Is diet or exercise more important for weight loss?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

There are many factors to consider when it comes to weight loss. Some people have a genetic risk of being overweight and may have a harder time than others when it comes to shedding pounds. Other people are stuck in a sedentary lifestyle that’s difficult to change. The problem is, when you take in more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight. While you can cut back on your calories and stay within a certain daily quota, you can also eat a healthy diet and use more calories by being more active.

So, both diet and exercise are important components for healthy weight loss. If your doctor recommends that you lose weight, you can do this by moving around a lot more (aim for 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobics) or you can reduce the calories you ingest -- or do both.

Most research shows that weight loss is more effective when cutting back on calories as opposed to only increasing physical activity. However, weight loss is much more effective when both a decrease in daily caloric intake, and an increase in daily physical activity are combined. Therefore, both diet and exercise are equally important when it comes to weight loss.

For weight loss to occur we must burn more calories than when consume. For successful long-term weight loss you must commit to making lifestyle changes that you can maintain for life. There is no magic pill, fad diet or temporary exercise program that will give you long term weight loss success. To maintain weight loss for life, you need to commit to a healthier lifestyle for life by becoming more physically active, along with consuming a more nutritious diet on a daily basis. The goal is to move more, and eat less!

Wendy Batts
Fitness Specialist

Just like you might think, both are vital to healthy weight loss. With that being said, you can lose weight with diet alone if needed. Exercise alone, while possible, would be much more of a challenge. To lose weight, we need to create a gap between the calories we burn and the calories we eat so that we are burning more than we consume.

It is much harder to create that gap with exercise alone without changing the amount of calories that we eat. We can however reduce the number of calories we eat to create the gap a little more easily. So your question may be “Why then would I want to do both?” Exercise has numerous physical and psychological health benefits, many of which directly contribute to a weight loss goal. For example we burn more calories not only during the workouts, but in the recovery period after the workouts (aka the after-burn). This aids even further in creating the calorie gap between what we eat and burn. Exercise helps reduce the risk of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Aesthetically as well, the sculpted or toned look that many of us desire also comes about from regular resistance and cardiorespiratory exercise. And many regular exercisers just feel better and have more energy, enabling them to maintain a steady level of activity, and therefore calorie burning, throughout the day.

The more calories you burn, the more you actually get to eat and still lose weight! That’s the best reason yet to include exercise in your weight loss program. And once you achieve your goal weight, exercise is vital to weight maintenance.

So bottom line is that both are equally vital to lasting weight loss.

If you have to choose one, choose both. Smaller portions will make you feel good enough to exercise. Physical activity will boost metabolism, increase feel-good brain chemicals, and improve your outlook on life.

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Fitness Specialist
They are both important. I like to advise people to create a long term view for effective weight loss. There are 3 P's that are important to understand for weight loss.  P1 (Psychology): You must have a specific, measureable, attainable, and time bound weight loss goal and you MUST have a clear and powerful "WHY" that will drive you. This starts in your mind. P2 (Physiology): Begin by eating 500 less calories/day, walking 10,000 steps/day, sleeping 8 eight hours/night, and taking a multi-vitamin. P3 (Physical): Once you have your mind right and your calories under control, now begin an exercise plan to "get fit". Be patient. Be persistent. Be clear and be realistic. It is going to take time to lose weight and get healthy. You didnt gain the weight overnight and you will not lose it overnight. Living healthy and fit is a mindset and ultimately your choice. You get to choose what you eat and how much you move. Make the healthy choice. Good luck!

Continue Learning about Getting Started with Weight Loss

What Should I Do Before Starting a Weight-Loss Program?
What Should I Do Before Starting a Weight-Loss Program?
To Eat Fewer Calories, Enjoy Calm Meals
To Eat Fewer Calories, Enjoy Calm Meals

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.