Diet or Exercise – which matters more for weight loss (for beginners)?
Can beginners lose weight with just one or do you need to both eat healthily and to exercise?
Before we give you the answer (and hopefully put to bed many of the diet vs exercise myths out there), we should clarify that when we say ‘weight loss’ we actually mean fat loss.
In fact, when most people say they want to lose ‘weight’ they mean that they want to lose fat (or more specifically that they want to wear a smaller clothes size or fit into something that they used to feel great in a year or two ago).
What is the key to losing fat?
The key to losing fat is very very simple. Your body needs to be taking in fewer calories than it uses. Put another way, you have to burn more than you consume or, in more technical terms, you have to be in a calorie deficit.
It’s the very old concept of CICO (calories in, calories out) which may not sound half as sexy as some of the fancy-named diet plans out there but it really is as simple as that.
How will exercise help me be in a calorie deficit?
Bigger muscles require more energy to sustain them, so that means if you can build some muscle then you will need to eat more in order to maintain it. Put another way, the more lean muscle that you have, the more you will be able to eat without gaining weight.
Having a good base of lean muscle on your body will also allow you to diet (and lose fat) on higher calories.
How do I make sure I am in a calorie deficit with my diet?
At first, friends and family are likely to raise an eyebrow if they see you weighing your food or keying nutrition data into your mobile device.
But, as anyone who has successfully lost weight and kept it off long term will tell you, it really is a foolproof way for you to know for sure how much energy is going in and, therefore, how much energy you need to expend to ensure you remain in a calorie deficit.
So, which is more important?
You will have started to see by now that really, diet and exercise complement each other and work together for the most healthy and sustainable way to get in shape for the long term.
You can lose weight with either one of them but for results you can really be proud of, you should be looking at a combination of both diet and exercise for weight loss.
The answer to the question in the title of this article is that, in the beginning, dieting is a great way to shed some weight and feel that initial burst of motivation to keep going on your journey.
Diet is key in so many ways; choosing whole foods high in protein will help you feel your best, stay fuller for longer, sleep better at night and most importantly help you to hold on to any existing muscle and lose fat instead.
Realistically, however, even the healthiest diet (when you do it for a long time) is only ever going to be 80:20 at best. You will have family gatherings, birthdays, holidays, weddings and celebrations with cake, alcohol, fast food and fatty snacks.
You should be able to enjoy milestones in whichever way you choose and yes, even fitness professionals weigh a few more kg after the holidays!
The difference between fitness professionals and regular people though is that the fitness crowd have built underlying habits over the years that allow them to indulge and get back on track immediately afterwards.
Another difference between fitness professionals and the general population is that, for the former, exercise forms part of their everyday life.
If they have a big celebration planned they will eat lean proteins and low calorie vegetables during the day so that they can indulge at night. They will go to the gym earlier in the day, or perhaps even throw in an extra workout that week.
They will enjoy the same treats as everyone else but the next day, rather than thinking “I’ve ruined my diet, there’s no point in even bothering anymore”, they will go for a long walk, drink plenty of water and make sure they get back to their regular diet.