In the Battle of the Bulge, Which Comes Out on Top: Diet or Exercise?

Diet vs. Exercise for weight loss

The battle of the bulge. It’s real. And many are fighting it. Some turn to working out as the solution. But many end up disappointed. Despite vigorous exercise, they’re still unable to trim their waistlines. If they do lose weight from exercise, often the weight rapidly returns when they stop… in some cases, they end up even heavier than before.

While exercise is an important part of our path to optimal health and does many good things for the body, exercise alone may not be the best way to lose weight.

Diet is an even more critical component.

Which is better for weight loss: diet or exercise?

Despite the health benefits associated with exercise, there are significant problems with focusing on exercise for weight loss. Some misconceptions about what exercise does to the body and the varied forms of exercise available lead to poor choices and failure. There three basic types of exercise:

  • Very low intensity (walking)
  • Aerobic, moderate intensity (jogging, biking, swimming)
  • Anaerobic, high intensity (sprinting, biking very fast or lifting heavy weights)

Many people looking to lose weight choose aerobic activities because they want to burn calories. Aerobic activities like jogging or biking increase heart rate, but in a person not used to such activity, aerobic workouts may do more harm than good. 

Diet vs. Exercise for weight loss

The biological effects of aerobic activity on a healthy athlete are much different than the effects on a person who is overweight and does not work out often. There are three main problems with aerobic exercise in someone trying to lose weight:

  1. The production of cortisol
  2. An increase in body inflammation
  3. Metabolism of muscle

When a body is put under abnormal stress or pressure from any source, it produces the stress hormone cortisol. This stress could be emotional, psychological or physical. Cortisol prompts the body to store more fat so it has a reserve of energy to get through the stressful situation. This is the body's primitive response to stress, and it works against the efforts of those who exercise to lose weight.

When a body is overworked, the result is inflammation. Inflammation is a leading cause of many serious health conditions. While it may not contribute directly to weight retention it could lead to other health problems.

Many people who do aerobic exercise are looking to get more toned and increase muscle mass, but this isn't likely to happen. When someone is not used to aerobic exercise, the body does not turn to fat as the first source of energy. It takes more time to metabolize fat than it does protein. The body is being put under stress due to a sudden increase in physical activity, and it will look for the easiest source of energy available. That energy is actual muscle tissue. The body will break down muscle instead of fat. This is terrible for long term weight loss because increased muscle mass is a significant boost to metabolism.​

Interval Training

While aerobic exercise is generally not the best for someone just starting out on a weight loss journey, there may be a form of exercise for weight loss that can help. High-intensity interval training or HIIT may be the answer. This form of exercise combines many short bursts of high activity with longer rest periods in between. It may sound counter-intuitive, but It’s actually easier on the body because it does not cause it to metabolize muscle. And it’s more likely to improve muscle mass without the use of weights.

The burst workout also has an effect on the body's hormone production. It stimulates the production of human growth hormone. This hormone has many beneficial effects, and its natural production decreases with age. Stimulating HGH production helps boost metabolism and energy levels and stimulates muscle growth and retention. It is the best way to turn back the clock on aging and its negative effects on the body.

The Role of Diet

Diet vs. exercise for weight loss

If you’re unaccustomed to exercise, you may be able to incorporate it into your weight loss plan slowly. But everyone, regardless of their current fitness level, can control what they eat. This doesn't mean following fad diets or focusing on intense calorie restriction. (Starvation diets actually cause the body to hold onto fat.)

A diet for weight loss focuses on eating foods that contribute to weight loss and avoiding foods that do not. This usually involves restricting carbs from bread and grains and focusing on fruits and vegetables. It also means focusing on healthy protein and fat.​

When the body is getting a generous supply of vitamins and minerals, it is more likely to shed fat. This is because many harmful toxins are bound up in fat cells. The body can get rid of these toxins, but it will only do that if it feels safe doing so. If the body detects a nutrient deficiency, that is a big red flag telling the body it is not a safe time to deal with toxins. The body won't metabolize fat because the fat has become toxic.

Dietary changes that reduce sugar and carbs and focus on healthy fats and proteins also train the body to burn fat first. This is not an overnight process; it requires long-term consistency, but a person can adjust the body's metabolism so that it is constantly burning fat instead of storing it. This involves not just choosing the right foods, but also maintaining the right eating schedule.

The exercise vs. diet for weight loss conundrum is more complicated than it appears. It is never a simple question of calories in and calories out. The body's metabolism is much more complex, and it must be viewed from a variety of angles all at once. A real and lasting weight loss program may contain some light to moderate exercise, but it will also focus on a proper diet and eating schedule that will retrain the body's metabolism and produce lifelong changes.

If you are ready to make a change to your lifestyle and embark on a path to optimal health, Valhalla Wellness can help. Our team of physicians and health coaches can design a program tailored to your body, giving you the best chance for success. Call us today for a free consultation.​