Exercise or Diet?

Everyone knows that when it comes to losing weight, exercise and diet are important and that there will need to be some changes for you to see results.

You have to find your running shoes and dust off your gym kit because squats, lunges and the elliptical are about to be part of your life and you can say goodbye to your normal eating routine because it’s time for a little more restraint and more focus on eating the right types of foods

Dumbells Tape and a Plate of Fruits

But one thing which has had people confused for years, and prompted countless arguments on internet forums, is whether or not they should focus on one area over the other.

Is it worth going to the gym even if you only have 30 minutes to spare and do you have to eat clean, even if you’re burning a tonne of calories 5 days a week at the gym?

In this article, I am going to compare them against each other and see if we can finally see which one is better for you when it comes to losing weight. 

Calorie Deficit

Everything you do, from eating to sleeping even down to breathing, requires energy to actually get the job done and your body gets that energy from food and drink in the form of calories.

If you take on the same amount of calories that your body burns, you will stabilize and your weight will stay the same.

If you take on too many calories your body will store the extra energy as fat, meaning you gain weight.

And if you don’t take on enough calories your body will burn through the existing fat stores that you have, to get the energy it needs.

That’s what happens when you lose weight.

Your body uses more energy than you’re actually taking on board and as a result, you start to work through the stores of fat you have and start to lose weight.

That’s called being in a calorie deficit and when it comes to losing weight, that’s where you need to be.

It doesn’t matter how you do that, whether that’s through a particular diet or certain type of training regime, the goal is the same, to burn more calories than you take on board.

If you can create a deficit of 3500 calories then you will burn through 1lb of fat and as a result, that is the number often given as a calorie goal and that is the number we will work towards in this article. 

Exercise and Weight Loss

Everyone has stuff they like to do at the gym and stuff they hate to do.

Some people prefer to run, row or cycle whereas others love to lift weights, do circuits and work on building their muscles, but the overall theme is the same, whatever it is you’re doing in the gym you’re doing to improve your body.

You should already know by now that exercise burns calories and the more you do, and harder you do it, the more calories you will burn.

An article from the mayo clinic which cited the work of Ainsworth BE, et al found that a 160lbs person, who engaged in 1 hour of low-impact aerobics would burn 365 calories in that time.

That same person would burn 423 calories from 60 minutes of light or moderate effort swimming or 292 calories if they cycled around 10mph for an hour.

If you’re going to lose weight through exercise then often, you will need to increase your workload dramatically to reach 3500 calories.

The 160lb person in the example above would need to swim for 1 hour, moderately, 9 days in a row to burn over 3500 calories and 1lb of fat or increase the length of their swimming sessions to 90 minutes each day to lose that 1lb faster. 

Diet and Weight Loss

Most coaches and trainers will tell you to aim for a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day, as doing so will create a 3500 deficit over 7 days which is equivalent to losing 1lb of fat a week.

Although 500 calories may sound like a lot, it really isn’t and while you know about the big stuff like burgers, pizzas, cakes, and treats, it also adds up when you look at the smaller things like juice, sauces, oils, and nuts, that contain a lot of calories but which we often forget about because of their size.

Most people have a diet that consists of high-calorie foods but by increasing your intake of lean proteins, veggies, and complex carbs and reducing the amount of high calorie, fatty, high sugar, and processed foods, you will start to save more calories much quicker than you thought.

In some cases, one meal could amount to 600+ calories and some snacks could be around 300 at a time. As you start to track your food intake and pay attention to what you eat you will realize very quickly that it is much easier to reduce the calories you eat and you can start to create a deficit of 500, 600, or even more, by simply being careful with what you eat.

Reaching a 3500 calorie deficit, through diet alone is much easier and by taking a moderate approach and simply changing your meals, removing snacks or stopping drinking your calories, you can achieve that same 1lb of fat loss in 7 days, clearly much faster and In some cases with much less effort than through exercise. 

Is It All About Weight Loss?

You can see that creating a calorie deficit through diet, is much easier than it is through exercise, but does that mean exercise isn’t important?

Exercise impacts your body in different ways, from the release of endorphins which help you to feel better and improve your mood to the improvement of your cardiovascular fitness and strength helping you to perform better in everything you do.

These things don’t directly affect your weight loss but can drastically improve your mood and self-confidence.

By exercising and resistance training specifically, you can also start to improve your body shape, leading to a loss of inches when taking body measurements, even without a big change in the scale weight.

You might look different, and fit into smaller clothes (looking better in them) but actually, weigh the same as before and by taking part in regular exercise and keeping active you will not only improve your mood, body shape, and self-confidence but you will also burn calories to help you lose weight.

Changing your diet has a similar impact as there are other benefits to eating better, aside from creating a calorie deficit.

After changing their diet many people report having more energy, better skin, feeling less bloated and feeling less run down. Depending on the person there can also be further benefits from eliminating certain types of foods or at least limiting them.

Combining the Two

If you want to lose weight then combining regular exercise with a healthier diet is the best way to go.

Not only will you be able to burn much more calories, creating a greater calorie deficit, but you will also get the associated benefits that come with both.

One of the key things to consider when trying to lose weight is how your body will look after you have lost the weight, especially if you have a lot to lose.

When losing weight by diet alone, there is a far greater chance that you will lose fat, but also muscle tissue, which can be potentially dangerous and lead to an unflattering appearance.

Most people want a ‘toned’ or shapely look after losing weight, they don’t want to simply look the same, but at a smaller weight.

Much of this and how you actually look when losing weight is down to the exercise you do and often if you did any resistance training to actually build and retain muscle mass.

By combining both exercise and diet, you can ensure that your body looks better as you slim down. 


If you have to pick one, and only one, then diet is the winner. You simply can’t create the same type of calorie deficit from exercise alone, that you can through diet, unless you’re an elite level athlete with hours to spare, and it’s your job.

Simple swaps and smarter choices will see your calorie intake drop rapidly and will help you to create the deficit you need to lose weight but that doesn’t mean you should neglect exercise.

If you’re faced with a choice of missing a gym session or eating junk food, I would rather you miss the gym session and eat properly, but that shouldn’t be a regular routine.

By eating better to lose weight and exercising properly to change shape, you will get the full, overall package and by much happier with how you look as you reach your weight loss goals.

Your body will feel stronger, performer better and move with more ease and you will also be physically stronger to help you fight off potential injuries.

With the right type of training, you will have an athletic and toned look and be much happier with your results.

So while diet is more important for weight loss and helping you to shed some lbs, exercise will make sure you’re happy with what you see and that you actually look better as you change. 

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