Last September, my wife and I did an elimination diet (the Whole 30); I was astonished by the results. I was not doing it to lose weight, although I did. Instead, I was doing it to re-set how and what I ate and to eliminate cravings. It worked beautifully and it changed how I eat to this day. I am in my mid-50’s and have been starkly reminded that the amount of time it takes to exercise off a piece of cake or a morning muffin is disproportionately long to how long it takes to eat them.
As far as losing weight, diet is much more important than exercise. Exercise is critical for maintaining lean muscle mass and quality of life, but regarding weight loss, it’s not nearly as important as what you eat or drink. In other words, for weight loss, eliminating poor dietary choices is much more important than how much you exercise. Think of the equation CICO (calories in, calories out). 100% of ‘calories in’ come from what you eat and drink, whereas only a small portion (10-30%) of ‘calories out’ are lost through exercise.
There are 3 main sources of‘ ‘calories out’ :
- BMR – Basal metabolic rate is the energy used to keep your body operating (ie: heart and brain function, breathing). It consumes 60-80% of calories that you take in.
- Thermogenesis – The breaking down of foods. It consumes 10% of calories that you take in.
- Physical activity – Exercise, going upstairs, walking, gardening, etc. It consumes 10-30% of calories that you take in.
The average person only loses, specifically from exercise, 5-15% of the calories that they take in (from what they eat and drink). Even if you’re a hardcore exerciser, you are only burning 30% of the caloric intake that you derive from foods. In addition, exercising will increase appetite. If you choose a burger, shake, and fries, it will kill that hour or two that you just spent in the gym.
For the average person, let’s say that 300-400 calories are burned with an hour at the gym. That can easily be undone by eating a few cookies, a Starbucks latte, or a scoop of ice cream. Even a high-intensity workout that burns 800-1,200 calories could be canceled out with 2 mixed drinks or 3 slices of pizza. With this scenario, it would be better to just eat less and not exercise. This all rings true in the common sayings “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym” and “you can’t out-exercise your mouth.”
I should also clarify that some people may have weight gain issues from organic pathologies, such as thyroid or hormonal disorders. In such cases, blood-work is valuable. However, as a general rule, CICO is worthwhile to keep forefront in your mind.
If you’re someone who diets in the spring because you want to fit into your bathing suit in the summer, remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. People who slowly lose weight end up keeping it off in the long run. It really is something that you have to work on daily and constantly, not just for a season. Losing weight and maintaining ideal weight level involves lifestyle modifications and making better choices every time you eat or drink something. The big thing is to make sure that the calories that you do consume are nutrient dense (whole, clean, healthy foods loaded with nutrition) rather than empty calories (a lot of calories with little beneficial nutrition). For me, choices, like drinking water over juice at lunch-time, doing away with my daily bagel for breakfast, or forgoing the weekend growler of stout beer, are examples of small modifications that, over time, have helped reduce visceral fat in my abdomen.