Is Exercise Greater Than Diet?

Is Exercise Greater Than Diet?

Exercise vs Diet

Exercise Only Attempt

In my keto journey I wrote about how my first attempt to try and lose weight was exercise based not diet based. As an accountant most of my days are spent behind a desk, a very sedentary career. So my first attempt to lose weight was to do exercise to offset the inactivity of my working days.

So at first I had success, losing weight at the peak of this exercise based approach. I had started at 115kg and at best lost 25kg but could never pass the 90kg barrier. It was difficult to maintain that weight loss without maintaining high levels of exercise. I was doing 1 hour P90X sessions 5-6 days a week which covered resistance and high intensity cardio exercises. It was hard to maintain those 1 hour sessions for 5-6 days of the week. Plus I was still eating whatever I wanted. So the combination of poor time management and poor diet caused my weight to yoyo up and down. Over time it was more up.

Even when I switched to body weight based exercise routines to better manage my time, it was the same story. I reduced it down to a 1 hour routine, 3 days a week with a rest day in between. Feeling stronger I was building muscle but my weight was still like a yoyo and couldn’t pass the 90kg barrier. At the time it was hard to pinpoint the reason because I was diligent with my workouts. Then in September 2017 I was back up to 99kg still trying to just do exercise to burn calories.

Why Exercise Alone is Not Enough

Recently I’ve watched a lot of videos by Dr Fung who is a specialist in nephrology, a kidney specialist. One video that I found very interesting was his lecture on ‘Therapeutic Fasting – Solving the Two-Compartment Problem’.

It was interesting because at the beginning he talks about the issue with the ‘Biggest Loser’ method of weight loss. Essentially he shared a study where people were placed on ‘Biggest Loser’ styled diet and exercise regimes. They exercised daily at high levels and reduced their calorie intake. Sure enough under this regime they lost weight but there was something else decreasing as well. The following graph from the video highlights that the participants metabolism decreased also:

Why is decreased metabolism an issue? As long as they maintained the high levels of exercise and low calorie diets they lost weight. However, when they stopped exercising and increased their calorie intake they quickly put back on the weight. The main reason for quickly putting on the weight was due to the lowered metabolism as a result of the shows intense regime. After the show finishes when exercise levels reduced it made it harder for the body’s lower metabolism to burn calories.  And if they returned to their old ways of eating, this would drive weight gain even more. So coupling extreme levels of exercise with low calories meals for a period of time may provide short term weight loss but in the long term this is a recipe for disaster, effectively decreasing a person’s metabolism.

This helped to explain why my ‘exercise only’ approach to weight loss was so up and down. I was exercising my guts out 5-6 days a week, reducing my meal portions and had some success. But when I struggled to find time to fit in the exercise routines or I went crazy with my eating, the weight came back on easily. Unfortunately I didn’t run any tests to confirm if my metabolism had slowed down during this process but my results seem to fit the description. The fact that I was busting my butt nearly everyday to lose or just maintain my weight became very frustrating. This frustration lead me to question if exercise alone was the right approach to weight loss. After all isn’t going to the gym the mainstream solution for weight loss?

So Is Exercise a Waste of Time?

I’ll answer this question later but my frustrations with the exercise grind lead me to look at diet options. As I had posted previously, my frustrations lead me to find keto which told me that a lot of the foods I ate were being converted to fat. Even though I cut down my portions, my carb and sugar loaded meals were throwing hurdles in my weight loss journey. Hours of intense exercise and possibly an impaired metabolism were unable to burn off the excess sugar and carbs. Once I started keto and intermittent fasting it became clear that correcting my diet and exercise regime made a massive difference.

Fixing up my diet

So I’ll answer the question now by saying that exercise is not a waste of time. Although you can do keto without exercise and still get results, I think exercise is important. As we get older we lose muscle mass, so strength training helps to build and maintain muscle to prevent this. Plus exercise improves a lot of body systems and overall well being. In fact, picking an exercise routine that you love and can maintain is beneficial. If that means your exercise routine is just walking the dog, tai chi, yoga, jogging, riding a bike it doesn’t matter, just as long as you love doing it.

Exercise montage
Exercise is beneficial, just do something you love!

My exercise routine isn’t as hectic as it use to be and I’ve become more focused on my diet. To sum up my outlook on the balance between exercise and diet I love this quote by Dr Fung:

Diet and exercise are not 50/50 partners like mac and cheese: Diet is Batman, exercise is Robin

I’ve learnt this the hard way but this quote is so true, and something to keep in mind when you plan out your approach to a healthy lifestyle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.