Weight loss: is exercise more important than diet? Expert revelations
For too long now, we’ve been told that exercise is the key to weight loss. The “calories in and calories out” approach constantly propagates the fact that we need to keep burning what we eat and the more we burn and sweat, the more weight we lose. This message is hammered home by the cohort of apps, fitness gurus, celebrities and Instagram influencers who have popularized a myriad of workout routines that have gained even more popularity during the pandemic-induced lockdown. However, the science on this is clearer than ever and we now know that we cannot continue to indulge in food and believe it can be miraculously burned off on the treadmill the next day. The reality is that exercise alone is almost useless for weight loss.
Why Exercise Isn’t the Key to Weight Loss
Research from several leading obesity experts, nutritionists and scientists indicates that although we get 100% of our energy from food, we can realistically only burn 10-30% through exercise. . Additionally, studies support the fact that exercise only accounts for a small portion of daily calories burned. In reality, there are many more components to our body’s energy expenditure and most people don’t take into account the calories that are used in other daily activities. Our body uses calories even when we work, clean or read; respiration, blood circulation, body temperature regulation, digestion – all these processes consume energy. Therefore, we must understand that vigorous workouts only represent a tiny part of our total energy expenditure. What does it mean? This means that more workouts do not mean increased weight loss, and spending hours in the gym, unfortunately, might not yield better results.
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Weight gain and weight loss are complex processes that involve a multitude of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, environmental markers, dietary components, etc. and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why the internet is full of forums where people talk about their slowed or even reversed weight loss after the first few months of success. Indeed, it is still unclear what effects weight loss programs have on different people.
Heavy exercise can have different effects on different people, for example, some people may engage in what are called compensatory behaviors. This happens when people who have exercised intensively feel hungrier and eat more to satisfy their hunger, this means higher calorie intake which negates any benefit of a workout. Some people overestimate the calories they have burned and indulge in food as a reward mechanism. These are all our body’s natural ways to subconsciously compensate for the calories it has burned.
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Thus, diet is the most important component in all of the above scenarios. And what we eat and how much we eat has a greater bearing on weight loss than we can imagine. Unfortunately, countries like the United States and even India, which are notorious for their high-carb diets and where obesity rates continue to grow at a frightening rate, are losing the thread when it comes to messaging. Exercise apps, gym instructors, and fitness centers continue to grow and roll out the pseudo-science that says we can exercise our weight. In reality, we are eating more than ever before, and unless we correct this, we will continue to fall prey to the cycle of eating more and exercising more, never truly achieving health.
Should the exercise then be completely abandoned?
No, physical activity is good for the body and mind, it helps maintain good heart health and also helps maintain a healthy weight. However, when it comes to losing weight, we have to see it for what it is – a very small part of a larger process where the main role is played by dietary changes. Exercise has many benefits, but weight loss isn’t really one of them.
Therefore, for those looking to lose weight and create that significant calorie deficit, there is a greater chance of making sensible diet changes such as reducing refined carbs, decreasing sugars, and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables. Changing what and how much we eat is therefore the only way to shed those extra pounds and start a journey of health.
About the Author: Rohit Shelatkar is a fitness and nutrition expert and Vice President at Vitabiotics Ltd.
Disclaimer: This content, including advice, provides generic information only. It does not in any way replace qualified medical advice. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim any responsibility for this information