Diet Vs Exercise: Which Is More Effective To Help You Lose Weight?

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“Many of us believe that if we run more, cycle longer, increase our gym sessions – we will shed the kilos but is that really true?”

To lose weight it is as simple as ensuring there is less energy going in and more energy going out, creating an energy deficit. Many of us believe that if we run more, cycle longer, increase our gym sessions – we will shed the kilos. But how many of us have undergone a punishing exercise regime, only to find little to no weight loss or even if you do, once you stop exercising the weight creeps on.

Conventional wisdom dictates that exercise is the way to lose weight – but that’s wrong. Addressing your diet: what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat, will give you the energy deficit you need without the grueling, sweaty, high intensity daily exercise grind.

Why do I say this? Because, while we know exercise burns calories – the trouble is, it burns a lot less calories than most people think. A person, who runs 10km/hr (a good running pace) will burn about 350-370 calories (1470 - 1554 kjs) or 6-inch subway wrap. If you ran at this intensity everyday and didn’t alter your diet, you could lose about a third of a kilo per week. That sounds like a great result? But there is a catch. Many of us would struggle to sustain that level of effort, let alone keep it up everyday.

For most of us, walking is our most preferred way of exercising. And the recommendation of 30 minutes everyday will burn 100 – 150 calories (420 – 630kjs) or equivalent to a slice of bread. This regime is easier to sustain but you will lose less than a ¼ kilo per week.

But our expectation of weight loss is to lose a kilo a week. If exercise were our weight loss tool than, we would need to run at a high intensity for 60 plus minutes or walk 90 plus minutes every day. In reality, most of us are unable to stick to those levels for weight loss.

Now don’t get me wrong. Exercise is not a waste of time. Patients who see me know I am an avid exerciser and strongly encourage it. Certainly 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic-related illness. And exercise is a great mood booster. But remember our goal here is to lose weight.

You could achieve the same energy deficit just by cutting your meat portion by 50g and your rice to ⅓ cup or dropping your chocolate bar as your afternoon snack. So which sounds more do-able: a grueling stint of exercise or small changes to your diet?

The major problem with dieting is that many of us feel deprived and find it difficult to stick with. That’s because most of us try drastic measures to lose weight – like cutting whole food groups like dairy and wheat, that’s neither terribly good for you nor able to sustain long term.

If my recommendation for weight loss were to run 2 ½ hours everyday, you would feel irritable, tired and deprived and you wouldn’t be able to sustain it and you would give up. So why do we make such drastic changes to our diet, when simple changes can give us the best result.

As dietitians, we find those simple changes in your diet, like having only one small flat white, cutting out soft drink, having take away once week or having 2 nights alcohol free. The more changes we can help you create the bigger the energy deficit, allowing you to shed kilos easier and faster. And that’s where dieting trumps exercise for weight loss.

The best diet is any diet you can stick to, for the long term. It is not about cutting out everything. It is about reducing your portions, finding satisfying substitutes and making small changes. It is like finding your ‘30 minutes a day’ but it’s sweat free.

 By Julie Gilbert

Tell us about your dieting experience in the comments, or book an appointment with us today and let's discuss your goals!

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