Diet or Exercise For Weight Loss – What Should You Prioritize to Lose Weight?

Have you ever thought of things similar to these? Do you know where you should put more effort when it comes to losing weight, in exercise, or in diet?

The answer is the latter. Although exercise is an indispensable part of a healthy life, if you want to lose weight, you will have to be attentive to what you eat even if you go to the gym almost every day. Unfortunately for everyone, there are no shortcuts when it comes to losing weight.

Why it’s what you eat that matters most

Our body gets the energy it needs from the food it eats, and when it consumes more energy than it expends, it stores it in the form of fat tissue in anticipation of lean times, when it takes in less than it needs. We are very efficient at this task, almost too efficient for our own good, as we will see a little later.

Although the issue is somewhat more complex, for the subject at hand we will simplify it by saying: if you want to lose weight you must get your body to draw on these fat reserves, taking in less energy than you expend. 

Your brain has a hard time self-regulating

With the above in mind, you might think that increasing the amount of physical exercise you do is enough. That way you would burn more energy and you could achieve that deficit that will make you lose weight, right?

Well, yes in theory, but in practice, this is really difficult to achieve because the body is not an empty box in which calories go in and out, and there are other factors that influence such as metabolism and the ability of our body to self-regulate energy, something that has evolved over time to achieve the maximum possible efficiency.

The problem is that our world no longer resembles the one that has existed during those thousands of years of evolution: there are many more foods and many are different (processed), plus we are more sedentary and many other conditions are different (light, stress, etc.).

This has disrupted the body’s ability to self-regulate those energy needs, and that’s why we have to pay more attention to our diet if we want to maintain a healthy weight.

How much you would have to run to burn these calories

This table published by the Royal Society for Public Health (which we have translated) shows how much exercise you would need to do to burn off some common but unhealthy foods. 

Keep in mind that these figures are not exact and vary depending on the muscle mass and physical condition of each person. This is especially true for aerobic exercise, which burns fewer calories as the body gets used to it.

SWEETENED SOFT DRINK13826 minutes13 minutes
STANDARD CHOCOLATE BAR22942 minutes22 minutes
VENDING MACHINE SANDWICH (BACON AND CHEESE)4451 hr. y 22 minutes42 minutes
A FAMILY PIZZA ROOM4491 hr. y 23 minutes43 minutes
A MEDIUM COFFEE-SHAKE29053 minutes28 minutes
SWEETENED INDUSTRIAL PASTRIES4201 hr. y 17 minutes44 minutes
BREAKFAST CEREAL BOWL17231 minutes16 minutes
MUFFIN TYPE PASTRIES26548 minutes25 minutes

What if you do other sports?

To mention other sports The Mayo Clinic published on October 2020 a table calculating the number of calories in different activities for an 88-kilogram man or a 76-kilogram woman.

BALLROOM DANCING219 calories/hr273 calories/hr
SLOW CYCLING (16 KM/H)256 calories/hr319 calories/hr
GOLF314 calories/hr391 calories/hr
JOGGING ON THE ELLIPTICAL365 calories/hr455 calories/hr
SWIMMING (MODERATE INTENSITY)423 calories/hr501 calories/hr
SWIMMING (HIGH INTENSITY)715 calories/hr892 calories/hr
ROWING MACHINE438 calories/hr546 calories/hr
BASKETBALL584 calories/hr728 calories/hr
TENNIS584 calories/hr728 calories/hr
HIKING438 calories/hr546 calories/hr
CLIMBING STAIRS657 calories/hr819 calories/hr
SOCCER752 calories/hr937 calories/hr
JUMP ROPE861 calories/hr1.074 calories/hr

Exercise without diet, bad solution

It is not difficult to conclude that wanting to lose weight by focusing only on exercise without paying attention to diet is a wasted effort: you need an hour on the elliptical trainer to burn a quarter of a family pizza and an hour of swimming to burn a bun. 

It is true that the figures are a little more on the side of men than women, but it is also true that they tend to consume larger portions.

But what’s more, this way of looking at sport can end up taking all the fun out of it: it turns it into a compensation mechanism, a way of atoning for what we ea

For efficiency and to enjoy the process, it is best to combine exercise and diet, and to understand diet not as a restrictive and demanding meal plan, but as an improvement of our eating habits by reducing ultra-processed foods that carry added sugars, salt, and poor quality flours and fats.

Simply by doing this we will have already reduced caloric intake, especially that which is not accompanied by beneficial nutrients. 
Combining this with exercise, we will not only lose weight, but our health will improve in an evident way.

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