Why Diet Is More Effective Than Exercise For Weight Loss

According to conventional wisdom, the path to weight loss is fairly straight forward. You eat less, move more. If losing weight were that simple, we would not have the massive rates of obesity and chronic disease we see currently. We would not have children getting NAFLD (non alcoholic fatty liver disease). We would not have 9.4 percent of the adult population in the U.S having diabetes, with another 84.1 million having pre-diabetes.

Think for a moment on that. A large percentage of the population is is developing a disease that is not only completely preventable, but leads to death and extremely poor quality of life if not treated. Is this something our species has always had to deal with? We’ve just always struggled with weight and chronic disease? Absolutely not. A rise in completely foreign unnatural foods and a huge reduction in general movement has driven our health down as a species. An easy answer to those to variables would be to simply eat less and move more. After all, isn’t that the reason we are getting sick? To agree with that diagnosis would be a massive oversimplification to a problem that has a myriad of causes and issues. Our entire lives have been dramatically changed from what they were a century ago, and certainly over the last 10,000 years. Over this time we have become dependent on survival foods like grains to feed populations. We can trace with great accuracy the spread of disease with the spread of modern foods like refined flour, sugar, and processed foods across traditional cultures.

Weston A. Price followed traditional cultures and linked modern processed foods to poor dental health, diabetes, cancer, and many other chronic illness. It is important to notice what really caused the decline of these peoples. Traditional cultures around the world did not just decide to stop working out one day. Their gym memberships did not expire. Our species began to eat the foods of modernity. We began to eat foods that were high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, and low in actual nutrients. These foods are incredibly calorie dense and by nature easy to consume vast quantities of without feeling satiated. So with that preface, what’s more important for weight loss and overall health: the food we eat or the movements we make?

What We Eat Determines Our General Health

We are what we eat. You have undoubtedly heard this over and over. Well, it’s true. As I discussed in the beginning our food system has drastically changed in the last hundred years. Even looking back 10,000 years you would not recognize anything. Nothing would be in a box. Bread wouldn’t come with every meal. Grains would not be at the centerpiece of every gathering. This is because those are survival foods. Good in a pinch if there is not more nutrient dense foods like animals around and you are starving. We certainly did not evolve to make grains and vegetables the core of our diet. Look around at any culture in the entire world. Their ancestors might have eaten a few plants and seasonal fruits, but animal nutrition has always been the meat (pun intended) of what we are supposed to eat.

Contrast that with our modern diet today. Everything comes out of a box or bag prepared for us. Most convenience foods are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. These foods are by their very nature ADDICTING. We are evolved to want to overeat these foods, because they are a dense source of calories. In the blink of time in our ancestral history we have been eating these foods, our bodies think these foods should be eaten to excess in order to prepare for the “starvation” that will never come. Carbohydrates and sugars raise our blood sugar and accordingly trigger a release of the hormone insulin. Too much glucose in the blood is a toxin and must be removed, stored somewhere. The glucose is quickly removed from the bloodstream and stored as fat. We then have a crash in energy as our blood sugar goes from high too low. Do this too much over time and we become insulin resistant from our body having to pump out so much of the hormone to lower our blood sugar. This then leads to type-2 diabetes. Still think low-fat high-carb diets are the way to go?

Our bodies need fat, plain and simple. Fat acts as a precursor to every vital hormone in the body. Our sex hormones, our energy levels, our brain function, all controlled by fat. Fat from animals and quality plant sources like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil provides some of the densest nutrition we can get. It makes us satiated from our food. It actually improves our cholesterol. This is proven by piles of research.

  • A study analyzed the mediterranean diet (high fat, lowish carb), a low fat diet, and a low carbohydrate diet. Both the low carb and mediterranean diet beat out the low fat diet in weight loss by double. The low carbohydrate diet improved lipids (cholesterol) and blood glucose control the most.
  • A low carb diet significantly improved Hb1c and fasting glucose numbers in type 2 diabetics (some of the most overweight and sick in our population) compared to a high carb diet.
  • A low carb diet beats out all others in weight loss and favorable secondary outcomes

A diet rich in healthy fats and proteins is satiating. Protein provides materials for our body to grow and become stronger. If we limit processed carbohydrates and feed our bodies it’s preferred fuel, fat, we actually train the body to become fat adapted. We train the body to burn its own fat for fuel. When we are constantly shoving sugar and carbohydrates into our mouth we simply never give out body the chance to access it’s own stores of energy (fat). Check it out. I go into detail how to eat according to what your body needs over here. Get your nutrition together, and the weight will fall off effortlessly. This will involve zero starving yourself or calorie counting. Just eat real, nutrient dense foods and the body will do the rest.

Exercise Is Not Efficient For Weight Loss

I’m just going to come out and say it. Logging in more mies in the gym on the treadmill will not speed up or even help weight-loss in most situations. I say “most” because combined with a proper nutrition protocol, there is nothing wrong with running a few miles every now and then. The important thing to realize is that exercise should be an added bonus to a lifestyle that is already promoting good health. Our stress should be in check. Our sleep should be on point. Most of all, our nutrition takes precedence over getting to the gym.

A study from 2012 actually tested this statement. In the NEW study, post-menopausal, obese or overweight women were randomized to 1 of 3 groups to test for the efficacy of different techniques for weight loss. These groups were a diet intervention, an exercise intervention, and a diet plus exercise intervention. The group that had the least amount of weight loss was the exercise alone group. The group that had the most weight loss was the diet and exercise group. The important takeaway from this study is that the diet alone group lost a significant amount more weight than the exercise alone group.

You simply cannot out exercise a bad diet. The mindset of calories burned equals weight loss has only been reinforced by the advent of devices such as Fitbits. Being humans, we love to track numbers. It makes us feel as if we are accomplishing something and succeeding if we see the numbers go up. We get our 10,000 steps in, our 500 calories burned, and go “I did it! I’m losing weight”. If only it were that straightforward. Make no mistake about it, your body will make up those calories somewhere. Whether through conscious or unconscious eating, you will consume more calories. This is demonstrated through the concept of post-workout hypo caloric compensation. This is the bodies way of unconsciously refueling after expending a lot of energy. This is great if you are trying to bulk up and put on lean muscle mass, but trying to lose weight by burning more calories alone will never work in the long term.

Cardio for weight loss is a myth. This is demonstrated by not only science but by every “skinny fat” runner that puts in 10 miles a week and still cannot lose the weight. This is because when we run or do aerobic exercise for long periods of time we often get our heart heart above the aerobic zone. We get out of fat burning metabolism and into glucose metabolism, where zero fat on the body is burned and we simply burn the sugar stored in our bodies. This tanks our metabolism and starts a cycle of carbohydrate dependency. Our bodies crave carbohydrates, which raises blood sugar and insulin, starting the fat storage process. Cardio alone simply does not benefit us in weight loss. This goes for spin classes and similar group cardio classes.

Resistance Training

If you are going to exercise in a quest for weight loss, resistance training is where it’s at. Moving your body under a load of weight with barbell training or free weights (stay away from muscle isolation machines). Stimulating the muscular system. Moving those joints and tendons in sweeping, full body movements. Lifting weights not only keeps our heart rate in the anerobic fat burning zone, but strengthens our musculoskeletal system, balances our blood sugar, improves blood sugar, and puts on lean muscle. The more lean muscle mass you have, the better your health and longer you will live.

This study looked at 3 randomized groups in a search for the best exercise for weight loss. One did a combination of resistance training and cardio, and the other two did only cardio or only resistance training. The group that lost the most weight was the combination group. Resistance training alone beat by a long shot the cardio alone group. I personally like to do a combination of the two. My preferred cardio is sprinting once or twice a week, and lots of slow movement every single day in the form of walks and hikes. Sprinting gets us close to our max heart rate and is a hermetic stressor on our bodies. Anti-inflammatory hormones are released and metabolism is increased. The whole body is activated. Walking keeps the heart rate low in the fat burning zone and is helpful for staying lean. The real weight loss benefits come when you combine moving every day for at least a half an hour and 3-4 resistance training sessions a week. The difference between no resistance training and a little is a lot. I go into how to build muscle using this protocol over here

Nutrition Wins

It is fairly obvious that the answer to weight loss is not more exercise. We need to change what we are putting in our mouth first. We need to eat foods that actually satiate us. Foods that nourish our bodies. Foods that give our bodies the signal to stop when we are full. Eating animals and plants in place of processed foods and carbohydrates and you will lose weight. It’s as simple as that.

Thats it for this week! If you have any question please leave them down below. Don’t forget to sign up for your free copy of our short ebook , 3 Elements To Lifelong Health for a primer in living a healthy lifestyle. I’ll see you next week everyone.

Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA.  He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed  practices.  This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits.  Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!

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