Diet, exercise or both? It depends

DIET or exercise? This has been the quintessential question when talking about weight loss. Proponents of fad diets entice people by promising fast weight loss without lifting a finger. On the other hand, some exercise aficionados may guarantee a toned body without food deprivation. But a more sustainable approach to weight loss and emphasizes overall health combining diet and exercise.


For those who want to reach a healthy weight faster, they may choose to focus on diet first. However, this does not mean that exercising won’t help you lose weight. FREE IMAGES FROM PEXELS.COM

“Proper diet is a vital part of any lifestyle intervention to attain an ideal body. This comes hand in hand with physical activity such as regular exercise. Diet and physical activity to achieve and maintain 5 percent or more weight loss are recommended for most people who are overweight or obese,” Maria Princess Kanapi, MD Endocrinology of Makati Medical Center, shared with The Manila Times in an interview.

While diet and exercise offer benefits beyond weight loss, many people still struggle to do them.

Dr. Kanapi said her patients could have “a million and one reasons” why they cannot keep their diet and continue exercising.

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The most common of these reasons is the lack of time — the lack of time to prepare healthy home-cooked meals or the lack of time to exercise because of busy days.

Then there’s the feeling of deprivation. When advised about proper eating, some of her patients “feel deprived that there’s nothing left for them to eat if they will give up all good tasting food they love to eat.”

Meanwhile, others get confused with the plethora of available fad diets on social media while some cope with the stresses of life through stress eating.

These reasons, however, should not prevent anyone from aiming for a healthier diet and exercise routine.

The importance of diet and exercise

Asked about the critical roles of diet and exercise in attaining an ideal and healthy weight, Dr. Kanapi explained the principle of weight gain.

“It’s simple — energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. To achieve weight loss, a 500- to 750-kcal/day (kilocalories a day) energy deficit must be obtained. This deficit may be achieved by decreasing caloric intake, burning more calories through exercise or combining both.”

The expert said dietary restriction is the critical component that influences the rate of weight loss.

“Food intake accounts for 100 percent of energy intake; thus, the energy balance equation may be affected most significantly by reducing energy intake.”

Physical activity accounts for only about 15 to 30 percent of daily energy expenditure.

That might sound bad news to those who work hard in gyms thinking they can quickly burn off the excess food they had and deter weight gain or continue weight loss.

But the good news is that no effort ever goes to waste.

“The benefits of exercise go beyond weight loss. It decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and osteoporosis. It can improve one’s general well-being by improving sleep and increasing energy for daily activities,” Kanapi said.

Finding the right method for your health goal

So is diet superior to exercise or vice versa? Dr. Kanapi offers scientific evidence.

“A systematic review and meta-analysis of diet or exercise vs combined intervention was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2014. The results showed weight loss is similar in the short-term for diet-only and combined diet and exercise. But longer-term weight loss is increased when diet and physical activity are combined. Programs based on physical activity alone are less effective than combined short- and long-term interventions.”

Here lies the difference between diet and exercise — it depends on one’s goal.

For those who want to reach a healthy weight faster, they may choose to focus on diet first. However, this does not mean that exercising won’t help you lose weight.

Dr. Kanapi explained, “It may be easier to manage one’s calorie intake by modifying your diet. One has to invest time and energy exercising to lose weight, and one may get more energy deficit by cutting down on calories.”

Meanwhile, a strict exercise regimen with a more lenient diet would suffice for those who have already achieved their ideal weight and want to keep excess pounds off but can’t be bothered to do both diet and exercise.

“Exercise alone may not be very effective for weight loss, but it could prevent weight gain and improve one’s appearance by increasing muscle mass and reducing the lousy fat called visceral fat found in the abdomen surrounding the internal organs.

For those who have achieved their weight loss goals, regular monitoring of body weight and regular physical activity of 200 to 300 minutes per week is encouraged.”

Warning against crash diets, fad exercise

Dr. Canopy clarified that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to attain and maintain one’s ideal weight.

“Each person’s approach to weight loss must be individualized. What works for one may be difficult to do and cumbersome for the other.”

She also warned against blindly following fad diets or trendy exercises without consulting experts.

“Fad diets may offer the fastest approach to losing weight, but these diets may eliminate foods that contain necessary nutrients our body needs to keep healthy. These diets are often not well researched and may even be dangerous. Most propose a temporary solution, a quick fix, but once the diet is stopped, the weight lost rebounds and is gained back quickly.

Exercise may come in many forms. The still trendy exercises now would be pole dancing, Zumba, spinning, CrossFit and the latest, I think, is high-intensity interval training. These may offer many calories burned, but if one is not ready for this exercise, it could cause serious injury. Ensure that your exercise routine is properly supervised. Warm up and cooling down must be part of one’s exercise routine,” the doctor said.

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