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By Max Greenberg

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About this blog: The day my doctor "congratulated" me upon entering the obese category for my height was the day I decided not to wait for my first heart attack to change how I was conducting my life. That was over two years and 40 lbs ago when I ...  (More)

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Exercise vs. Diet: Which is more important for weight loss and good health?

Uploaded: Nov 19, 2013
You can see it every day at the YMCA: folks earnestly "working out", sweating to the oldies, all suited up in tight, occasionally sexy workout attire. Working that treadmill, those weights, that Zumba class. Trying to lose weight, get in shape. I admire their desire to make a change in their lives for the better. Especially just after New Year's. Ah, the New Year's resolution. Gym memberships have a big bump up in sales at that time. And the wait to get on some of the fitness machines can be lengthy (except at the JCC gym where there are miles of equipment with no sign up boards.) But the one thing that many folks don't seem to understand is that unless you change your relationship with food, all the exercise in the world won't make much of a dent. Now, that's not 100% true. I guess you could spend hours exercising each day and that would make some kind of a dent. (Actually, if you understand how the body and exercising works you can cut a typical 45 minutes of exercising down to about 20 minutes and see greater results – but let's leave that for a future discussion.)

There really is little benefit in doing crunches and abs when you've got 40 lbs of excess weight around your gut. People think that if they exercise they don't really have to change their food consumption, that it can take the place of making any serious changes to what they put inside their bodies. I propose that instead of exercising, you spend the next two months understanding and changing the way you use food in your life and follow a food plan that eliminates all the substances that masquerade as food (highly processed foods for example, high fructose corn syrup and related sweeteners – including sugar.) You would be well on your way to losing your weight and getting your body into a state where it could benefit from sensible and effective exercising. I am not advocating you not do any exercising during that period: walking, stretching, some pushups would be fine. But the focus first needs to be on food intake and understanding why you feel you need to eat so much, and why you feel you need to eat those foods that cause obesity, diabetes, cancer. BTW – I feel that while going for a walk (as I see many folks doing around town, especially after dinner) is a fine way to spend some time with a mate or a friend, in terms of exercise, there are numerous other ways to exercise that take far less time and produce far greater results.


Posted by Bob, a resident of another community,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

Congratulations on your successful weight loss and the great info. here! You are absolutely correct, you can NOT out-exercise an unhealthy diet. If you follow a workout with high-sugar or high-fat meals you won't lose weight and you will eventually join the 36% of Americans that are now clinically obese. It takes both exercise and a healthy diet. Unfortunately, statistics show most Americans refuse to do either. -MS in Health

Posted by Max Greenberg, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

Max Greenberg is a registered user.

Thanks for your comment Bob. I love the way you put that: "You can not OUT-EXERCISE an unhealthy diet." I'm definitely pro-exercise at every opportunity, but I do feel healthy eating habits come first.

Posted by both, a resident of Downtown North,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Both exercise and diet are very important to your long term health. Focusing on one but not the other is foolish.

Posted by midtown resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm

If "you are what you eat", I'm dead meat..

Posted by Max Greenberg, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Max Greenberg is a registered user.

To "Both", a resident of Downtown North: I agree that focusing on only one is foolish, but if you had to choose one, choose the food. You'll see quicker results and make it more likely you'll want to soon start exercising along with it. Starting with exercising leads to frustration and quitting when the food remains the same.

Posted by Senior Jock, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:42 am

Food is a drug that we take many times a day. I have completely turned my state of health around by only eating real food. Yes, I work out too, and that is a definite quality-of-life plus, but avoiding the corporate junk is key.

About 2 years ago, my food choices evolved to the point that a friend recently noted that I'm doing the "paleo" diet. So I read up on the ideas behind it and realized that I've definitely gone in that direction. I'm avoiding grains entirely and am much the better for it. Dinners usually consist of a protein, a cooked vegetable, and a raw vegetable. I fill up quickly.

I'm at my lowest weight as an adult, and am not counting calories or really doing much besides eating clean. I recommend anyone dealing with cardiac issues, auto-immune disorders, GI upsets and high cholesterol to just clean things up and cut out the sugar. Try it for a month and see how you feel.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Both diet and exercise are important. I also think that working your abs is beneficial for anyone, regardless of how heavy they are. Strengthening your core can protect against back problems, and heavy people with protruding guts need that more than anyone else.

Posted by hmmm...., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Move and you will live. Studies show that even if you don't get rid of your obesity or diabetes, if you exercise, you live longer.

That said, diet is just important to health, too.

Weight loss? It depends on if you are dealing with diabetes or just fat.

Posted by Wife of M.D. , a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Y'all can't say "both"! The headlines states you must choose. It's easily diet. You can exercise all you want, but if you are eating too many calories, the fat will stay. A medium pace on the treadmill only burns 100 calories. How can you treadmill an hour and then slam down a milkshake or burger and think you can lose weight?

Posted by Luke, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 29, 2013 at 6:55 am

Obesity is not always the result of overeating.I had some hormonal problems which made me fat.I had to undergo surgical weight loss program to reduce my weight.Before the surgery at Credit Valley Clinic at Ontario,it was even difficult for me to sit in my car (due to which I left driving).I did not achieve 100% weight loss .But now the confidence came back to me that i can be myself again through a strict diet and exercise!

Posted by stevegrant, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 29, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I was doing exercise but not get best result but after read this psot i must try to take diet.
Web Link

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 30, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Thanks for your comment Luke. Glad to hear that you were able to find out what caused your weight gain and could do something about it. There's nothing like gaining back the confidence and having a vision of what you can be and work towards. I found that when I take it one day at a time, my food plan and exercise program shows results which encourages me to want to get up and do it again, day after day. It becomes a welcome habit. Best of luck to you.

Posted by Rowing machine canada @ fitnessequipment, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 24, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Nice Post
I think exercise is better than diet.
Web Link

Posted by Evan , a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 5, 2014 at 10:30 am

Excellent written article…the only way to lose body fat is by focusing mainly on your diet…Too many people focus only on exercising and wonder why they can\'t lose any weight…Eat clean to stay lean and you will see results!

Web Link

Posted by exercise, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Feb 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Looks like I disagree with just about everyone. Don't get me wrong, diet is important and I'm slowly making positive changes to my diet. But in my life, exercise has been far more important. I've stayed fit and trim by exercising hard on a regular basis (and for the most part not worrying too much about my diet other than having a fairly balanced one, but I definitely have a sweet tooth). It seems that a lot of you, not all, have the wrong idea about calories. Calories aren't the enemy, but the types of calories you eat. Also, fats aren't the enemy, but the TYPES of fat (some fats are vital and important to your diet). Natural sugar also has its benefits as long as you can keep it under 30 or so grams per day.

Also, a lot of you are forgetting that your metabolism is burning off calories all day, not just when you work out. You can eat more calories than you will burn off in one workout, because your body will continue to burn calories all day (just at a slower pace than during exercise). And exercise plays a key role in the speed of your metabolism. By not working out, you will not maximize your metabolism. Working out will increase the speed of your metabolism even after you are done working out. And without exercise, you may lose weight with diet, but you won't get CLOSE to firming up your body and muscles.

I may let my diet slide from time to time, but not my exercise because that's what keeps my body looking in shape.

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 17, 2014 at 8:32 pm

Thank you for your comments Exercise from Charleston Meadows. I actually agree with most of what you are saying. I am a huge fan of frequent, effective exercising. When I changed my relationship with food and lost 40 lbs in 3 months, I know I couldn\'t have done it nearly as fast if I hadn\'t made a commitment to exercise.But I know that I couldn\'t have sustained this weight loss for the three years I already have without dealing with the food addiction. I also know if I hadn\'t made those changes to my relationship with food, all the exercise in the world wouldn\'t have made that much difference in my life. This blog post was directed at those compulsive eaters like myself who use food to deal with the challenges life brings every day.

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