In The Quest to Lose Weight, Eating Less Is More Effective Than Exercising More

If you’re on a weight loss journey, you’ve surely been told a thousand times to diet and exercise. And that’s not necessarily bad advice. There’s just more to it than you might think.

We’ll take exercise over diet any day 

In a piece for the New York Times, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll discusses America’s attitudes toward diet and exercise, arguing people definitely prefer one over the other. Carroll contents that exercise simply appeals to us more than keeping our food consumption in check. We like what we eat too much and exercise is a trendier option than cutting back on our intake. From Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to shows like “The Biggest Loser,” the idea of exercising our way to our goal weight is commonly reinforced in our culture.

When it comes to weight loss, eating less trumps exercising more

Unfortunately, exercise doesn’t offer as much potential for making us skinny as we might like to believe. It takes a lot of exercise to burn just a few hundred calories—calories that we can easily put right back into our bodies with just one ill-chosen snack. Most Americans don’t have the self-discipline to get 30 minutes of intense exercise every day, but even if they did, they might only burn around 350 calories a day from that. Less regular exercise means even fewer calories burned.

Eating less, on the other hand, is a much quicker way to adjust a calorie imbalance. By cutting a few calorie-laden snacks or drinks from your daily routine, you will already be on your way to taking in less calories than you spend each day. Take it a step farther by cooking with whole foods instead of relying on convenience items or restaurant fare, and you’ll make a major dent in your calorie intake.

On top of that, some research indicates that adding a supplement like alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) or blond psyllium to your daily routine can also jump start weight loss. The fact that these nutritional changes typically require less of a time commitment than regular trips to the gym is one reason that diet adjustments are a more effective weight loss tool than exercise is.

Other factors affecting exercise and weight loss

Beyond the time factor, studies have demonstrated other factors at play when it comes to the effectiveness of exercise for weight loss. For one thing, as you spend increasing energy on exercise, your body will probably look to compensate for that. In other words, you may very well find yourself eating more to make up for the energy that you invested in physical fitness.

Studies also counter the popular belief that exercise will help boost your metabolism. It turns out that as you lose weight, your metabolism will probably slow down, and whether you exercise won’t be a determining factor in whether that occurs. It happens to both exercisers and non-exercisers alike.

It’s still important to get moving!

Even if exercise isn’t the weight-loss miracle that many believe it to be, that doesn’t mean it is without value. Physical activity is linked to multiple health benefits. Exercise is a powerful tool in the battle against heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. It improves mental health by elevating mood and reducing stress. Regular physical activity also increases your energy levels and helps you sleep better. Studies have found, by the way, that exercise has some value for maintaining weight loss over the long-term. So even if exercise isn’t the secret to shedding all your excess pounds, it’s still an important component of a healthy lifestyle.

But the idea of eating whatever you like and exercising to make up for it? It seems that’s one of the greatest health myths our time.