By Dave Smith
Diet vs. exercise. Which one is really more important?
Have you ever found yourself eating something that you know you probably shouldn't be eating but then telling yourself, "It's okay, I'll go to the gym later and burn this off."
Most of us have experienced this internal dialogue at some point, but is there really any truth to it? Can we just go to the gym and "burn off" any garbage food that we might have eaten?
Diet vs. Exercise: Where Does the "80/20 Rule" For Weight Loss Fit In?
You’ve likely heard of the 80/20 Rule, sometimes referred to as The Pareto Principle. Basically it says that 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your efforts. It’s been applied to sales (80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers), economics (80% of a country’s wealth is owned/created by 20% of its residents), and it certainly applies to fitness and maintaining a healthy body weight:
80% of the results you are going to achieve are determined by 20% of the lifestyle habits you develop. In other words, a small number of important actions will lead to the most significant changes in your life and health.
So what are those few actions (i.e. the 20%) that will lead to dramatic changes in the way your body looks, feels, and performs? The “20%” is the food you choose to eat.
Why is Your Food SO Much More Important Than Your Exercise?
Right now I’m working with a group of women who are aiming to safely lose 10lbs in 4 weeks. Ask them what this program focuses on and I don’t think you’ll get any hesitation: It’s all about cleaning out poor food choices (often choices that we make unconsciously), and replacing them with the most nutritious foods we can find.
What about the exercise? Sure, some types of exercise are more effective than others, but for the most part I don’t really care what my clients choose for their regular physical activity. As long as they are making the right food choices (again, there’s that special “20%”), then I know they’ll get the results they’re looking for.
How can I be so confident? Watch this video that shows the dramatic impact of your food choices:
Eating vs. Exercise: Food Quickly Cancels Out Everything You Do 🙁
The video above is just one example of why food will always win the eating vs. exercise battle. Want more proof? Here is another visual that shows just how impossible it is to “out-exercise” bad eating habits. It begs the question, “Are those 4 cookies worth an hour and twenty minutes in the gym?”
What's the "500 Calories Per Day" Approach and Does It Work?
You may have heard that a pound of fat consists of 3,500 calories. If you’re looking to shed some fat you need to burn more calories than you take in. In theory, you can drop 1lb of fat in a week simply by burning 500 calories each day beyond those calories you consume. Eat 2,000 calories, burn 2,500 each day, and in a week you’ll be down a pound.
Here’s the thing…
Most people don’t burn 500 calories in a workout, therefore this equation will never pan out if food choices are ignored.
This is especially true for people who are already exercising. If you already go to the gym but are not seeing any changes on the scale, then you would need to add an extra hour (or more) of exercise time each day just to burn that 1 pound of fat in a week! Do you have time to go to the gym twice every day?
Rely on exercise to burn off those calories and you’re going to end up looking like this girl!
This doesn’t even take into account those days you go out for dinner or have a “treat” that adds on a few extra calories. On those days you may end up eating 500 calories more than normal, which means you’d have to go back to the gym for a third workout in order to come out with your 500 calorie deficit for the day! It’s impossible to keep up!
This Eating vs. Exercise Comparison Does NOT Mean You Should Be Afraid to Eat 🙂
The point of all this eating vs. exercise talk is not to leave you fearing food. We all need calories to survive, and not eating enough calories can actually hinder your results. But, the food choices you make are going to determine the numbers on the scale – that’s the truth.
Want to make sure you’ve got that “20%” in check so that you can start seeing some big results? Here are 3 golden rules I use with my clients:
#1. Pass On The Packaged Foods
If you’re eating something from a box, jar, or can there’s a high likelihood that it’s high in calories, low in nutritional value.
#2. Eat a LOT More Veggies
Vegetables should be the basis for every meal you eat. You cannot find another type of food that offers such amazing nutritional value at such a low calorie count.
#3. Plan To Indulge
I don’t expect you (or myself!) to eat perfectly all the time. But, it is VERY important to plan for those “cheat” snacks/meals/days so that they don’t become the norm and don’t “just happen” when you let your guard down.
Diet vs. Exercise: Conclusions
Exercise is awesome. I love lifting weights, running, yoga, climbing, and I encourage all of my clients to find some way to stay physically active that they enjoy. But, exercise is not a good weight-management strategy. You cannot out-exercise a broken diet.
Focus on fixing your diet first. That 20% effort will give you 80% of the weight-loss results you're looking for. Guaranteed.