You Want to Lose Weight. What's More Important Diet or Exercise? Truth is Both.

You Want to Lose Weight. What's More Important Diet or Exercise? Truth is Both.

You Want to Lose Weight. What's More Important Diet or Exercise? Truth is Both.

Here's What You Need to Know!

Losing weight can be tricky and keeping it off even harder. While many of us strive to be healthy and fit, health officials tell us we have an obesity epidemic in the United States. Is it any wonder why? The pace of life presents challenges. Grabbing food on the go often leaves us with unhealthy choices. Couple that with an overbooked schedule, and before you know it, we aren’t only not eating right, our plans to exercise for weight loss and fitness go out the window too. 

So, if weight loss is your goal, where should you focus?

Which will have a more significant impact: diet or exercise? 

The science says both!


According to experts, you achieve weight loss when you take in fewer calories than you burn. For example, to shed one pound, you need to burn or have a caloric deficit of about 3,500 calories. Why 3,500? Because it is equal to about one pound of fat. So how do you do that? Let's start with the facts and what science says about the effects of diet and exercise for weight loss and which delivers the best results.  

Evaluating what you eat and reducing the calories you take in is dieting 101, right? However, while you should always consider the health impact of what you put into your body, the body of scientific evidence continues to grow, showing that diet alone won't produce sustained weight loss. For example, ongoing studies at the University of Colorado and Brown Medical School show that only 10% of people who lost weight by dieting alone could sustain and keep it off. Comparatively, the combination of dieting and exercise for weight loss led to sustained weight loss results for 89% of people in a study of over 10,000 individuals.

Why doesn't dieting alone work with so many diet fads and a persistent focus on diet plans? First off, everyone's body is different. Not only in shape and size, but our physiologies are different too. Take, for example, your resting basal metabolic rate (BMR). It, according to the MayoClinic, accounts for 70% of the calories you burn each day. It varies by gender, age, height, and weight. Exercise rather than your diet can alter it. So, when you increase your muscle mass from weightlifting or interval training, you’re positively impacting your BMR.

While diet is a significant contributor, multiple studies have also shown that when weight loss is achieved by diet alone, it leads to changes in our body and our behaviors that combine and result in increased hunger and a decreased level of energy expenditure. This mismatch often leads to our body and mind naturally creating pressures to regain the lost weight.


The American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC recommends you exercise at a moderate aerobic intensity a minimum of 30 minutes 5 times a week or at a vigorous aerobic intensity for 20 minutes 3 times a week. Following these guidelines, you'll see the best overall results from a consistent and balanced approach combining both exercise and a proper diet. The frequency of your workouts combined with other individual factors, like metabolism, diet, and type of exercise, will impact the pace of your weight loss.

When you think about exercise, just like diet, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, there are a wide variety of workout types and methods for you to consider. For example, one of the most common types of workouts used for weight loss is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It combines cardiovascular and strength-focused exercises, which help achieve a combination of weight loss and muscle gain.

The benefits of strength and cardiovascular exercise overlap, but typically, cardiovascular exercises are better for weight loss, as they burn more overall body fat. That said, not everyone enjoys running, rowing, biking, stair climbers, or elliptical machines. Staying committed to a weight loss program requires you to find one you enjoy. When you don't like your workout, boredom can set in, our minds begin to make excuses, and our motivation quickly wains. Consider mixing up your routines and try different types of workouts. Keep searching until you find an approach that's right for you. Variety can prevent boredom, and fitness apps can provide you access to various fitness techniques and programs to help you track your progress, 


1. Apply the 80:20 rule

At the forefront of any successful weight loss story, you'll find that the victor applied the right mix of diet and fitness. Sometimes you'll hear this called the 80/20 rule. The rule suggests you focus 80% on improved nutrition and 20% on exercise and fitness. By watching what and when you eat and adding the proper workout into an overall plan, you will see the pounds drop off and stay off over time.

2. Keep a food diary

By keeping a food diary that lists every calorie you consume (along with the intake of sugar and saturated fat), your food choices will quickly become apparent, highlighting areas for immediate improvement. Of course, tracking all that you take in is a difficult challenge. But learning the nutritional values of different meals and snacks you consume will help you regulate the amount of saturated fat and sugar that you eat regularly, improving your overall health and optimizing the impact of any exercise that you undertake.

3. Set goals at the beginning

Set realistic and goals and milestones, and make sure you share them with others. When we share our goals, it flips an accountability switch in our brain, establishing a higher level of mental commitment. But be careful with your goal setting. Goals that are too aggressive may sound good but they can lead to unnecessary feelings of failure and cause you to quit before you even get started. As you start, restrict your diet to optimize the impact of your exercise. Remember that feeling hungry is an inevitable side effect of losing weight and changing your dietary habits, so always keep this in mind. Then, you should consider increasing your calorie intake as you increase the frequency or intensity of your workouts while also regulating your snacks and meals throughout the course of an average day.

 4. Use food as fuel

You can benefit from these dynamics by ensuring that you fuel your body with the right foods to optimize your energy levels. For example, bananas and lean white meats are excellent sources of natural energy, and their consumption can help you achieve your fitness goals and lose weight consistently.

 5. Exercise regularly

Finding the right combination of exercise and a healthy diet will be a more effective way to lose weight than just calorie restriction alone.  Exercise has many benefits beyond weight loss. It can also help lower your risk of developing specific types of cancers, including colon and breast cancer. Exercise also has been shown to contribute to a sense of confidence and well-being, helping you stay on target as you progress toward a healthier lifestyle.


Overall, modern research shows you are what you eat. But the bottom line is exercise tones your muscles, burns flab, and increases your metabolism, while dieting alone won't that. You'll need a nutritional and exercise plan and the passion for staying focused to achieve your overall weight loss and fitness goals.






McGuire MT, Wing RR, Hill J.O. The prevalence of weight loss maintenance among American adults. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1999 Dec;23(12):1314-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801075. PMID: 10643690.


Kroes, Ian, M.D. The key to weight loss: increase your resting metabolic rate


How Eating Too Little Will Eat Up Your Goals, Alison Hadendork, 9/8/2015, American Council on Exercise


Foright, R. M., Presby, D. M., Sherk, V. D., Kahn, D., Checkley, L. A., Giles, E. D., Bergouignan, A., Higgins, J. A., Jackman, M. R., Hill, J. O., & MacLean, P. S. (2018). Is regular exercise an effective strategy for weight loss maintenance?. Physiology & behavior, 188, 86–93.


Millar, Helen January 24, 2021. Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, M.S.> NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS.


Healy, E. (2020, August 31). Weight Loss and the 80% Nutrition, 20% Exercise Rule. Genesis Health Clubs.


Exercise and Weight loss: Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, M.S., R.D., L.D., CDE — Written by Michael Kerr — Updated on July 8, 2017



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published