The truth about diet vs. exercise
The truth about diet vs. exercise
A dietitian weighs in.
Welcome to Hit Refresh. This month, we'll be bringing you articles created by experts that will help you live your best life in 2018. Today, leading dietitian and nutritionist Lyndi Cohen weighs in on where you should put your efforts, when it comes to a healthy diet and regular exercise.
You can lose weight and get healthier by improving your diet, even without adding in exercise. But while adding exercise alone may not shift as quickly, regular exercise may help you maintain your weight loss and feel leaner.
When you’re stressed, high levels of the stress-hormone cortisol increase, causing your body to store more fat around your stomach or abdomen. Luckily, exercise combats stress (and those pesky high cortisol levels) by releasing endorphins and helping you sleep better at night.
While exercise will make you hungrier, you’ll also start to crave lighter and healthier meals, helping you swap out those highly processed foods that also get stored as fat around the abdomen. Exercise will let you get away with eating more as your hunger increases, but if you eat far more than you burn, the weight won’t budge.
You can’t outrun an unhealthy diet
I was fat for years (categorically obese) and no matter how much discipline I mustered, I could never shift the weight. You bet I was exercising every day, sending myself to painful boot camps and doing long, grueling runs to compensate for what I’d eaten. But I couldn’t outrun my eating habits.
Years of restriction, counting calories and ‘trying to be good’ had turned me into a binge and emotional eater. I’d eat well all day but by night, my 'willpower' had faded and I couldn’t stop eating bread, cereal and peanut butter straight from the jar. As long as I overate, it didn’t matter how much I exercised, my relationship with food simply wasn’t healthy.
Choose slow progress over relapse
Luckily, I did heal my relationship with food and ended up losing 20kg – but it didn’t happen quickly, like any 12-week body challenge will have you believe. I lost the weight over four years.
To avoid regaining the weight, I chose slow progress instead of all-or-nothing strategies. I told myself “If you only lose five kilograms this year, but you never gain it back, then it is so worth it.” So instead of killing myself at the gym or restricting my calories (but succeeding at neither), I adopted softer, gentler habits one by one and retrained my brain and taste buds as I went.
In the end, I needed both exercise and healthy eating to get me to my goal.
Be stingy with your self control
According to research shared by the American Psychological Association, you only have a certain amount of self-control. If you use it all up on adopting too much, too soon, chances are your New Years motivation will burn out before February.
It’s tempting to want to overhaul your whole lifestyle in one go, but don’t go throwing around your self-control out like confetti. Be discerning and a little bit stingy.
Whether you add in more exercise or pick healthier eating habits (or both), only adopt a couple of key habits at a time. For example, aim to get 10,000 steps a day and snack on fresh fruit when sugar cravings hit. After a few weeks, once these habits feel automatic, easy and effortless, you have freed up your self-control for your next set of habits. Continue like this and you’ll lose the weight and feel healthier.
Make it enjoyable
Hate going to the gym? If you’re always hitting snooze and the sight of dumbbells makes you dry wretch before even starting your workout, give up that overpriced membership in exchange for exercise you actually enjoy.
Enjoyable exercise is possible. You don’t need to workout for hours either. There’s benefit to both short and intense burst workouts (HIIT) as well as long and slower-paced (like a bushwalk or swim).
Find eating salads boring? Boycott the tasteless options and add avocado, feta, nuts and seeds and a yummy dressing. Sure – by adding in more calories, you’ll lose weight at a slower pace but because you actually enjoy the food, you’ll keep munching on that salad and end up reaching your goal and get off the dieting rollercoaster for good.
Verdict: Exercise or diet?
Whether you’re adding in exercise or eating healthier, the key to weight loss and better health is consistency. Without a doubt, the easiest way to be consistent is to adopt enjoyable habits, not restriction.
So whatever you do, start smaller, make sure it’s fun and build from there.
Healthy Satay Broccolini® recipe by Jessica Sepel 0:48
This healthy satay Broccolini® by Jessica Sepel is our new favourite side.