We’ve all heard that age-old phrase: “you can’t outrun a bad diet”. Normally said with a hint of smugness whilst we innocently cram candy bars into our gym bags. And there’s a lot of truth to this. In fact, nutrition counts for approximately 80% of your weight loss, whilst exercise counts for a mere 20%.
Because of the huge impact diet has on weight loss, there’s a lot of speculation as to whether exercise is even necessary. Can you lose weight simply by dieting? Can you out-diet a bad run?
The simple answer is yes, you can. It’s perfectly possible to lose weight simply by ditching the fries and munching on some kale. But before all you eager beavers ditch your running shoes and head to the fruit bowl, let’s get into why diet is so effective for weight loss.
Diet vs exercise
The reason you’re more likely to lose weight from dieting is simple: it’s a whole lot easier cut down your calories than it is to run them off.
Let’s put that into perspective: if you want to burn 500 calories at the gym, you’d need to workout for at least an hour. Cardio exercises like swimming and jogging burn around 350 calories every half an hour, so if you were trying to burn off a Mcdonald’s, that’s a big chunk of your day gone. However, it takes no time at all to cut those 500 calories out of your diet. It could be as simple as swapping your junk snacks for fruit or having a side salad instead of fries.
So, let’s say you want to lose 1lb a week. To achieve that, you’ll need ditch 3500 calories from your diet every week. To lose them purely through exercise, you’d need to spend seven hours at the gym every week. However, cutting 3500 calories from your diet is as easy as skipping the Friday night takeaway, or opting for a low-fat latte with your breakfast.
A healthy diet can be easier to incorporate into your busy lifestyle than a rigorous exercise routine, so it’s easy to see why a lot of dieters forego exercise. But (sadly), there’s a lot more to sustainable weight loss than salad. Exercise is still an essential element of your diet.
Do you have to exercise to lose weight?
It’s true that if you cut back on enough calories, you’ll lose weight without even breaking a sweat. But a strict diet can be extremely hard to maintain, meaning you’re much more likely to fall off that weight-loss wagon. To actually keep the weight off, exercise is essential. Here are a few reasons why:
- You burn more calories – It’s pretty obvious, but by exercising alongside your reduced-calorie diet, you burn more calories. You could drop your calories even more to compensate for a lack of exercise, but this significantly increases your chances of binge eating. It can also leave you feeling tired and unmotivated, which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to change your lifestyle. The easiest way to stick to a diet is to drop your calories by a manageable amount and combine that with some moderate exercise.
- The effects continue after you stop working out – Exercise doesn’t just help you shed pounds when you’re working out. Because exercise increases the amount of muscle you have, it also increases your basic metabolic rate (BMR). This is because muscle is more metabolically active than fat. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn whilst you’re resting.
- It empties your glycogen stores – When your body’s glycogen stores are full, any carbohydrates you don’t need for energy get stored as fat. Exercise helps the body empty these stores, making room for any carbs you eat for post-workout energy.
- Exercise can beige white fat – Exercising can cause white fat to turn beige, which means the white fat cells will begin to behave more like brown cells. Brown fat actually burns calories in order to generate heat, which is why it’s often thought of as ‘good fat’. So, you want as much of this fat as you can get!
- It’s the best way to keep the weight off – Dieting is a great way to lose weight, and drastically cutting your calories means you’ll see fast results. However, it’s extremely hard to maintain, which is why most fad diets crash and burn as soon as you walk by a bake sale. By filling yourself up with healthy foods and adopting a regular exercise routine, it’ll be easier to maintain that dream bod.
- It improves your overall health – Physical activity remains important for your overall health, and it can even reverse the effects of various diseases. Exercise can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and because it improves your strength, it means your body is more able to fight off infection.
So, exercise is a pretty important part of your diet. But that doesn’t mean you have to splash your cash on an expensive gym membership, or get up at 5 am to go running (ew). Try making small, fun adjustments to your life that get you moving. You could start going for an evening walk with your partner (or puppy), take a yoga class, or just do some at-home exercises whilst you’re rewatching every episode of Friends.
The bottom line
Sorry ladies (and gents), you’ve got to balance a healthy diet with an active routine if you really want to win at weight loss.
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