Exercise vs. Nutrition– Which Is More Important For Weight Loss?

I get this question all the time– I want to lose weight, J.D., so which thing should I focus on, nutrition or exercise? 

First of all, the obvious answer to this question is both.  You need both exercise and nutrition to see powerful results when it comes to weight loss.  But how much does each part contribute to the equation– and how?

Exercise is the first place most people start when they think about wanting to lose some weight.  You gotta burn those calories to lose weight, right?  Right?

Not EXACTLY.  Weight loss primarily occurs when there is a net caloric deficit in a given day.  Your body burns a certain number of calories a day just by going about daily life– digesting food, walking around, doing menial tasks, etc.  Then we add the number of calories burned during exercise to that to get our total calories burned in a day.

We then add up the calories we ingest through food and drink.  If that number is lower than the number of calories burned, then we should probably lose weight. This is called a caloric deficit.

Let’s say you burn 2000 calories a day and you eat 1650 calories.  Your net caloric deficit is 350.  Since there are 3500 calories in a pound, it will take you 10 days at that rate to lose 1 pound.

Most people think, “Okay, I can keep eating what I want and just work out more”.  They do some kind of workout that tells them they’ve burned 800 calories in an hour.  Then they are shocked when they don’t lose weight.  

What’s happening?  Why isn’t it working.

The answer is probably twofold.  For one thing, you likely are NOT burning 800 calories in that workout.  If that workout isn’t intense enough to really raise your heart rate and doesn’t include resistance training, your gym app, Garmin, FitBit, or WHOOP is lying to you.  

Moreover, most people massively underestimate how many calories they ingest.  If you aren’t measuring your food and tracking your intake with an app like My Fitness Pal, you don’t really know how much you’re eating.  I suggest you try tracking your food for one week to get an accurate idea of your caloric intake.  

Our nutrition coach Ashley and I agree that 90 percent of weight loss is what you eat and drink.  We’ve seen this time and time again with our clients.  There’s an old saying- “You get faster and stronger at the gym and you get abs at the dinner table”.  

So ultimately, the answer is “both” if you want guaranteed results.  But as much as we love working out here at LHF, there’s a reason we have such a robust nutrition coaching program.

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