For anyone staring at a number they aren't happy with on their bathroom scale, the advice has been pretty consistent over the years: Eat less, move more.
But some experts are now saying that healthy eating habits are more important than squeezing in another workout.
The big reason behind this shift—as Indiana University School of Medicine professor Aaron E. Carrol explained in the New York Times yesterday—is that an increased focus on working out isn't making much difference in overall obesity rates. While levels of physical activity have increased among the general population since 2000, so too have rates of obesity.
The obvious takeaway here is that exercise, even when done regularly and vigorously, isn't enough on its own to maintain a healthy weight. Of course, no one expects to be able to live on a diet of fast food and sugary snacks and keep a svelte figure—at least not if they’re being realistic. But if these statistics send a message, it’s that perhaps we should be paying even more attention to what we eat than we already are.
Losing weight and keeping it off is more than a simple “calories in, calories out” formula. While it’s true that we need to ingest significantly fewer calories than we’re burning off in order to see a drop on the scale, killing yourself at the gym five out of seven days of the week likely won't make the impact that eating fewer calories will.
That’s not to say that exercise isn’t important for overall health. It's just more effective for weight maintenance than those actively trying to lose excess pounds. Sweating out at the gym is good for our cardiac health and physical strength, as well as for our mental and emotional well-being, but if you’re looking for the number on the scale to go down, you’re better off skipping dessert and making healthier eating choices by far. An hour of exercise a day might help ward off weight gain, but skipping a few cans of Coke and an after-lunch snack of chips and a candy bar will save you the same amount of calories you’d have burned at the gym, if not more.
Ultimately, a healthy diet and exercise go hand-in-hand. But when it comes to what’s more important when it comes to effectively losing weight, it seems pretty clear that what we eat trumps what we do every time.
Photo credit: arbyreed via Flickr