Diet or Exercise: Which is more important for weight loss?
It is an age-old debate and the source of various fitness urban myths, as I often hear “diet is 80% of your success”. Certainly, you know the correct answer is both exercise and diet, but if you are to choose one, let me tell you what you are in for.
Without a doubt, the reason most people are overweight is because they simply eat too much. So eating habits are vital. You can maintain thinness with dieting alone, if you eat like a canary, and not only is this is unrealistic but you will lack muscle tone. Without muscle tone, you will have a super slow metabolism, which leads to a condition I call “skinny-fat”. This is when you look skinny, but you actually are very flabby and soft because of the colossal lack of muscle tone. A body fat test would show a high body fat content in this case. Remember, skinny does not mean healthy.
On the other hand, exercise alone is not going to keep you in the size you wore during high school. Exercise, especially strength training, boost’s your resting metabolism and this burns more calories, each and every day, than anything else. Cardiovascular exercise burns calories immediately, and an hour of very intense cardio can burn hundreds of calories. The problem is most people do not exercise at nearly a high enough intensity. Walking is not cardio, casually pedaling a bike is not cardio, and doing yard work or other chores is not cardio either. Cardio is exercise at an intensity high enough that you are struggling to breathe and most certainly uncomfortable.
Often, you can be wiping out your calories burning efforts before you step off the treadmill. I often see people drinking a sports drink, such as Gatorade, while they are walking on a treadmill. A Gatorade can very easily contain more calories than you will burn walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Drink the zero calorie choice, water!
Healthy eating habits are going to play a bigger role in weight control for most. It is just too easy to negate all calories burned during exercise by being gluttonous. You can exercise your butt off 3 hours a week, but this is less than 2% of the 168 hours in a week, which gives you over 98% of your time to totally screw up your weight loss efforts. What you do at the dinner table can make you or break you.
One of the best things a person can do is to educate themselves about the calorie content of various foods. A handful of Oreo cookies have the same calorie content as an entire meal of grilled chicken breast, a serving of broccoli, and a piece of fruit. Most people are simply clueless on just how many calories they are eating, and then are dumbfounded on why they are overweight.
So back to the topic at hand: Is diet or exercise more important for weight loss? You will not have appealing muscle tone or a calorie burning metabolism without exercise. And you will not have control of your weight, or see any muscle tone through the fat, if you have poor eating habits. Like everything in life, a nice balance is best. I suggest a little of each.