Did You Know?
- 9 out of 10 women are unhappy with their weight, shape, or looks and 8 out of 10 women are on a diet
- 40% of 9 year-old females have already been on a restrictive food diet, but is that a good idea?
- Many men think being “big” is manly so they don’t try to lose weight
- Excess weight is as much of a health problem for men as it is for women
- For both men and women, over 98% of people who lose weight by dieting gain it back within a year
Which works better to lose excess weight: Diet or Exercise?
If you have excess weight, it’s not really a matter of one or the other. Think of diet (your nutritional plan) and exercise (your physical activities) as a dynamic duo that will help you to achieve successful weight-loss.
If you hate exercise you would rather try to lose pounds by restricting the amount or kinds of foods you eat. Others would rather hit the gym more often to burn extra calories rather than improve eating habits.
While it’s possible to achieve some weight loss success by choosing to either diet or exercise, the best way to lose weight long term is doing a combination of both. While most weight loss plans promote how much you can lose over the short term. You can only avoid yo-yoing by initiating a plan that involves a combined nutrition and exercise plan that you can maintain for the rest of your life.
“To reduce body weight, a caloric deficit must be created,” says Joseph T. Ciccolo, PhD, assistant professor of community health at Brown Medical School and a research associate at The Miriam Hospital, both in Providence, R.I. In other words, to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. This can be accomplished by exercising more, eating less, or ideally, both, but not to the extreme level that you cannot maintain.
Why You Need to Exercise
Losing weight is more than simply cutting out calories. Without exercise to preserve and build muscle, some of the weight loss you see on the scale might be from losing muscle rather than fat. That’s not healthy. You need muscle to function well. “Anyone with a focus on body weight is off the mark,” says Ciccolo. “What people should be concerned about is their body composition — the percentage of body fat (See our article on BMI – Body mass index.)
Why you need a nutrition plan that you can maintain.
Weight loss from dieting alone also has a low long-term success rate. In one study, more than 90 percent of people who were obese and lost body fat through diet alone regained it within two years. Bummer.
So, why would people who lost weight by cutting calories lose weight and then regain it? Well, if cutting calories can not be kept up, whenever you give up and return to your prior daily calorie intake, and the intake is more than you expend, you will gain weight. The answer is obviously not cutting calories alone. The answer is to cut back on excess calories and back that up with exercise.
Although you may have heard that exercise increases appetite, negating the benefits of working out this isn’t necessarily true — and shouldn’t be a reason to skip the gym. “While an energy deficit can increase appetite, these changes do not necessarily always match up with the feeling of being hungry,” says Ciccolo. If you slightly increase your caloric intake, keep in mind that when you build muscle, your body also burns a few more calories on a daily basis.
Exercise alone is not the answer either. Many dieters overestimate the amount of calories that are burned out by working out and fall into the trap of thinking that because they exercised, they can eat more. While exercise is vital for many health reasons, the net calories used are less than you might think. A 150-pound person who walks two miles in 30 minutes burns just 150 calories. As a point of comparison, an average six-inch bagel is 350 calories.
“If you exercise but eat more calories than usual, no deficit will be created and your weight will likely stay the same or even increase,” says Ciccolo.
In the end, it’s not diet or exercise, but diet and exercise that make the most sense when trying to lose weight. And once you’ve lost the weight, keep up the nutrition and exercise habits that got you there. “With regard to weight maintenance, the research is very clear that exercise is crucial to maintaining a healthy amount of muscle mass and a low body fat as we age,” says Ciccolo.
Also, keep your eye on new research. Previous studies have shown conflicting results about whether dieting or exercise is better for weight loss. Some recent data also suggest that men and women may respond differently to various weight-loss strategies. Future studies may offer even more insight into whether diet or exercise is better at helping people shed those extra pounds. Until then, keep exercising and counting calories.
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