Millions of people have embarked on the road to weight loss* with a single-minded focus to eat healthier or exercise more. But for too many people, this narrow approach to weight loss* doesn’t provide the kind of results they were hoping for. In fact, an estimated 108 million people in the United States attempt to lose* weight every year, according to the National Weight Control Registry. And many people who try and lose* weight exclusively through diet or exercise will make four or five attempts a year before giving up or finding a solution that works.
So is it better to eat less or exercise more to lose* fat? It’s possible to lose* weight and body fat through diet or exercise alone. But you’re far more likely to be successful at losing weight when you combine a healthy eating plan with regular exercise.
If you’re ready to lose* weight and reduce* body fat by changing your diet, there are a few simple changes you can start with to help you be successful. Drink more water. Instead of reaching for sugar-sweetened sodas, coffee drinks made with cream or whole milk, or other high-calorie beverages, drink more water. It contains zero calories and zero sugar, and it’s one of the easiest ways to cut empty calories from your diet, especially if you currently consume these kinds of drinks.
It’s a no-brainer that to lose* weight through dieting, you also need to cut back on snacks, candy, pastries, chips, and other high-calorie high fat foods. But what do you eat instead? A healthy diet should include fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, whole grains. You may also eat modest amounts of lean meats and low-fat diary products. Two excellent resources to help you design a healthy eating plan include the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate and ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Why Can’t Diet Alone?
A lot of people find it difficult to adjust their eating habits to lose* weight. And that’s one of the reasons crash diets have also been called yo-yo diets. It’s possible to lose* weight by dramatically adjusting your diet for a month or two. But a highly restrictive diet isn’t sustainable for most people. Successful weight loss* on a restrictive diet, and too often be followed by a progressive weight gain until you’re back to square one or worse.
Weight loss* experts recommend aiming to cut 500 calories a day to lose* about a pound of fat a week. But that can be hard to do from diet alone, especially if you’re already limiting the amount of food you eat. That’s why adding exercise to the mix can help you better achieve cutting 500 calories a day through both diet and exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day for weight management. For weight loss*, it’s 60 minutes of exercise a day. Exercise helps strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles. But it also helps you burn calories and fat to lose* weight. If 60 minutes sounds like a lot, keep in mind that you don’t have to do it all at once to reap the benefits. Even short 10-minute walks throughout the day can help. Use Calorie Burn Calculator to find out how many calories you’ll burn through physical activity.
Why Can’t Exercise Alone?
Exercise alone isn’t a foolproof way to lose* weight either. If your diet isn’t at least a little on the healthy side, you’re probably not going to be able to exercise enough to burn excess calories. For example, let’s say you eat a banana split stacked with scoops of ice cream, bananas, whipping cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry on top. It might take you 30 minutes or less to eat this 800-calorie dessert. But if you walk briskly for 30 minutes, you’ll only burn about 200 calories or less. And that’s a recipe for weight gain.
Combination of Both
The most successful way to lose* weight is through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise. This approach means you’ll have to stay on top of your diet, as well as making time for regular workouts, but it’s worth it. In a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine researchers found that people were more likely to be successful at losing weight when they combined healthy eating habits and exercise as part of an overall weight loss* plan. They also found that people who only attempted fat loss through diet or exercise alone were less successful.
If you want to lose* weight, get help or make a plan to make changes to your eating and exercise habits. Cut back on junk food, drink more water, and aim to less processed foods and more fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. But don’t stop there. Schedule regular exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day, just like you would any other important appointment. It might be a challenge at first, but combining diet and exercise is the best way to lose* weight and keep it off.