Exercise vs Diet: Losing Weight

Millions of people struggle to keep fit and maintain an ideal weight. Why do we struggle so much when the formula seems so simple—eat less, exercise more?

The formula for losing weight seems simple enough: Burn more calories than you take in. There are many other factors involved, but we all understand the essential formula that governs weight. So why isn’t weight loss “solved?” In 2015 we seem to have just as many, if not more fad diets and pseudo-science as we did in 1955 when it comes to weight loss.

Magic bullets and pseudo-science seems to proliferate more so now than ever in the arena of diet and fitness. The science of weight loss is clear (your intake needs to be lesser than your output), but human behavior and psychology is muddled and complex. We wish it weren’t the case, and that some new theory would tell us that one only needs to eat X or not do Y to easily lose weight but when one theory doesn’t work, another is waiting to tempt us again.

The Important Facts:

  • The vast majority of calorie expenditure is spent on simply sustaining the body.
  • Excepting elite athletes, exercising plays a very small minority of calories spent relative to calories spent on simple sustenance. This is why many are disappointed to learn how few calories they burned in their workout.
  • Most people underestimate their caloric intake in foods, while horribly overestimating how much they expend during exercise. Jogging on the machine can easily and quickly be undone by the Gatorade that you “deserve.”
  • Watching your food intake is far more effective for most people compared to making a similar difference in expenditure through exercise.

Have a sustainable plan:

Plans fail, not because the plan itself is flawed (not because your fad diet just wasn’t the right one), but because people fail at adhering to an unrealistic plan. What’s the takeaway from that? That people are lazy and undisciplined and should just give up? No.

Focus on what’s sustainable and practical. Unfortunately our psychology tends to reach out for the “fad diet de jour” that isn’t sustainable in the long-term because it seems like the easy way out. New Year’s resolutions, for example, are often over-ambitious and unsustainable, setting people up for failure. Instead, focus on initiatives that are practical.

  • Sustainability Test: Ask yourself if you could live like this forever.
  • Small sustainable gains are far better than binging in exercise for short periods of time.
  • Don’t get overzealous—this is actually an attempt to “finish it quick.” Diet is a life commitment, not a sprint.
  • If you have a plan, start with half of it, but sustain it until it becomes a habit.
  • Sustainability isn’t an impossible ideal. It takes approximately 30 days to internalize a habit. The key is to make a change that is sustainable for 30 days.