Countless weight loss diets and fitness routines promise to be the best ways to lose weight. While both eating healthy and exercise offer health benefits beyond weight loss, you may be wondering what the best approach is for weight loss - diet vs exercise.
Can you lose weight just by eating less and moving more? Is diet or exercise more important for weight loss?
Discover the importance of each component for weight loss and if in fact diet or exercise is more important for losing weight.
Diet vs Exercise for Weight Loss
While the harmonization of a nutritious diet and regular physical activity can facilitate weight loss, research suggests one may be more effective than the other.
A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests exercise alone does not lead to weight loss. In fact, researchers assumed wrong that exercise proves key to weight loss.
While exercise can create calorie burn, therefore potentially leading to a calorie deficit, exercise alone may not be an effective weight loss approach.
The ineffectiveness is thought to be related primarily to stimulated hunger following exercise. An uptick in hunger may, in turn, cause overcompensation with food, high-calorie foods especially, and dismiss any sort of caloric deficit.
Even if exercise burns calories desired for weight loss, it may not be enough for desired weight loss if not paired with a lower calorie diet. The saying "You can't outrun your fork" has validity!
On the other hand, if exercise alone may not always result in desired weight loss, it can be helpful for maintaining lean muscle mass.
Resistance training, a form of anaerobic exercise, has been shown to help with fat loss and maintaing lean mass during weight loss. This is an important consideration for long-term success to maintain weight.
Can You Lose Weight By Eating Less?
According to the data, diet takes the cake (well, not literally) as the most important component for weight loss. But ultimately, it is undoubtedly beneficial to pair the two together for health benefits beyond weight loss.
A 2018 review on diet, exercise, and weight loss in postmenopausal women found diet interventions had a greater impact on weight loss than exercise alone. Interestingly, pairing exercise with diet shows to reinforce weight loss while maintaining muscle mass.
Eating less can be a "quick" approach to weight loss and can be the premise of many fad diets. Focus on a long-game approach to weight loss that implements a healthy, balanced diet that will support long-term health. (Instead of a quick weight loss diet to lose five to ten pounds in a few weeks…)
Bottom Line: Diet vs Exercise
There is no doubt both the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet goes beyond weight loss. But when just focusing on which is most beneficial for weight loss, one might trump one over the other.
Diet can edge out exercise if one has to be picked for the top influence on weight loss. However, research studies have shown adding exercise to a diet can benefit weight loss and maintaining muscle mass, especially when resistance training is added.
Therefore, instead of seeing it as an either-or, pairing an exercise program with a nutritious diet may be the best approach.
Cheng C-C, Hsu C-Y. Effects of dietary and exercise intervention on weight loss and body composition in obese postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Menopause.
Clark JE. Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults (18-65 years old) who are overfat, or obese; systematic review and meta-analysis [published correction appears in J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2015;14:73]. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2015;14:31. Published 2015 Apr 17. doi:10.1186/s40200-015-0154-1
Exercise alone does not help in losing weight. ScienceDaily. Published August 17, 2015. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150817142140.htm.