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Diet vs. Exercise: Which Deserves The Weight Loss Title?

19, August 2022

By Guest Writer, Amanda Nighbert, Registered Dietitian.

We’ve all been there: the 5:45am spin class, swathed in Lycra, pedaling and panting like the Demagorgon from Stranger Things is on our heels (and hoping our lungs don’t collapse). Such is the lot of contestants on weight loss journeys everywhere…or, at least, the lot of you who want to work off the pint of Chunky Monkey that you inhaled during a weak moment three nights ago. (#PageantPrepNeverSleeps)

Did you actually lose weight? Sure! But how long did it take before that weight started creeping back, in spite of those blasted spin classes? 

Here’s the thing. Killing yourself in the gym while combating slowing metabolism and other daily stressors just isn’t sustainable (and it’s not exactly fun, either). Something’s gotta give. You’ve got enough on your plate already. Besides, if the self-flagellation fitness were going to work, it probably would’ve already, right?

Take heart, fatigued body (and bum…because spin class). There IS hope!

Weight loss really can be as painless and easy as prioritizing real, whole foods - no calorie (or soul) crushing workouts required. 

Let’s take a closer look at how you can reach your body composition goals for competition season in the most effective way possible (which just so happens to be the easy, sustainable, and healthy way, too.)


Diet Dominates The Weight-Loss Division

Point blank? Diet is 80% of the weight-loss equation. That’s not always what we like or want to hear, because it puts a little more accountability on us than we’re comfortable with at times, but it’s the ugly truth. What you eat matters more than anything else, especially when it comes to fat loss.

Now, don’t misunderstand - exercise is still important for your health. Ditto stress management. You’ve only got one body, so it’s just as important to build it and care for it as it is to nourish it with healthy, whole foods.

That said, when we’re talking specifically about fat loss, diet is the key. Time and experience will prove again and again two things: all the spin classes in the world will never outwork a bad diet, but your body WILL change when you change what you’re putting in it.

“Okay,” you’re probably thinking. “I get it - diet wins. But why - and how?” 

1. It’s (a LOT) less work. 

Now for some bad news: that spin class? It *might* have burned 500 calories, if you’re lucky. Burning 500+ calories via exercise is no easy feat; It takes a lot of energy, sweat, and (if we’re honest) sometimes tears. And by nature, we human beings tend not to stick with things that aren’t easy for us. 

On the other hand, it only takes a simple “No” to turn down that 500-calorie bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Which one of those options is easier for your current bandwidth? 

We’re not telling you to totally ditch workouts though — integrating workouts in your weekly routine helps fastrack you to your weight loss goals. Especially when you pick the right type of workouts for weight loss — I recommend strength training over cardio, any day. (More on that in my next blog post.)

The key is to focus on workouts you can keep up with and commit to for the long haul — some days you’ll be able to go hard on that 40-minute HIIT workout, other days you’ll only have time to get 10K steps in. Progress, not perfection! 

2. Food = Fuel.

Crappy food will leave you feeling groggy, tired, hungry, and sluggish - like you’re trying to run up a hill through quicksand. Who really wants to hit the gym (or do anything) when they feel like that? (Not to mention, no one ever won a Pageant by looking like a worn-down shell of a human. Zombie Barbie = not a good look.)

Conversely, healthy, healing food will help you feel energized, motivated, and positive—the mindset you’ll need to show up to dominate your to-do list and weight loss goals for the long haul. 

3. Not all Calories are Created Equal

The old “calories in vs. calories out” strategy has gone the way of Netflix DVDs in your mailbox (yes, that was definitely a thing): failed and outdated. 

Calories only give us one side of the nutritional story; they don’t tell us the nutritional value of the food we’re eating. Case in point: what do a Big Mac and a grilled chicken salad in a bowl have in common? They both have 500 calories. One of them is a much healthier choice for our body, and therefore our body will respond very differently to each—even if the calories are identical. Why? Because macronutrients matter. If you want to learn more about how to manage your macros for healthier eating, read my free macro guide here. 

The way food affects our bodies matters: we’re talking blood sugar levels, insulin spikes, hormonal balances, digestion, and even mental health. All of those factors have huge effects on our weight and whether that food is quickly stored as fat or not. So next time you’re tempted to oversimplify nutrition down to hitting the elliptical to “cancel out” the Mountain Dew you drank, remember: it just doesn’t work that way.

4. Exercise Doesn’t Stop Obesity

Riddle me this: if exercise equates to weight loss, why did obesity among US adults rise between 2001 and 2009, while the percentage of people who worked out increased significantly during the same time? I know it’s getting redundant, but I’ll say it again for the skeptics in the back: exercise can improve your health, but it’s clearly not the primary player when it comes to weight and fat loss. 

Weight loss is a complex issue that needs to be addressed holistically, with diet and exercise hand-in-hand. Looking at it from any other angle will set you up for failure and frustration.


So, what does this mean for your health goals?

The first part to seeing a change in your body is shifting your mindset from vigorous exercising to healthy eating (Check.)

Practically, if you know that you only have time to prep healthy meals for the day OR hit the gym for half an hour, always focus on your meals first. 

In a stage of life when you’re not getting those workouts in as often as you’d like? In that case, your nutrition matters even more. But with a healthy diet, it’s still possible to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight when you’re:

  • Recovering from an injury

  • Managing a hectic schedule with very little free time (hello, Pageant Prep)

  • Traveling and can’t access a gym frequently

  • Pregnant and want to stay healthy, but heavy exercise is painful or exhausting

Always remember: healthy fuel FIRST! What you’re putting into your body matters more than what you’re putting your body through.


Need help getting started with eating clean? 

In my signature program LEAN, our main focus is nutrition for fat loss. You’ll learn how to enjoy the foods you love (and eat regularly), and then slowly work towards making the best food choices for your unique nutritional needs. Over 74K people have joined LEAN and have rave reviews to show for it. 

Break those treadmill chains and join LEAN today. You’ll see that weight loss can really be simple, easy, and (yes, I’m saying it) even enjoyable! Use Pageant Planet’s special code PAGEANT at checkout to get $10 off LEAN. 


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