Which is more important for weight loss, diet or exercise? The Yes Health coaches get this question a lot. The short answer? Both.
Being proactive about diet AND exercise is important for the best possible weight-loss results. Here are nine reasons why:
- Watching your calories is absolutely necessary for successful weight loss, but if you only reduce your calorie intake (without exercising), you’re likely to lose muscle as well as fat. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so increasing your muscle mass helps you burn more calories. This is one way strength training can specifically help with fat loss. (It’s actually better to think in terms of “fat loss” rather than “weight loss.”)
- It may be tempting to drastically cut back on calories, but this approach can quickly backfire. Extreme calorie restriction can cause muscle loss and also slows down your metabolism. Your body will switch into “starvation mode” by conserving stored energy (e.g. fat) instead of burning it. This can leave you short on energy and more likely to skip your workouts. As counterintuitive as it sounds, taking in too few calories can hinder your weight loss efforts just as much as over-eating. Success lies in finding the right balance for your body.
- Eating fewer calories than your body needs (even while you’re trying to lose weight) can also lower your leptin levels (a.k.a. the “satiety” hormone). Leptin helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance, so when leptin levels decrease, your appetite increases.
- As a general rule, you need to use more calories than you eat to lose weight. Making regular exercise a part of your fat-loss equation helps you create a “calorie deficit” that can hep you lose fat without feeling deprived.
- You can’t “out-exercise” a poor-quality diet or one that’s too high in calories. While getting lots of exercise is great, all the exercise in the world won’t give you license to eat without limits and will have little impact if you’re not eating whole foods and paying attention to portion size.
- Most people underestimate just how much exercise it takes to “burn off” an indulgent meal. Unless you’re a professional athlete, odds are you’re not using enough calories to lose weight without making some adjustments to your diet. Coach Sara offers this common example: A bacon cheeseburger and fries have over 2,300 calories. If you take an hour walk after your meal, you’ll burn about 250-300 calories. That leaves you with a whopping 2,000 calorie surplus.
- Be sure to include both cardiovascular and strength training in your fitness routine. Cardiovascular exercise (i.e. brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, basketball, tennis, etc.) helps you burn calories, increase your stamina and keep your heart healthy. Strength training (i.e. lifting weights, using resistance bands, yoga, Pilates, squats, pushups, lunges, sit ups, planks, etc.) builds muscle mass to rev up your metabolism and help you burn more calories (even while you’re sleeping). Strength training also supports healthy blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity and bone health.
- Strength training can help you over a weight-loss plateau. When you shed extra pounds, you need fewer calories to maintain your new weight. So in addition to tweaking to your diet to cut extra calories, upping your exercise can help you continue to drop unwanted weight and avoid plateaus.
- Even if you have a fantastic fitness routine (i.e. a good ratio of cardiovascular and strength training in terms of frequency, intensity and variety), eating poor quality foods means your exercise performance will suffer. You’ll have less energy and motivation and won’t benefit as much from your workouts. On the flip side, exercising tends to increase your desire to eat well, which is a clear win-win!
Yes Health is a low-cost, weight loss and diabetes-prevention program committed to helping everyone live healthier, happier lives.