A common question among individuals looking to lose weight is, “Which is better for weight loss – diet or exercise?”
The short answer is that both your diet and exercise are vital components of your weight loss efforts in their unique ways. The reasons behind this answer are something that we’ll discuss a lot throughout this article.
To get started, I’ve listed five excerpts from four studies regarding the effects of diet and exercise on weight loss. This will help give you an idea of why both are crucial for long-term success in losing weight and keeping it off.
Let’s take a look:
1) “Most importantly is that protocols utilizing exercise were more effective than those that employed just a hypocaloric diet. With the combination of diet with exercise (especially Resistance Training) being more effective than diet or diet with Exercise Training in reduction of body mass and fat mass while retaining of FFM (fat-free mass) following treatment.” (1)
2) “This study supports previous findings that reducing energy intake by changing diet while increasing energy expenditure through increased physical activity addresses both components of the energy balance equation and leads to considerably higher odds of losing weight.” (2)
3) “Although our diet and exercise interventions had beneficial effects on weight loss and body composition when delivered in isolation, the greatest effects were found in the combined intervention group, where 60% of participants achieved ≥10% weight loss at 1 year.” (3)
4) “Patients wishing to lose weight should participate in physical activity and caloric restriction to improve the chances of weight loss. (4)
“However, physical activity has a major role in the amount of weight regained after the initial weight loss.” (4)
The key conclusion is that, when exercise and diet are paired together (as opposed to being used by themselves), folks see better results – both in the short- and long-term.
In many cases, diet is said to be more important than exercise for weight loss because of reasons like:
- For most people, it’s relatively easier not to eat 500 calories than it is to burn an extra 500 calories;
- You can’t out-train a poor diet
While both of these statements are true it doesn’t take away from the fact that exercise is vital in both weight loss and weight loss maintenance.
These statements also don’t indicate that diet is inherently more important than exercise simply because eating less is easier than burning more calories.
It is typically best to use both of them together to achieve the best possible weight loss results and then maintain them effectively.
So, rather than see it as an unjust dichotomy, focus on slowly improving both your diet and exercise efforts.
Below, I’ve outlined some honest, practical, and effective tips for both categories. They can help you get started and focus on the tactics that offer the best chance of success.
Some Tips on Dieting for Weight Loss
As a whole, nutrition is a vast field, and you’re likely to come across many weight loss tips. To make it easier, I’ve outlined some of the best ones you should focus on:
1) Add more whole foods to your diet while simultaneously decreasing the intake of fast/highly-processed foods.
As obvious as this may seem, many people fail to realize the importance of having more nutritious and satiating foods while also minimizing the high-calorie, highly-palatable options.
2) Drink more water and less of everything else – sugary sodas, teas, juices, alcohol, energy and sports drinks, and more. Diet (sugar-free) drinks, unsweetened teas, and black coffee are all fine, but water should be your primary beverage.
The calories from most drinks can add up quickly and completely negate your dieting efforts to lose weight. For example, two to three cans of an average soda contain upward of 450 calories! That is almost the entire daily deficit you would need to lose weight.
And sure, while simply cutting out sugary drinks will not by itself cause significant (if any) weight loss, it is a fantastic first step for anyone who drinks them every day.
3) Eat a serving of fruits and or vegetables before each meal. This is a fantastic way to fill up your stomach with some low-calorie foods and prevent yourself from overeating afterward. See “4 Tips to Control Hunger & Prevent Overeating” here.
4) Refrain from snacking on high-calorie dense, highly-palatable junk foods such as chips, cookies, cakes, candies, and similar. They are incredibly tasty, but they also add hundreds of calories to our daily total without us even realizing it.
Instead, have a small handful of nuts, an apple, a banana, or something similar that offers fewer calories, fills you up, and also provides you with some essential nutrients.
Some Exercise Tips for Weight Loss
The training aspect of weight loss is no less confusing, so we’ve put together this list of some fantastic tips you should apply to make it all easier:
1) Ease into exercise and be patient. Too many beginners jump headfirst into the training process and find themselves burned out, confused, and overtrained within a month.
So, start small, focus on the fundamentals, and avoid fancy and grandiose tactics.
2) Prioritize sustainability over intensity, especially in the beginning.
This tip ties into the previous one, but it is slightly different. It’s essential to set up a training plan that is sustainable over one that promises incredible results but is unsustainable.
3) Multiple short bouts of exercise may be just as, if not more effective for some people (3). So, splitting up your 30-45 minute exercise sessions into three or four 10-minute bouts may be worth a try in increasing the long-term effectiveness of your exercise regimen. Plus, if that allows you to stick with your training program more easily, you should definitely at least try it for a few weeks.
4) Stop worrying about which exercises or workouts burn the most fat. Focus on which activities and workouts you can (and will) sustain and which ones you find at least partially enjoyable. Find a form of exercise you love doing and stick with it. The best training for fat loss is the one you enjoy and that you can do over the long-term without much issue.
5) Move more throughout the day. Every chance you get, move. Park further from the store or bank, walk to the mailbox, take the stairs when possible, use a standing desk, take a walk with your family in the evening. There are countless ways to become more active.
This is truly an underrated and underutilized weight loss strategy, but these small daily efforts can add up.
6) Gradually work up to a solid mix of resistance, cardio, flexibility, and mobility training. This training mix is the goal to work toward in the long run. It is not something you should try to perfect in a few weeks or months.
As the old saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
Work on one thing until you understand it incredibly well, apply it consistently, and slowly add other modalities to the mix.
7) Never sacrifice proper training form. Poor technique allows us to train with heavier weights, sure. But improper form leads to injuries, which itself can take you away from your training for weeks, even months.
In the long run, it is much better to focus on technique before ever trying to do more than your body is capable of.
8) Never sacrifice the sustainability of your plan. The most incredible training program on the planet won’t do much for you if you can’t sustain it over the long run. Conversely, any mediocre training program will help you achieve decent results in the long term, so long as you’re consistent with your workouts.
The bottom line is, if you cannot (or don’t want to) sustain it, it is a useless strategy for you.
Three Other Key Weight Loss Tips
Now that we’ve gone over the essential tips, it’s time to discuss three overlooked tactics that also contribute to our overall success.
- Weigh yourself weekly (at least once, preferably three to five days a week), write it down, and calculate your averages from week to week. It’s best to weigh yourself in the morning, on an empty stomach, after having gone to the bathroom.
- Keep a food diary (not necessarily with an exact calorie count and not necessarily for the long-term) to get a good idea of how much food you’re eating.
- Keep a workout tracker and write down your performance from week to week.
2) Be patient and stay consistent. Weight loss takes weeks, even months, and the best thing you can do is practice patience and keep one course until you succeed.
3) Avoid the fads, quick fixes, and gimmicks – they are everywhere, and each is more alluring than the last. Focus on the fundamentals, and you will succeed.
When most people decide to start a weight loss journey, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Which is better for weight loss – exercise or diet?”
To give you a short and unbiased answer, I’d say that neither is better than the other and that both have their place in any solid weight loss plan. The fact is, as you saw above, both diet and exercise are crucial for weight loss in their unique ways.
It’s also essential to figure out what people mean by ‘diet.’ For those who are planning to adopt some fad diet or an overly-restrictive nutritional plan, realize that there are better and more sustainable ways.
The key conclusion is that when we pair exercise and diet together – as opposed to using either of the two alone – we can achieve much better results (both in the short and long-term).
I hope that you’ve found this article helpful and that you realize the importance of your nutrition and exercise, especially when you have the goal of losing weight.
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions that you have regarding diet and exercise as they pertain to weight loss below.
For more factual, unbiased, and actionable information on successful long-term weight loss, feel free to visit my blog here.
Best of luck!
References and Sources