Dieting is more important than exercise to lose weight. If I had to rate the importance of diet versus exercise to lose weight, I would say dieting accounts for 80-90% of weight loss and exercise accounts for 10-20%. Yet so many people prefer exercise over dieting to lose weight. This got me to thinking, why? If dieting is far more important than exercise to weight loss, why do so many people put so much effort into exercise to lose weight?
One reason is the aggressive marketing campaigns by gyms and fitness centers. Exercise and weight loss are as culturally synonymous as peanut butter and jelly or as my friend Geof Shuford likes to say, as synonymous as LMNOP. But it goes much deeper than marketing.
In a nutshell, exercise is (can be) fun and rewarding, dieting is not!
When you start to break down the differences between exercise and dieting, it is of very little wonder why so many people choose exercise over dieting as their preferred/primary method of weight loss. See table 1 for a comparison between the two.
I am not advocating against exercise to lose weight. You should use every tool at your disposal (diet, exercise, medication, lifestyle modification) but we need to be realistic about quantifying what exercise can and cannot do. Exercise can help you lose weight and keep it off, but exercise shouldn’t be used as your primary weight loss tool. That’s what dieting is for.
By itself, exercise isn’t very good at helping you lose weight. We need to break the exercise/weight loss connection and instead focus on all the other functions that exercise so beautifully provides us such as improved strength, endurance, functionality, flexibility, active lifestyle, cardiometabolic health, slowing of the aging process, prevention of certain diseases and cancers, and other lifelong dividends.
Dieting sucks. There is no way around it. Yet, dieting is also a totally necessary evil. This is why I am such a proponent of dieting as hard as you can for a short time to reduce the amount of time “stuck in the suck” (Phase I of The Science of Dieting weight loss program). After that let’s automate, systemize, and streamline your diet as much as possible so you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy, like exercise.
What would you add to the diet/exercise comparison that you think I’m missing?