Weekly Wellness: What's better: Counting Calories or Working Out?
COLUMBIA - "If I'm trying to lose weight, which is more important? Counting calories or exercising?" This is a question that I am asked a LOT. While there are a few ways to answer that would require more science (i.e. how many calories do you currently eat? how many should you eat? how long are you currently exercising? etc.), the main question (at its crux) is about deficit. Should you create a deficit by not eating as much or create a deficit by burning off the calories after consumed?
Should you cut calories but not change your exercise habits? Or should you eat how you do but exercise more? Let's break it down:
It’s generally accepted that diet is more important than exercise for weight loss (some say weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise). As you probably realize, it’s a whole lot easier to gain weight than it is to lose it. When it can take 25 minutes of walking to burn off ONE peanut butter cup, it's a lot easier to just get bigger, right? This is why diet trumps exercise if you have to pick one.
A 2012 randomized controlled trial of about 400 overweight, middle-aged women found a lifestyle change combining diet and exercise led to greater weight loss than diet or exercise alone. Here’s what their weight loss progress looked like after 12 months:
- Diet-only group lost an average of 8.5% of their body weight.
- Exercise-only group lost an average of 2.4% of their body weight.
- Diet and exercise group lost an average of 10.8% of their body weight.
- Control (no diet or exercise) lost an average of 0.8% of their body weight.
Even though all the participants were given a goal to lose 10% of their bodyweight, only the diet and exercise group met that goal. Because losing weight can be challenging, it’s best to approach it from more than one angle.
To build better habits that’ll help you lose weight, employ a strategy that combines both diet and exercise to increase your weight loss and keep it off in the long run. In my experience, people who want to lose weight don’t merely relegate their goal to seeing a smaller number on the scale. What they really want is a leaner, fitter physique that makes them look and feel better. For that reason, an 1,800-calorie diet paired with burning 300 calories through exercise is the better choice. Here’s why:
When you lose weight it comes off as water, fat and muscle. One way to combat loss of valuable lean muscle is to take up strength-building, resistance exercises, which experts recommend you do at least two times per week. Use weight machines, free weights, resistance bands or your own bodyweight.
Even if your total calorie goal is the same at the end of the day, working out gives you physical and mental perks outside of just weight loss. This includes stress relief, mood improvement, better self-esteem and healthier heart and lungs.
So, the take-away here, is to do both – watch your calories and get that workout in. It’s a win-win!