We all know that we’re supposed to eat right and exercise to stay healthy, but when it comes to weight loss, which matters most — diet or exercise? If you want to lose weight, what’s the most important thing you have to do? If you said “burn more calories,” you aren’t alone in this way of thinking. For decades, we’ve been taught that weight management is simply a matter of calories in versus calories out: Burn more calories than you take in, and you’ll lose weight.
Unfortunately, the calorie issue is only part of the weight-loss puzzle. And this focus on calories has resulted in a lot of frustration for people who are trying to shed excess weight. So many of us work out at the gym constantly and never lose weight at all!
If you get on the internet and do some sleuthing, you’ll see experts referring to the 80/20 rule: When it comes to weight loss, the formula is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Some fitness experts take this even further and claim that it’s 90/10. And that means that many of us need to pay better attention to what we’re eating. We can work out until we’re blue in the face, but if we’re eating the wrong foods, we’ll never get rid of the excess weight.
It’s not all about calories
Calories are important, but not as important as we’ve been led to believe. While it’s good to be mindful of the number of calories you consume, the sources of those calories are far more important. Think about it: If you eat 100 calories of cookies and 100 calories of berries, will your body react the same way to both foods? Of course not. The cookies are full of refined sugar, which will be stored as fat. The berries are full of vitamins and antioxidants that can help your body fight disease and increase your energy.
The focus on calories is an oversimplification of the way our bodies use and store energy. All kinds of genetic traits determine how our bodies actually use those calories. Some people are naturally more sensitive to saturated fat. Some people are more sensitive to carbs. Some people naturally produce lower levels of a hormone that helps them convert the food they eat into energy, which makes them more susceptible to weight gain — even if they are counting calories.
Correcting chronic inflammation with diet
Other factors can influence how your body uses and stores the energy (calories) you eat, including chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances. Chronic inflammation is inflammation that occurs inside the body. You can’t see it, and you may not be aware of it, but it can cause all sorts of health problems. Chronic inflammation has been linked to every major disease, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. And, it can wreak havoc on your metabolism. Even if you exercise regularly, if you’re suffering from chronic inflammation, it can be difficult to shed excess weight.
The best way to get a handle on chronic inflammation is by cleaning up your diet. Stop eating foods that cause inflammation, including refined sugar, refined vegetable oils, wheat, dairy, processed meats, and other processed foods. Focus your diet on anti-inflammatory foods, such as leafy greens, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, berries, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds, and green tea. Lifestyle factors such as quality sleep and stress management can also help reduce chronic inflammation.
If you’re used to eating the standard American diet — full of things like refined carbs and soda — then this way of eating may be a huge lifestyle change for you. Don’t expect to start losing weight right away. While an anti-inflammatory diet will often help heal many underlying health issues that contribute to weight gain, this healing process has to happen first before the body will begin to shed excess weight. Be patient and know that you’re doing good things for your body. Excess weight is often the result of years of eating a poor diet. It takes time to reverse those effects.
Correcting hormonal imbalances
Hormonal imbalances are another common cause of weight gain. A poor diet can disrupt your levels of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that help control hunger and satiety. When these hormones are out of balance, you may eat more than necessary.
Stress causes higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which drives the accumulation of belly fat. Cortisol also triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that allows your body to use sugar for energy or to store it for later use. Over time, high insulin levels lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, resulting in a vicious cycle that can be hard to get control of.
Exercise can help reduce belly fat, particularly cardiovascular exercise. But you also have to get hormone levels under control. Reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates is one of the best ways to avoid the spikes in blood sugar that lead to high insulin levels. Managing stress and getting quality sleep will also help.
How to combine diet and exercise for weight loss
This doesn’t mean that exercise isn’t important. Regular exercise helps reduce the risk of disease, increases energy levels, helps you sleep better, reduces stress, and boosts your immune system — all of which go hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise, specifically strength training, also boosts your metabolism, because muscle tissue burns more calories. Just don’t expect exercise alone to do all the work.
A healthy weight is the result of a healthy overall lifestyle. That means eating right, exercising regularly, managing stress, and getting quality sleep. Neglect any one of these areas, and you’ll have a much harder time achieving the results you’re after.
Diet or exercise?
It really isn’t an either/or question: you need both. But if you need to start with one, start with diet. Getting control of internal issues such as inflammation and hormonal imbalances will make your workouts that much more beneficial when you are able to exercise. And if you think you don’t have time to exercise, keep in mind that workouts don’t have to be intense to be worth it. A 10-minute walk or a 7-minute strength training routine can be surprisingly beneficial.
At Elite Physique, we believe an equal balance of nutrition, activity, rest, and confidence is the foundation for achieving a healthier you. Our personalized weight-loss programs are custom tailored to help you meet your goals and to address the underlying factors that can make weight- loss difficult. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation!