When it comes to weight loss, many people simplify the process to two simple components: diet and exercise. To lose weight, all you need to do is consume fewer calories than you spend – but should you aim to eat less or work out more? Many people choose to do both, but if you’re only able to focus on one aspect of weight loss, it can be confusing and frustrating to determine which is more important. That’s why I’m here: to tell you everything I’ve learned about diet and exercise, to help you decide for yourself which is more beneficial to your overall health and weight loss strategy.
Dieting takes less time
One argument in favor of dieting versus exercise is that it requires less time and energy than exercise. Going to the gym requires at least 30-60 minutes of your day, not including transportation, whereas the decision not to eat a candy bar, or to swap out carrots for crackers, can be made in a matter of minutes. Scientific studies have even confirmed that calorie control is more effective than exercise for weight loss – particularly because exercise leads to a spike in hunger in many people.
Exercise boosts your mood
If stress is an important contributor to weight gain – and it is – then exercise might be the most efficient way to tackle both the weight gain and the stress that led to it. Physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than those who are sedentary, precisely because of the “happy chemicals” (aka endorphins) your body releases after an exercise high. Furthermore, exercise provides a physical channel for stress to exit the body, and even reduces your body’s ability to respond to stress.
Dieting provides faster results
Another draw of dieting is that it takes less time to see the results of dieting than it does to see the results of exercise. Most people who exercise and don’t control their calories shed only 2 to 3 percent of their body weight in 6 to 12 months, because it’s much easier to create a calorie deficit by denying yourself a donut and living off your soup machine than it is to burn off the same number of calories through exercise. In the end, it all comes down to the physical toll exercise takes on your body, and how our bodies make up for excess exercise by eating more and burning fewer calories.
Exercise builds muscle
While dieting may be more effective in helping you drop a dress size in the short term, simply eating 250-500 calories fewer every day won’t help you get rock-hard abs or huge arms. A popular saying, “abs are made in the kitchen,” misrepresents the importance of exercise: in reality, strong abs are made in the gym; dieting simply removes the layers of fat hiding your ab muscles. Without exercise, you may get a flat stomach, but you certainly won’t get the six-pack abs that you’ve been dreaming of if you don’t suck it up and work out every once in awhile.
Your diet fuels your exercise routine
At the end of the day, however, it can’t be denied that your diet is the very thing that allows you to work out as hard as you do (if you already happen to be a gym junkie, that is). When you fuel your body poorly, you won’t have the energy you need to work hard in the gym – meaning you’ll hardly burn any calories, or may not even make it to the gym at all, without paying attention to your diet. That sounds like a pretty convincing argument for dieting if you ask me!
At the end of the day, a combination of dietary and exercise changes are the best way to sustainably lose weight in the long term. Should you find yourself with stubborn fat that won’t go away, procedures such as a tummy tuck could be considered (as seen on this page) might also be an option worth exploring – but it’s essential to love the skin you’re already in before pursuing any surgical options.