Do you find yourself wondering if diet or exercise is more important for weight loss? If you do you have come to the right place!
Have you ever wondered which is more important for weight loss, diet or exercise? If you haven’t, where have you been? You must still fit in your Z Cavaricci’s from junior high! 🙂 But seriously…for the rest of us, which one is more important in a weight loss journey, diet or exercise?
I’ll answer this in a couple of ways. I was at the dermatologist’s office a couple weeks ago getting a laser treatment, and if you’ve had this before, you likely know that it can be pretty darn painful. Anyway, the guy that was applying the laser saw that I was uncomfortable and tried to shift my focus by chatting. I cannot remember how he got to this pronouncement – honestly, but, he told me that one of his favorite sayings is that abs are made in the kitchen. Although that came out of nowhere, he is absolutely positively correct. Abs are made in the kitchen.
Weight loss is 70-80% diet and 20-30% exercise
As a personal trainer and wellness coach, over the years I’ve been asked about the importance of diet versus exercise countless times. It makes sense that a lot of us are concerned about our weight because, as Americans, 40% of us are overweight or obese. YIKES! That’s a very scary but very real statistic. The truth that you likely already know is that when people want to lose weight, it truly takes both diet and exercise. What’s also true is that weight loss is 70-80% diet and 20-30% exercise.
Yes, you heard it right. So, for all of you that are comfortable modifying your eating habits, you truly have the upper hand managing your weight over a lifetime. If you don’t love tracking and managing your caloric intake, you need to come up with a way to tolerate and eventually embrace it. Trust me when I say your life and your health will be easier and better if you do.
In no way am I undermining the benefits of exercise, as they are vast and include:
- Increased energy
- Improved sleep
- Burn fat
- Decreased cholesterol
- Reduced stress
- Improves mental health & mood
- Strengthens bones & muscles
- Helps control your weight
Weight Loss Studies
Shawn M. Talbot, PhD, nutritional biochemist shared the following based on over 700 weight loss studies:
“As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart. On average, people who dieted without exercising for 15 weeks lost 23 pounds; the exercisers lost only six over about 21 weeks. It’s much easier to cut calories than to burn them off. For example, if you eat a fast-food steak quesadilla, which can pack 500-plus calories, you need to run more than four miles to ‘undo’ it!
“So, what should you eat? It’s true that low-carb diets tend to be the most popular because they offer the fastest results, but they can be difficult to sustain. I recommend striving for a more balanced plan that focuses on fruits and veggies, lean proteins and whole grain carbs. And never cut calories too low (this causes your metabolism to slow, and you can start losing muscle mass). For a healthy daily calorie count, allow 10 calories per pound of body weight — so a 150-pound woman should shoot for a 1,500-calorie target. That way, you should be able to lose weight no matter how much you exercise.”
You’ll notice that Dr. Talbot and I are on the same page in terms of the level of importance diet and exercise have on weight loss – 75%-25%. Did you catch the statistics he threw out there? In the weight loss studies he has performed, on average, his participants, who used diet alone to lose weight, have lost approximately 23 pounds over a 15 week period. Whereas, those exercising without dieting lost, on average, 6 pounds over a 21 week period. If you’re not convinced that modifying your diet is necessary for weight loss, you’ll just have to keep reading.
Where Dr. Talbot and I disagree is his recommendation for caloric reduction for weight loss. He recommends that to lose weight one should eat approximately 10 calories per pound of body weight. Although this is a reachable goal, to me it seems fairly extreme. Here’s why, from what I’ve seen over the years, the number one reason people fail to lose weight is that they set a goal that is unsustainable over the long run. The more severe the caloric restriction, the more difficult it is to sustain it over a period of time.
95% of people who lose weight by dieting gain it back within 1-5 years
“As weight loss programs, diets don’t work! Yes, you lose weight, but about 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it in 1 to 5 years. Since dieting, by definition, is a temporary food plan, it won’t work in the long run. Moreover, the deprivation of restrictive diets may lead to a diet-overeat or diet-binge cycle. And since your body doesn’t want you to starve, it responds to overly-restrictive diets by slowing your metabolism, which of course makes it harder to lose weight.”
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time you know that I don’t believe in diets, kinda like I don’t believe in the Easter bunny (sorry if I blew that for you). Again, this has to do with the scarcity mentality that overtakes us while we are “dieting” in addition to the very restrictive caloric intake. If we are left hungry or wanting, we will find a way to get our needs met – one way or another – and that’s typically through food. If it’s not through food it may be through an eating disorder, which is an extremely dangerous path.
We need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly
Instead, what I recommend is starting small and making one change at a time. For example, if you don’t exercise today and your diet is in the gutter, let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s get you moving first, shall we? We can start with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly, per the recommendation of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Once we’ve created a habit doing our cardio we can move on to reducing our caloric intake. A deficit of 500 calories per day is 3500 calories per week or one pound. However, I think this is an aggressive goal that may be too intense to keep up with over the long haul. Instead, let’s determine the correct number of calories we need per day to maintain our weight and work backwards from there.
Consider what you can live with, comfortably(ish). This is going to take some form of sacrifice and positive change; obviously, because what you’ve been doing to this point has not been working. Am I right? But I do believe that as long as you are heading in the right direction (the # on the scale is not going up), you’re doing something right.
Allow yourself the gift of time and the gift of success
Allow yourself the gift of time and the gift of success. If you can succeed at deducting 100 calories a day from the way you currently eat, DO IT! You will lose close to one pound per month for keeps! Over a year’s time that’s pretty darn impressive. Add that to the fat you’re blasting with the cardio you’ve implemented and the strength training that you will be implementing.
On the other hand, if you feel that deducting 250 calories a day will end-up being too restrictive and only cause you angst, don’t do it. You know yourself better than any well-meaning personal trainer, friend, nutritionist or family member recruiting a partner, etc.
Okay, you know that there is always a caveat. Right? Of course there is. If it is medically necessary that you lose weight more quickly and you are under a doctor’s care, please please please do what you need to do as quickly as you need to do it to lose the weight. Adding to that, if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, let’s say over 40 pounds, you may need to get a little more aggressive than what I’ve explained above. However, do know that when you have more to lose it comes off easier and faster, at least initially. I am routing for you!
Meg Selig again:
“So the first step towards permanent healthy weight loss is, somewhat ironically, to lose the diet and the diet mindset. Instead think about a Healthy Eating Plan (a HEP) that you could live with and enjoy for life. The best answer to dieting, then, is a lifelong program of everyday healthy, pleasurable eating coupled with regular exercise. To lose weight, eat less and exercise more. How boring! How prosaic! Yet how true.”
Wellness Upgrade Challenge
I couldn’t agree with Meg more here. As a matter of fact, I do a 12-week Wellness Upgrade Challenge where we work on creating tiny healthy habits that are sustainable over a lifetime. Go here to check it out.
In order for us to lose weight, not just temporally but for good, we must change. It’s like a suntan; if you come back from your beach vacation a beautiful bronze and don’t see the light of day for 2 weeks, your suntan will fade. If you regularly color your black hair blonde and neglect to get it colored for 12 weeks, the blonde color will fade. If you eat well for a period of time and then go back to cheeseburgers and fries every meal, your body will store those cheese burgers and French fries in existing fat cells. If you don’t have enough fat cells – no worries – your body will gladly make more. These bodies of ours are very hospitable.
Weight plays an important role in our overall health
Weight plays an important role in our overall health. We must love and respect our bodies, as they take care of us each day. They literally take us from place to place and activity to activity. We couldn’t do anything we do without them. If we our bodies to perform at their best and work hard for us for as long as possible, we must maintain a healthy weight:
- To reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes
- To reduce risk of high blood pressure
- To reduce risk of high LDL cholesterol
- To reduce risk of blood vessels hardening leading to a heart attack
- To reduce risk of injury to joints
- To reduce risk of depression
- To live longer lives
I don’t know about you, but I am thankful for the body I have and pledge to keep active and nourish it well throughout my life. Won’t you join me? If you’d like to join me on my wellness journey, please find me on: www.livethrivegrow.com. Email me about your wellness journey for a chance to be featured in one of my posts, firstname.lastname@example.org.