Diet vs Exercise for Fat Loss – Which is Better?

fat loss

For decades, people have always said that if you eat less and move more, you will well be on your way to a healthier, slimmer, “new you,” but for some people, that isn’t always the case. If weight loss were that simple, so many articles, research, routines and regimens wouldn’t even exist, and we wouldn’t even need to discuss which is better for weight loss: diet or exercise. For most people, putting the weight on is easy, but dropping the weight? That’s far more difficult for most.

The pros and cons of dieting are pretty simple. The pros of a good diet can ensure the body has all the vital nutrients it needs to function adequately and appropriately. The same can be said for the diets that serve up a bunch of fat-burning super foods to help shed some weight. The primary disadvantage of dieting for most, is that finding the right diet is a difficult task on its own. Once you find the right diet and shed the desired amount of weight, another problem people seem to face is sustainability. Once the right diet has been chosen, adhering to the diet is difficult in itself, but some diets only work while you are on them. This means post diet, if you were on the Atkins diet, which is a “no carb” diet, and you’ve lost the desired amount of weight returning to normal food intake, the likely hood that you may gain all of that weight back, is almost certain.

According to an article posted on, “Exercise vs. Diet: Which Is More Important for Weight Loss?” a recent meta-study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association,  sought to figure out “which diet works best?” by looking at the results of 59 individual studies. These studies included various nutritional recommendations, such as low-fat, low-carb, and so on. Which of these recommendations reigned king? None. There were no major differences between the diets, and success was completely dependent on what the individual could adhere to. In other words, “practicality reigned king.”

The article further goes on to say: “At a physiological level, weight loss and weight gain revolve around caloric consumption and expenditure*. Because of this, it’s important to understand the basics of calories. Put simply: we lose weight when we eat less calories than we expend. Conversely, we gain weight when we eat more calories than we expend. In order to lose one pound of fat, we must create a 3,500 calorie deficit, which can be achieved either through exercise or diet.”

An article posted to the New York Times, “To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important Than Exercising More,” states “Think about it this way: If an overweight man is consuming 1,000 more calories than he is burning and wants to be in energy balance, he can do it by exercising. But exercise consumes far fewer calories than many people think. Thirty minutes of jogging or swimming laps might burn off 350 calories. Many people, fat or fit, can’t keep up a strenuous 30-minute exercise regimen, day in and day out. They might exercise a few times a week, if that.” It is a well-known fact that exercising has many benefits when it comes to weight loss, but there are problems with relying on it to control weight. A 2011 meta-analysis (4) looked at the relationship between physical activity and fat mass in children. The analysis concluded that being active probably does not determine whether a child is at an unhealthy weight. For adults, interventional studies have difficulty showing that a physically active person is less likely to gain excess weight than a sedentary person. (2)(4)

Another pitfall is that exercise increases the appetite. When you use energy and burn off calories from exercising, the body will send you signals to replace them. A 2012 systematic review of studies (5) evaluated how people adhered and complied with exercise programs. The findings concluded that over time, people actually burned less energy with exercise than what was initially predicted, and they also increased their caloric intake.

Of course, exercise does play a role in overall health, and fitness can contribute to weight loss. Many studies and research have proven that getting motivated and moving does help, but it appears that to really get a handle on managing weight, behavioral and eating habit changes are a must.

Research and science have spoken, that the best place to find a resolution to your weight loss issue is by starting with your diet and watching caloric intake. However, it’s only half the battle because making those behavioral changes to make sure you stick to your diet is absolutely key; it’s those changes that will help you keep the weight off and ensure a healthier way of living.