Losing Weight: Which is Better – Eating Less or Exercising?


This debate has been going on for years with no conclusive answer. Which one is more significant in the fight against weight loss-exercise or diet? or BOTH? How important is each factor? Obesity is still a major epidemic sweeping through the United States with every major nutrition and fitness expert weighing in on the subject with their own. It seems like every other article you read on the topic has a different perspective. One day, experts are absolutely sure diet is more important and the next, its exercise only. So, which one is it? We decided to look into the main arguments on both sides and find out for ourselves!

Let’s start with the exercise advocates. A recent study conducted on rats found that young rats prone to obesity are far less likely to become fat if they run during their adolescence. This finding, although not yet on humans, is interesting in raising questions about the role exercise pays in keeping obesity at bay. The problem that most scientists agree on is that exercise naturally increases appetite and may make most people eat more on the days they workout. But that only approaches the matter from one end. The new question is, does exercise help prevent weight gain in the first place? Not only did the recent study find that the running rats were less likely to become obese, but they were also more healthy on the inside compared to rats who only had restricted diets. The runner rats were metabolically healthier, with better insulin sensitivity and lower levels of bad cholesterol than the dieters. They also burned more fat each day for fuel, according to their metabolic readings, and had more cellular markers related to metabolic activity within their brown fat than the dieting group. Brown fat, unlike the white variety, can be quite metabolically active, helping the body to burn additional calories. In essence, the runners, while weighing the same as the dieters at the end of the study, seemed better set up to avoid weight gain in the future. So the conclusion for you fitness buffs is that restricting calories may be effective, but consistent exercise is more likely to be potent in the long term.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who are convinced that your diet is the only major factor in weight loss. Their main argument is this: If an overweight person is consuming 1,000 more calories than they are burning and wants to be in energy balance, they 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. Or they could achieve the same calorie reduction by eliminating two 16-ounce sodas each day. Their mantra is if people would spend just half the time they do exercising trying to make a difference in the kitchen, they’d most likely see much better results.

Bottom line, both sides do have a point and obviously are much more effective if done together. However, the perspective that only restricting caloric intake is not as convincing to us as a means to a long-term solution to weight loss. Most people are not able to maintain strict diets, but consistent daily exercise has more of an impressive track record through the long-term. We also think that if you are exercising regularly, you will be more motivated to make a change in your eating habits as well.