Food vs Exercise: Which Is Better For Weight Loss? -PeakCodex
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Role of Exercise In Losing Weight

20th October 2019
Person standing on a scale

You’re motivated and ready to change everything about your diet and start exercising for the first time in years. However being caught up in the excitement of a lifestyle change makes people forget that doing too much too quickly doesn’t always result in success. It’s beneficial to slowly build a solid foundation, habits and routines you can actually stick to.

But how critical is the role of exercise in weight loss? We will explore how weight loss success mainly comes down to your diet. Even though exercising has a limited effect on weight loss, it is still important for improving overall mental and physical health.

Does it matter what you are eating?

Eating too many calories will in most cases cause weight gain even if you are consuming healthy foods. Excess calories are stored mostly as fat in the body. Equally you can lose weight eating an extremely unhealthy diet, as demonstrated by Mark Haub.

Mark Haub did an experiment to show that calories are the most important thing in losing weight. He ate mainly junk food such as twinkies, crisps and cookies for two months and managed to lose 27 pounds. He lost weight by being in a calorie deficit so that he used his body’s fat reserves for fuel.


Just because you are losing weight does not mean that you are eating healthy foods.

Breakfasts foods on a table

Count your calories

Counting calories allows individuals to track their food intake and make better choices. Studies have shown that consistently counting calories results in better weight management.

While being in a calorie deficit is enough to lose weight, replacing carbohydrates with protein and fat has reportedly resulted in greater weight loss. This is due to individuals feeling fuller for longer, which in turn results in eating less calories. Regardless of what the food is, it’s the amount of total calories consumed that matters.

Creating a calorie deficit by exercising

So we’ve determined that the secret to weight loss is to simply eat the correct amount of calories. If exercising burns calories does it mean exercising will increase weight loss?

One study demonstrated that exercising for 1h five times a week for 10 months caused significant weight loss. This amount of exercise is hard to consistently implement in everyday life. Other studies showed how exercise alone is ineffective and does not generally lead to weight loss. When exercise induced weight loss works, it is highly variable and dependent on the individual.

Studies have shown that individuals often overestimate how many calories they have burned while exercising while simultaneously underestimating the amount of calories they consume. This is a recipe for a disaster.

It is challenging to burn all the excess calories you are consuming by exercising. This is not surprising as it takes over an hour of moderately hard cycling to burn 500 calories. That is equivalent to 3-4 slices of pizza, a footlong Subway sandwich or half a packet of Doritos. People in general are not very good at estimating calories in foods and will perceive healthy food having less calories if they are next to unhealthy foods.

Therefore it’s hard to mitigate overeating by exercising alone, but not impossible. If you are hellbent on not changing your diet, you need to be exercising at least five times a week to burn at least 400-600 calories for a total of 10 months. However, you’ll need to make sure that you aren’t compensating for the calories lost by eating more. Any other amount of exercise was found to be insignificant without a diet change.

woman exercising with weights

Ever felt hungry after exercising?

Shockingly exercising also increases hunger levels causing individuals to eat any calories they burned while exercising, and sometimes more than they burned. Furthermore different forms of exercise has a different effect on hunger levels. Cardio exercise also caused overweight adolescent boys to feel more tired and move less overall. Weight lifting, however, showed the opposite result in men.

Be aware of not overeating after exercising.

Combination approach

While exercise alone isn’t enough for the average person to lose a significant amount of weight, when paired with a diet change it can lead to better results. A group that both exercised and monitored their diet had better results than the group who only focussed on a diet change. Interestingly this difference was only significant after 12-18 months. Therefore exercise can be beneficial, especially when it comes to maintaining goal weight.

Breakfasts foods on a table

Boost your quality of life with exercise

Regardless of the fact that exercising is not a magic weight loss drug it has other great health benefits. Change the way you think about exercise; stop relating it to your weight loss goal and instead start associating it with all the other benefits it will have on your life.

Shift your mindset to think of exercise as a secondary goal to:

  1. Help sleeping
  2. Increas strenght and fitness
  3. Reducing stress and relaxation
  4. Mental health
  5. A new hobby to meet new people
  6. Increase motivation

Fix one thing at a time

Essentially use diet to lose weight and exercise to get healthy. Diet and exercise go hand in hand, however, be realistic in your expectations. If you haven’t fixed your diet, there is very little benefit in spending 30 minutes doing a gym class. If you focus 80% of your energy on your diet and 20% on exercise you will see a greater weight loss results than if you only focussed 50% on your diet but 50% on exercise. However, make exercising a part of your routine in a way that is easy to achieve and not related to weight loss.


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