You have probably wondered at some point in your life, is diet more important than exercise or does exercise trump diet. I think the question that you first need to ask yourself is: “What is your main outcome or goal?” If your answer is strictly weight loss, both diet and exercise are important but the focus placed on diet is slightly higher. If you’re looking to just maintain a healthy lifestyle then you need to consistently monitor and focus on both. Remember, you can’t manage something if you don’t measure it. Finally, if you’re someone who has lost a significant amount of weight and your goal is to maintain that weight loss for the rest of your life then both diet and exercise are your best friends.
One of the best research-based organizations that looks at these types of questions and more is the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). The NWCR is the brain-child of Rena Wing, PhD, from Brown University Medical School and James Hill, PhD, from the University of Colorado. The NWCR “provides information about the strategies used by successful weight loss maintainers to achieve and maintain long-term weight loss.” The NWCR is currently tracking over 10,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and, most importantly, have kept it off for long periods of time.
NWCR members have lost an average of 72.6 pounds and maintained the loss for more than 5 years. “To maintain their weight loss, members report engaging in high levels of physical activity (≈1 h/day/walking), eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet, eating breakfast regularly, self-monitoring weight, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.”
What should help clear up this debate is the fact that only 1 percent of the huge NWCR database (>10,000 subjects) have been successful at keeping their weight off with exercise alone. About 10 percent of the subjects have been successful with weight-loss maintenance by focusing on diet alone. More than 89 percent of the subjects have been successful because of BOTH diet and exercise modifications.
Your best bet is to spend quality time at the gym a few times a week and remember to challenge yourself when you’re moving through your paces. Stay active throughout the week and especially during the weekends. Focus on eating clean, healthy foods, avoiding highly processed foods while watching the added sugar in everything you eat. Finally, know that diet and exercise are your best choices to help get you there and once you’ve reached your goals, will help keep you there!
Wing RR, Hill JO. Successful weight loss maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr 2001;21:323–41.
Wing RR, Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 82(1): 222S-225S.