OR the other, evidence suggests that diet has more of an impact than exercise when looking solely at weight loss. As always, be skeptical. Don’t trust any ONE source for information. And ALWAYS move and eat and live in a way that makes your soul happy.
“Long-term weight loss after diet and exercise: a systematic review.”International Journal of Obesity (2005) 29, 1168–1174. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803015; published online 31 May 2005
- “Effects of Exercise, Diet and Weight Loss on High Blood Pressure.” Bacon, S.L., Sherwood, A., Hinderliter, A. et al. Sports Med (2004) 34: 307. doi:10.2165/00007256-200434050-0000
- “Effects of Diet and Exercise in Preventing NIDDM in People With Impaired Glucose Tolerance: The Da Qing IGT and Diabetes Study.” Diabetes Care 1997 Apr; 20(4): 537-544. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.20.4.537
- “Effect of Degree of Weight Loss on Health Benefits.” Center for the Study of Nutrition and Medicine, New England Deaconess Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 185 Pilgrim Road, Boston, MA 02215. Copyright 01995 NAASO
- J. Zibellini, R. V. Seimon, C. M. Y. Lee, A. A. Gibson, M. S. H. Hsu, A. Sainsbury.”Effect of diet-induced weight loss on muscle strength in adults with overweight or obesity – a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials.” Obesity Reviews, 2016, 17, 8, 647
- “The Role of Diet and Exercise for the Maintenance of Fat-Free Mass and Resting Metabolic Rate During Weight Loss.” Stiegler, P. & Cunliffe, A. Sports Med (2006) 36: 239. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636030-00005