What’s more important for weight loss – diet or exercise?

Whether to diet or to exercise is a question people constantly ask or revisit in the quest for weight loss. Which is more effective? Well, studies such as this one show that diet affects weight loss more than exercise, though dieting and exercising together are most effective. In the cited study, participants who only modified diet saw an 8.5% weight loss after 12 months, whereas participants who only engaged in aerobic exercise saw a 2.4% weight loss. Participants who did both saw a 10.8% weight loss. Of course, these results only pertain to the specific variables in that study. Although a more intense exercise regimen could have changed the results, it’s still safe to say diet impacts your weight more than exercise. The adage that “abs are made in the kitchen” is completely true. If your diet habits are horrendous, you’re unlikely to get six-pack abs without burning a metric ton of calories daily. Who wants to work out that much? Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on exercise. You need to focus on diet, too.

Most people like the “easier” route.

Most people seeking weight loss want the “easier” route, meaning less time and effort. For people who are workout veterans, sticking to a routine may not be that hard. However, for people who aren’t regulars, gathering the resolve and motivation to work out regularly can be difficult. You may be tempted to start a boot camp or other brutal routine right away, but evaluate your diet first. (See our article against extreme exercising.) Many people unfortunately start exercise regimens for weight loss without changing their diet. Some people may change their diet a little, but not enough to matter. For example, a person splurging on stuffed french toast right after working out will probably eat back more calories than he burned. As the study showed, although you can lose weight simply exercising, you would lose more from changing your diet alone. If you want to see results quicker with less “effort,” then clean up your diet.

Quicker weight loss keeps your motivation up.

The problem with slow results is that people lose motivation. I can’t think of many people who would feel satisfied seeing the scale drop only a pound after a long, hard week of working out. If the scale is barely budging, or even increasing sometimes, then you’re likely going to lose motivation. By contrast, seeing constant movement on the scale will keep you very motivated and may even spark you to add more activity or changes to your routine! Seeing the scale move 2-5 pounds a week is definitely encouraging, so you should focus on the approach that is more likely to get you these quick results: changing your diet. People are often surprised by how much weight loss occurs simply from changing their diet. For example, eliminating processed foods, refined carbs, or added sugars. Your body will definitely notice and respond if you eliminate these poor choices.

The benefits of improving your diet are no secret.

Think about workout DVDs, informercials, or exercise programs that show dramatic before-and-after photos. I think I’ve noticed almost every time that these photos or other disclaimers will include the language that those results may not be typical and also depend on other factors, like diet. Exercise programs often tout diet guidelines or meal supplements to use with their workout program, because the companies know changing your diet will get more dramatic results than simply following their workout regimen. So, in sum, remember the importance of dietary change in your weight loss journey, whether with or without exercise. You may want to review our article about starting a new diet to help ensure your success.


    It makes more sense that changes in diet would result in a faster weight loss than excercise alone. Excess calories from poor diet become fat. There is no (non-surgical) way to get rid of excess energy except to burn it. Also, when a person excercises regularly, he or she usually has an increase in muscle mass, more energy is expended, thus more fat it burnt. Besides, how many pounds someone weighs alone is not the best indicator of a person's health, I think.

    Yuliya | 4 years ago Reply

      Thanks for the comment! I definitely recommend both diet and exercise as regular habits, since your diet is such a big influence on your health, and exercise keeps your body systems healthy (cardiovascular, muscular, skeletal, etc.). I also agree weight is not the best indicator of health, so people should be sure to focus on living healthy overall rather than on just becoming skinny.

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