We’ve heard the same old saying: “A calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” I take in calories, and I burn calories. This tells me that, by taking in fewer calories than I burn (consuming 1500 calories in a day while burning 2000), I’ll lose weight and gain health. Therefore, I can just eat less, skip exercise, and get the same results as those suckers in the gym!
Isn’t it great how conventional wisdom makes nutritional concepts sound so easy?
As it turns out, this conventional wisdom is somewhat true: you can decrease calories and lose weight while sitting at your desk. However, can we get better results when we use exercise and eat less? The research shows that we get better benefits from combining those two approaches, realizing benefits that extend beyond the scale number.
In a six-month research study conducted at LSU (source), 36 overweight volunteers were divided into three groups: calorie restriction, calorie restriction plus exercise, and the control group (no change at all). Both calorie-cutting groups lost 10 percent of their body weight during the study–not bad, right? This holds true with what Alex Hutchinson claims in his book Which Comes First: Cardio or Weights?: “The amount of weight you lose is a function of caloric deficit, whether you create the deficit through diet or exercise.” (Source, p189).
…But Does Exercise Help?
Here’s the important part, though. The participants who used diet and exercise together saw improvements with insulin sensitivity, LDL cholesterol, and diastolic blood pressure–contributing factors for heart disease and diabetes. Not only did they lose the same amount of weight as the diet-only group, but they also actually got healthier, too.
I can attest to these benefits. When I added exercise to my 100-lb weight loss journey, my blood pressure dropped, pre-diabetes symptoms vanished, and my energy soared. I continued losing weight, too; as it turns out, exercise simply gave an unexpected, very welcome bonus. I’ve been working out ever since.
I’m a big fan of doing what you can, when you can, as soon as you can. If you’re healthy enough to exercise at this point in your weight loss, then get after it. Group exercise classes work well for general aerobic fitness, while a personal trainer can help to fine-tune your weight loss approach.
Bear in mind that some health benefits of this approach will come later in your weight loss. Systolic blood pressure and HDL cholesterol may remain elevated early in your weight loss; these benefits come along as the pounds continue to fall off. Let this encourage you to keep going in your weight loss journey. I can tell you from personal experience: the long-term benefits of your health make this journey so worth it, you’ll never want to stop.