Ever heard the one about abs being made in the kitchen? It’s a commonly held belief that diet plays a bigger role than exercise if you’re trying to lose weight. So would it be possible to lose weight through diet alone? Or does exercise play a more important role?
We spoke to Accredited Practising Dietitian Kate Gudorf, to get the skinny on how weight loss really works, and why there are benefits to exercise beyond just losing weight.
How does weight loss work - is it simply calories in minus calories out?
“At its most basic level, weight loss is an energy deficit. Which means that the calories we take in are less than the calories we burn throughout the day.
We burn calories in three different ways:
- The exercise that we do. That includes planned physical activity as well as the activities of daily life, like moving around, standing or walking.
- Our basal metabolic rate, which is the energy we use to fuel our body’s processes — so things like our heart beating, our lungs expanding and contracting, our brain using energy to think.
- The thermic effect of food, which is just a fancy term for metabolism. When we eat, our body uses energy to break down and metabolise the food.
So as long as we’re taking in less than we’re burning, in theory we will lose weight. But of course there are many other factors that can affect that balance."
In what ways is losing weight different for different people?
“This is where it really comes down to the individualised approach. For some people, they can just very easily alter the calories that they’re taking in, increase the calories that they burn and they go forward and they lose weight. But for other people, they might find that there could be a strong emotional component.
They might struggle with emotional eating, they might have certain triggers that cause them to overeat — for example they could have a very stressful day, and the way that they manage that is by turning to comfort foods. Or maybe people have a strong connection with sitting in front of a screen at night and eating, and eating more than what they need to consume.
For other people, they might just find that when they reduce the amount of calories they’re taking in, they feel it’s beginning to affect their quality of life. Because obviously food is connected to so much that we do, it’s connected culturally, it’s connected to our enjoyment and our social life, so for some people, that emotional connection with food can be really difficult to tame.”
READ MORE: Anxiety and overeating
How important is diet for losing weight?
“I’ve often heard people say that dieting is 80% of weight loss and exercise is 20%, and I think that’s a fairly accurate assessment. We know that we can really affect that energy balance through our energy intake, much more so than through energy output. To put that into perspective, a half-hour run might only burn 250 calories, but we might feel very, very spent afterwards. Whereas we can easily cut out one 300 calorie snack a day and not feel like we’re missing out.”