Is diet or exercise more important for weight loss? Anyone searching on the internet will inevitably come across the idea that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. But is this really true?

One can lose weight easily with diet alone, but a combination of diet and exercise is a healthier way to lose weight, and keep it off long term. While there is no need to hit the exact 80/20 rule to lose weight, it makes a lot of sense to shed more pounds more from changing the diet rather than training at the gym.

General Calorie Counts

The key to losing excess weight is to burn more calories than obtained from food. In order to lose one pound of body fat, a person needs to create around a 3500-calorie deficit (though this number has been disputed recently).

Very generally speaking, one pound might be shed from walking 35 miles, or from cutting back by 250 calories daily for two weeks. A combination of eating 250 fewer calories plus a 30 minute walk can help one lose one pound in a week. Consuming fewer calories can further speed up weight loss, but slashing the amount of food you consume to an unhealthy level can make your body hold onto that fat to survive — so it's important to still eat enough.

Close up of hand with salad in front holding a fork and phone showing calorie count app asiandelight / Getty Images


Results Vary

Not everyone burns the same calories from exercise or gains the same amount of weight from eating a certain number of calories. Several things influence these processes, including age, gender, and body weight and composition.

The type of workout or how that workout is performed also matters. When it comes to diet, not all calories are equal, and the metabolism varies from one person to another.

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The Benefits Of Diet

For those who are just starting the journey to health and wellness, the number one priority is to focus on nutrition. The goal is to cut back on unhealthy foods like sugary drinks and fast food and replace them with nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, legumes, lean meats, grains, nuts, and seeds.

The Mediterranean diet is a good example of a versatile, healthful diet that doesn't limit important foods like healthy fats. Research studies found this diet has a significant effect on weight and can be useful to lose excess weight.

Assortment of flexitarian mediterranean diet food on wooden table Aamulya / Getty Images


The Benefits Of Exercise

Regular exercise promotes healthy weight loss and maintaining weight loss long-term. Exercise speeds up the metabolism, increases lean body mass, thus helping burn calories faster. There is an after-burn effect, where a person continues to burn calories for many hours after finishing the workout.

Scientifically known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), the afterburn effect correlates with the intensity of the workout and varies a lot based on other factors as well.

Woman jogging outdoors Ivanko_Brnjakovic / Getty Images


Short and Long Term Goals

There is too much focus on losing weight and numerous programs that promise rapid loss of pounds. The key is to lose weight at a safe rate and maintain that healthy weight once you reach it. The biggest problem is that rapid weight loss is typically followed by rapid weight gain. Most health experts recommend gradual, steady weight loss, at a rate of no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week.

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Diet Vs Exercise For Muscle Building

Exercise is essential to get lean and strong — ultimately, to build muscles, but the importance of the diet in this process is often underestimated.

Nutrient deficiencies and dehydration have a negative impact on muscle function. Muscles need quality proteins during the growth and recovery time. Healthy fats and carbs, vitamins and minerals, and proper hydration all support muscle health.

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Diet And Exercise Plans

In addition to the Mediterranean eating style, other dietary methods can help promote weight loss. Low-carb diets are highly effective to eliminate excess weight. Research found that the ketogenic diet, which is a very low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat diet works, too, though evidence on its suitability long-term is contested.

Many exercises help eliminate excess pounds, including walking, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, aerobic, weight training, and playing sports. High-intensity interval training is a short, yet very effective, workout with a great after burn effect, though it's not suitable for most beginners.

Close up of hand writing on notebook and holding a measuring tape with dumbbell, apple, and smoothie on the side Martinina / Getty Images


Which Diet Or Exercise Is The Best For Weight Loss

Following a diet for a week, or a couple of trips to the gym, will not bring results. Consistency is key to see the real benefits of nutrition and training, whatever your final goal. Thus, it is more important to choose a healthy diet and fitness plan that is enjoyable, rather than one that is advertised as being the "best" at the local gym. Depending on the person, this might mean the same six, comprehensive exercises every time, for instance, or a rotating array of workouts.

Calendar showing different exercises with apple, dumbbell, and measuring tape JulNichols / Getty Images


Other Factors Involved

Nutrition and training are both important to manage weight, but there are other key players. Good quality sleep is vital, as sleep deprivation and sleeping badly are associated with stubborn weight gain. A stress management plan can further help, as stress promotes weight gain and inhibits the ability to lose weight.

Man sleeping in bed Tetra Images / Getty Images



Creating a caloric deficit is not always an easy task. It takes a few minutes to enjoy a candy bar, yet almost an hour to burn those calories from it. However, counting calories isn't right for everyone, and it is far from the only way to see healthy benefits.

If you have difficulty losing excess weight, consider working with a nutritionist or dietician to get a customized dietary plan. A personal trainer can help put together an exercise routine. Most people will notice the benefits of healthier choices (even something as simple as starting to make your own breakfast sandwiches instead of buying fast food ones) after just a few weeks of building a better habit.

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