Weight Loss: It’s About Food, Not Exercise, Say 2 New Studies

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Are you frustrated that despite your strict exercise regimen you are not losing weight? Are you running 5 times a week and disappointed to see the pounds dropping off much more slowly than your calculations predict?

You may want to take comfort in 2 recently published studies that show that weight loss is more about calorie intake reduction that it is about calorie expenditure through exercise. Won’t that disappoint some mega food corps.

The first study compared the metabolism of hunter gatherers, the Hadza of Tanzania, with people living a more modern lifestyle. Turns out that despite covering 7 miles of walking a day, the energy expenditure of an average tribesman was not that different than that of a westerner! Energy expenditure is a synonym for metabolic rate, or calories burnt. According to the researchers:

human daily energy expenditure may be an evolved physiological trait largely independent of cultural differences.

Study number two refutes the common belief that the more we exercise and lose weight, the faster our metabolism. The truth is actually the opposite. The less we weigh, the less energy we require and the less energy we expend while resting.

One of the few studies ever to have scrupulously monitored exercise, food intake and metabolic rates found that volunteers’ basal metabolic rates dropped as they lost weight, even though they exercised every day. As a result, although they were burning up to 500 calories during an exercise session, their total daily caloric burn was lower than it would have been had their metabolism remained unchanged, and they lost less weight than had been expected. read more from the New York Times…

This means your personal weight loss calculations need to be dynamic and updated each time you lose a few pounds.

That said, you should not abandon exercise. Working out, even it won’t help you lose weight, is healthy for you heart, increases your muscle mass, helps with flexibility, and helps you to sleep better. Not to mention that it can be fun.

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  • http://twitter.com/KellyRunsOnCake Kelly Runs on Cake

    I’m definitely all about *both* diet and exercise, but I think diet is much easier to control. It’s way easier to not eat 500 calories of crap in the first place than try to burn it off on the treadmill.

    • DarkStar

      For some people, but not everyone. I know many people who have no problem exercising regularly but can’t resist stuffing their face with any junkfood that comes in arms reach.
      MY boss is a perfect example, it’s not unusual for him to put 40-60 miles on his bike on a nice weekend, but when it comes to diet he can’t/won’t control himself and regularly stuffs himself with high sugar and/or high fat foods.

  • carolynthomas

    Now they tell me …. These studies give couch potatoes a free pass! Now where’s that couch ? ? ?

  • Ken Leebow

    As the saying goes: Diet drives the weight loss and exercise maintains it.

    Ken Leebow

  • Mike Westereng

    And how many times do you hear people justify a high calorie item after exercise? You can blow a 4-5 mile walk with one muffin. That is 90 minute of work gone in no time.

  • raspberry ketones

    Diet and Exercise both are important for weight loss.

  • Deanne G

    Yes, that’s why I had a friend who lost over 200 pounds (in less than 2 years) by cutting her calorie intake and walking up to 2 miles a day. That was the only exercise she did until she hit the 200 pound loss mark and now she is doing Zumba plus walking to help tone up. It’s all about the diet and what you put in your body first.

  • http://www.visin.com Thomas Townsend

    To say this is a bit misleading is an understatement. What most of these reports don’t talk about is BODY COMPOSITION. That is where the exercise equation has the most merit. What controls your metabolism…or better yet what allows your body to burn more calories has more to do with how much Lean Body Mass (LBM) you carry. If you increase your LBM you burn more calories.

    • Doodle

      Not really. To a degree yes, but it really is simple math. Calories in minus calories out. Body composition makes a much smaller percentage of change than dietary changes can.

  • courtney

    I am so sick of all these new studies!!! I wish I knew better before I let myself gain all of this weight!!! I started a 1200 calorie a day diet(tracked food intake with journal) and minimal exercise and lost about 10 lbs a month for 3 months- after 30 lbs lost i stopped using my journal and just tried to watch what I ate, and started walking 3-7 mi everyday, I did that for about 5 months and didn’t lose any weight! I started going to the gym exercising 2 hours, lost no weight(may have gained some muscle) I started walking 6 mi everyday-lost a couple of lbs- then I lowered my calories a lot lost another 15 lbs-right now I walk 6 mi almost everyday and do other activities, eat low calorie breakfast and lunch and a lot less for dinner than I ever have, I have a couple of pieces of fruit for snack and only drink diet lemon tea or fresh lemon water- and I am lucky if I lose 1/2 lb a week! I will NEVER lose the amount of weight I need to unless I eat 1200 or less calories a day- which is SO much harder to me than walking for 2 hours and I don’t know why because I dont eat chips/candy,rarely eat fried foods (no fast food) I don’t eat red meat, I eat mostly grilled/baked seafood and chicken, egg white omelets-lowered my intake of fruit and eat a lot of green salad with vinegar-only eat whole wheat bread…I swear I feel like I can not eat anything anymore I am starving!!!!!

    • Lisa

      You’re starving because you need more fat in your diet. Stick to the grilled and baked seafood and chicken if you like, but those egg white omelets aren’t doing you any good. Neither is eating 1200 calories and exercising as much as you do, because you need fuel for that. First fuel your muscles with fat and protein and some good carbs (veggies, some fruit), then build ‘em up with exercise. You’re only tiring yourself out and confusing your body by trying to make it run on empty.

      • Doodle

        Okay, I am a little late to the conversation, but that is what I was going to say! A lot of people trying to eat healthy need MORE fat in their diets.

    • iluvfooducation

      Something that also will help with that is lessening the carbs you take in because that turns straight to sugar. Your body doesn’t need all the extra sugars in things like bread, and other random food that you would have never thought had a TON of sugar in it. Just make sure you read the ingredients of everything you buy. The lists can be preeetty tricky to read. I am trying to cut the sugar intake of my diet and it’s working beautiful. I’ve been addicted to sugar for almost my whole life and now finally I’m shedding the pounds I’ve been trying to lose for about 5 years. Well… hope everything works out! Take care of yourself! :)

      • DarkStar

        Yeah, I’ve been trying to eat better and loose some weight and in the first 8-10 weeks I lose about 33 lbs just by controling my portion size, adding more fruit to my diet and using the this site’s app to help me find healthier alternatives (I’ve got a long way to go, and I’d hit a rough patch lately, but it’s a start!)
        There have been many things that the app has pointed out that surprised me but none so much as how many breads had sugars added them.

    • KM

      I used to walk a lot, too, but didn’t realize I wasn’t getting my heart rate high enough to really burn a lot of calories. Another thing that may be an issue, is that as you get healthier and more fit, your body gets more efficient. It wants to conserve energy, so you have to kick up the intensity of workouts. Your workout routine shouldn’t be static unless you only want to maintain your current fitness level. Even then you should do something more challenging once in a while.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sitey Kevin Ng

    Also keep in mind that those who are less active are also those who are more likely to eat unhealthy (more often).

  • Lisa

    Now… i don’t want to scare you, but I just read a study saying that the earth is round.

  • http://twitter.com/nutexperts Nutrition Experts

    Great article but what about psychology? I think weight management is not two but three sided with food, exercise and motivation all being important. We so often debate food versus exercise is that really whats stopping us?

  • http://gigieatscelebrities.com/ GiGi Eats Celebrities

    I have always believed that the equation is 80% diet & 20% exercise (or 10% exercise & 10% genetics), which is why I eat an EXTREMELY clean diet… This is NOT to say that I do not work out. I work out 7 days a week for 2 hours, while I know this is an outrageous amount, it makes me feel phenomenal and gives me EXTREME energy every day! I am sure I could cut back, but it’s just part of my life, so I don’t need to! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_6gM3GLz4o

    • iluvfooducation

      YOU GO GIRL!

  • Robert Bodily

    Hmmm, this was an interesting article. It seems like new studies are always being published about new things to do to lose weight, but I agree with the fact that nutrition is probably the most important thing to focus on to lose weight. Exercise is obviously important as well. Thanks for the links to the studies. I enjoyed them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Philippe-Boucher/585203593 Philippe Boucher

    It looks like the science is with the all plant diet (vegetables and fruit). See the documentary “Forks over knives” and/or read “Prevent and reverse heart disease” by Caldwell Esselstyn… Pretty convincing…

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  • waynecollections

    Diet AND exercise are both important. BUT exercise really means nothing if you spoil your diet and meals day after day.

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  • Doodle

    I feel like we are preaching to the choir here, but it is science. Therefore, it is good to actually have a study to say it is so, rather than assume it is.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Felita Viruet Delikat

    My trainer always say abs is about diet not working out, if you do both well you will see results