Are Diet and Exercise Necessary for Weight Loss?

By: Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN


Diet and exercise are two of the common strategies to reduce weight. In fact, they're truly the only two ways to lose weight for good. But for some reason, the research on this subject is apparently inconcluive. Meaning, whether a diet-plus-exercise intervention is more effective for weight loss than a diet-only intervention in the long-term has not been conclusively established.

However, a recent review of the literature, published in the journal Obesity Reviews (January 2009), has finally put this debate to rest. The objective of the study was to systemically review the effect of diet-plus-exercise interventions vs. diet-only interventions on both long-term and short-term weight loss. Eighteen studies were included in their review.

The researchers found that the pooled weight loss was 1.14 kg greater for the diet-plus-exercise group than the diet-only group. Even in studies lasting 2 years or longer, diet-plus-exercise interventions provided significantly greater weight loss than diet-only interventions.

This review concluded that a combined diet-plus-exercise program provides greater long-term weight loss than a diet-only program. Finally, some solid research to prove the most obvious of all weight loss recommendations.


Why Diet Plus Exercise Will ALWAYS Be More Effective

The problem with only “dieting” in order to lose weight is that it doesn’t prevent the loss of muscle. If you weigh 200 lbs and go on a diet and lose 50 lbs, that’s great! However, what type of weight have you lost? Have you sacrificed your muscle mass due to not exercising? Most likely YES!

What’s the point of losing weight if you waste away your muscle? After all, muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body, which means that it is responsible for burning calories. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. It’s that simple.

Therefore, a combination of healthy eating (while reducing calories consumed) and regular exercise that boosts your metabolism is necessary for weight loss.


Why Some People Regain the Weight

In the study (mentioned above) the researchers also noted that both diet-only and diet-plus-exercise programs can be associated with partial weight regain. Why does this occu? Well, in the former, weight regain may be due to people "falling off the wagon" and going back to the way they used to eat, leading to a subsequent regain in weight. After all, being on a diet implies that you'll have to be off of it at some point.

On the other hand, modest weight regain with diet-plus-exercise may be related to the change in body composition that occurs with exercise training. When you strengthen your muscles you inevitably increase your lean body mass, while reducing your body fat. Since muscle weighs more than fat, it follows that the more muscle you have, the heavier you might be. However, this is why you must look at your body composition, not so much your total body weight.

After all, the goal isn't to lose weight but to lose fat, right?


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Wu, T. et al. (2009). Long-term effectiveness of diet-plus-exercise interventions vs. diet-only interventions for weight loss: a meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews.


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