Diet vs Exercise: The Truth About Losing Weight

It is the time of year that dieting becomes popular. The gyms are packed because this is the time of year that everyone is going to get healthy. In the arena of diet vs exercise, how do they stack up against each other?

Diet vs Exercise

Are you part of the crowd that goes on the latest diet? Is January the only month you go into a gym? Well, maybe you don’t have to diet if you concentrate on making small changes.

Many times I hear people say if I eat this serving of dessert, I will have to exercise an extra hour to work off these additional calories.

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Thinking like this isn’t necessarily bad, but if it becomes a common thought process, it can put you in a dangerous place. Believing that you can exercise your way out of a bad diet is a very big misconception.

I look at losing weight as a 3 step process…eat less, move more and take steps to strengthen your mental health. It is important to understand just how big a part the mental health aspect plays in the overall health of your body.

As stated above, what you eat and how active you are is what will determine weight loss or weight gain.

You have to understand that you can exercise 2 hours each day, but if you eat more than what you exercise off plus the number of calories it takes to maintain your bodyweight you are still going to gain weight.

Unhealthy Doughnuts

The truth is, you cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet. Here is a list of exercises that burn 500 calories:

An hour of cycling at 13 to 14 miles per hour – riding a bike outside is not only good for your physical health, but your mindset benefits from being outside as well. Don’t have a bike or a good place to ride…head to the local gym.

Rock climbing with limited rests can burn 450 or more calories in an hour. Of course, rock climbing takes a specific setting, but there are many fitness facilities that have a climbing wall as part of their equipment.

Water workouts – An hour of water aerobics will get you around 280 calories. But you can step it up with added movement. Water jogging can get you over 500 calories at about 560 calories burned per hour.

As with other exercises the more vigorous the activity the higher the calories burned. Swimming laps for an hour (crawl stroke, butterfly stroke or even treading water) can get you to over 700 calories an hour.

Rowing is another activity that will have your burning 500 calories in an hour. It requires special equipment but is a great way to add variety to an aerobic workout.

couple running

Running at 6 miles per hour will burn about 557 calories. It is easy to increase that number by running faster (of course). If you are a walker, you will have to walk a 15 minute mile and have to walk 90 minutes to get to the 500 calorie mark.

These are just some of the more popular ways of burning calories that are used by people daily. There are several forms of physical activity that increase your heart rate and burn fat. You can see the amount of time and effort that goes into burning 500 calories.

There is nothing wrong with burning 500 calories each day. The benefits are endless, but the point here is that all the exercise in the world is no substitute for eating fewer calories when it comes to losing weight. You just cannot exercise your way out of a high-calorie diet.

Let’s take a look at some typical foods that we enjoy and see where they fall on the activity scale. All these foods are approximately 500 calories with the quantities listed.

1 c Ben and Jerrys chocolate cookie dough ice cream – 540 calories
A pc (1/12 of a cake) chocolate cake with frosting weighs in at 537 calories
1 pc of meat lasagna – 450 calories
2 slices of Papa John’s pepperoni pizza adds up to about 670 calories
2 pancakes with butter and syrup will give you over 500 calories


There is no particular reason I chose these five foods except to show how quickly and easily you can consume 500 calories. I am not saying you should avoid any of these foods.

The point is to be aware of what you are eating. You can indulge once in a while. But to tell yourself you can just exercise to make up for the calories is not a smart long-term plan of action.

As part of living balanced and healthy, there will be times that you will want to indulge in a food that is rich or sweet.

Life is too short not to indulge occasionally, but the secret is to make these indulgences a treat and not a common occurrence. I know people who will have their favorite indulgence once a week and truly enjoy it without guilt.

Before indulging in a high-calorie food (especially if it is over 500 calories), think about it in terms of minutes of exercise.

Eating a balanced diet regularly with an occasional indulgence should keep your weight in check.

Try this if things get out of control and unhealthy choices are starting to take over…Think of the foods you eat in terms of exercise.

Is that the 750 calorie dessert you are about to eat worth 2 hours of exercise? Weight Watchers (WW) teaches its members to bank calories. You eat 100 fewer calories (give or take) each day and at the end of the week indulge in something that may not be part of a healthy diet.

diet vs exercise

Final Thoughts – Diet vs Exercise

Exercise is an essential part of being healthy. It is essential for increased energy and strong muscles and bones. Exercise is a compliment to a healthy diet and not a replacement for eating healthy.

You are not going to be able to exercise your way out of a high-calorie diet and thinking it is possible can lead to weight gain.

Use exercise as a tool that promotes both physical and mental health. Avoid looking at it as a solution to offset fast food and high-calorie junk eating habits.

Creating a fit life is about learning to have your cake and eat it too through balance. One of the best ways to be able to “eat your cake” is just to have a smaller piece of it.

Exercise can help, but it cannot take away the result of bad habits. On the other hand, we want to enjoy our favorite foods and exercise can help us lessen the impact of high-calorie foods.

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