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Is Exercise or Dieting Better for Weight Loss?

People who want to lose weight often ask whether dieting or exercising is more important for weight loss. The answer is complicated. Neither dieting or exercising alone is enough for optimal health, but when it comes to weight loss, eating a healthy, balanced diet is more effective than exercise. However, exercise has countless benefits, and it is an important part of both losing weight and keeping it off. 

We should be clear about what dieting means. If you want to lose weight, stay away from fad diets and extreme dieting. For best results, talk to your doctor and consult with a dietitian or nutritionist about what types of foods are best for health and weight loss and how many calories you should consume every day to achieve your weight loss goals. If you’ve been struggling with your weight for a long time and it feels like nothing you do is working, you may benefit from a medical weight loss program like the one offered at Beaumont. 

While regular exercise is important, most people don’t exercise enough to burn sufficient calories to lose a lot of weight. For example, an hour of running probably only burns about 650 calories. An hour of walking burns less than that. You can eat more than 650 calories in a chocolate shake from your favorite ice cream place. Let’s just say it’s a lot harder to burn excess calories than to eat or drink them. You have a lot more control over the calories you take in than the calories you burn. Your metabolic rate is mostly outside of your control. You may be able to increase it by building muscle mass and exercising regularly, but there’s not much you can do about how fast you burn calories throughout the course of a normal day. And there are limits to how many calories you can burn in a day through exercise too. If your body uses 2500 calories on a normal day when you don’t exercise, you need to limit your calories to 2500 in order to maintain weight. If you want to lose weight, you have to either cut your calories or burn extra calories. Here’s an example. If you burn an extra 350 calories per day without changing anything else, it will take you ten days to lose one pound. If you cut your calories to 2000 per day but don’t exercise, it should only take you a week to lose one pound. Think about how easy it could be for you to limit your food or beverage intake by 500 calories. A 12-ounce can of soda is about 300 calories. A candy bar is about 200 calories. A cup of dry pasta has at least 250 calories. A cup of 2% milk has 120 calories, and a cup of half-and-half has 320 calories per cup. A one-ounce serving of potato chips has about 150 calories, and as you know, most people don’t limit their chip consumption to one serving.

Benefits of combining diet and exercise for weight loss

Going back to the calorie cutting versus exercising we talked about above, consider this: If you combine both cutting 500 calories a day and burning an extra 350 calories per day, it will take just over four days to lose one pound. That’s three days faster than dieting alone and six days faster than exercise alone. This is one reason exercising and reducing calories at the same time is ideal for weight loss. 

Exercise can also help people keep weight off. As we mentioned, building muscle can help increase your metabolic rate. So, if you do strength-training exercises and increase your muscle mass, you may have an easier time staying at your ideal weight once you get there. But eating the right foods can also help you increase muscle mass – or at least maintain it. If you simply limit calories but don’t eat a balanced diet with plenty of fiber, protein, vegetables, and fruits, your body may eat away at muscle rather than fat. So, you might lose weight, but you won’t improve your health. You may also slow your metabolism, which can make keeping weight off more difficult and make it harder to lose weight again in the future.

The ideal combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise will help you get to your optimal level of health and goal weight in the most effective way. 

Safely maximizing calorie reduction

If you want to maximize your calorie reduction, the best way to start is to meet with a nutritionist or dietitian who can coach you about the type of foods you should and shouldn’t eat and will help you understand your calorie and nutrition needs. 

When counting calories, you should also make sure you get enough of the foods your body needs to thrive. Your diet should be made up of mostly fresh, whole foods, like fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Stay away from processed foods and foods high in sugars and sodium. One tip for losing weight is to limit the calories you drink. If you stick with water, black coffee, or tea for most of your beverages, you won’t have to worry about empty calories. Limiting soda – even diet soda and other beverages with artificial sweeteners – is a good way to keep your calories down. Diet soda can be problematic for several reasons. Artificial sweeteners in diet soda, some flavored waters, and other diet drinks can hamper weight loss efforts. And there are studies that show artificial sweeteners of all types can be harmful to your health. 

If you have a sweet tooth, try to find foods that satisfy your cravings without overloading your body with sugar. Graham crackers, for example, have less then 10 grams of sugar for two sheets. Better yet, whole fresh fruit can give you the sweetness you need without the same negative effects that candy and other processed sugar can have. This is in part because whole fruits have lots of fiber, and the fiber helps your body digest sugar more slowly, which tends to reduce blood sugar spikes. 

If you have a smart phone, tablet, or computer, you can download apps (or use internet-based apps) to track your food and beverage intake and exercise. Most apps will guide you toward ensuring you get enough calories from healthy foods. For example, many have a dashboard that shows you the percentage of your calories that should come from specific groups and how you’re doing each day in sticking to those percentages. But a computer can’t do it all. You have control of filling your plate with mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and lean protein. You can limit salt, sugar, and processed foods. (And remember that canned fruits and vegetables often have lots of added sugar or salt, so they don’t necessarily have the same nutritional benefits as fresh or flash-frozen options do.) When in doubt, read food labels. Ask your doctor or nutritionist what you should limit sugar and salt consumption to, and try to stick to their recommendation.

The trick to successful weight loss is to build healthy habits. When eating well becomes a habit, it’s a lot easier than having to track everything you eat and drink every day. And when you’re making good nutritional decisions most of the time, don’t worry about having a shake, a few cookies, a piece of cake, or some chips and salsa once in a while. Most people don’t have to completely give up the foods they love in order to be healthy and lose weight. So, if you indulge in a high-calorie snack or dessert, don’t fret. Just get back on track and continue to feed your body with the nutrients it needs. 

If you’re struggling with your weight loss despite exercising and eating a balanced diet, you may want to talk with your doctor about medical weight loss. Experts at Beaumont can help you reach your goals through a medically supervised program designed to help you lose weight safely and quickly. Call 800-633-7377 to request an appointment.