We Are Meant to Move: Why 'Dieting' Alone Doesn't Work

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Did you know that you can lose weight without doing any exercise?  I’m sure you have heard about the concept of calories in versus calories out.  According to this principle, all you need to do is decrease your daily calorie intake to less than what you are burning per day and you will lose weight.  Is this correct? Technically, yes.  This is the foundation for every single "diet."   However, if you want to lose weight, look better, get healthy and keep it up, you have got to use your body as it was intended and start moving!

If you are overweight, you probably are not moving enough.  There is an ongoing debate about whether diet or exercise is more important in weight loss and management.  There are studies that support the role of calorie restriction as being more important for weight loss and there are others that support the greater role of exercise in determining pounds lost.  

So, which one is more important?  In my opinion they are answer equally important!  At SparkPeople, we place an equal emphasis on diet and exercise.  (Diet is defined as the food and drink that you are consuming on a daily basis, and that's the definition we use at SparkPeople.) But, I suspect that even on SparkPeople, there are large numbers of people who are losing weight with calorie restriction alone or who, at the very least, do not emphasize exercise enough.  I am here to tell you that this is a recipe for failure.  It may seem harsh, but I’ve got to give you some tough love and let you know that diet without exercise will likely not work in the long run to keep off your lost pounds.   

What does moving mean? Understanding movement starts with defining what sedentary means.  What is a sedentary lifestyle? Technically a sedentary lifestyle is a medical term used to describe a type of lifestyle with no or irregular physical activity.  A sedentary lifestyle is probably better known as being a couch potato.  People who live sedentary lifestyles are likely to be stuck in a routine that involves starting the morning with a commute to a desk job then a commute home only to spend most of the evening watching TV or surfing on a computer.  The only thing that qualifies as activity is walking to and from the car and maybe the walking around the grocery store to pick up food. 

Why is a sedentary lifestyle bad for you? Well, for one thing it is predictive of weight gain as presented in the Surgeon General’s report of Physical Activity
What is the worst sedentary activity? The Nurses' Health Study demonstrated that prolonged television watching was the most predictive of weight gain of all sedentary activities.
The goal is to adopt a healthier lifestyle.  In order to have a healthier lifestyle, you must accept that both diet AND exercise for the rest of your life is necessary.  When I was nearly 300 pounds, the thought of consistently exercising seemed almost an unimaginable feat.  I had declared in the past that I hated exercise and I thought that I knew this about myself.  My attitude was not surprising. After all, I was horribly out of shape and had back and knee pain when I started my journey in 2007.  But, due to resources like SparkPeople, I knew that I needed to try out this "exercise thing."  I chose to use an elliptical machine as an introduction to cardiovascular fitness and I added weight training later.  I started with just 5 to 10 minutes a day and slowly worked up to where I am today.  So, I guess I can be called a reformed couch potato. 

Understanding all of the benefits of exercise is an extremely expansive topic, so, what I want to emphasize is the transition from a sedentary lifestyle to an active lifestyle.   Here are a few of my tips for making this transition smoother:
  1. Make time for exercise.  Many of you are going to say that you don’t have enough time to think about exercise.  Between working, taking care of children, cleaning the home, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else does it?  But, remember that you must put yourself first and you have to make the time to exercise.  You wouldn’t stop brushing your teeth because you didn’t have time, would you?  Most Americans can discover more time by just giving up or limiting television.  If you must watch then park an elliptical, treadmill, or exercise bike in front of it and turn a negative into a positive.  That’s what I did.  Record your favorite shows and make a deal with yourself that you will only watch when you exercise.   There are hundreds of different ways to start moving.  Just start!
  2. Do what works best for you and be ready to change if your workout schedule becomes too difficult to maintain.  When I first started my lifestyle change I got my exercise in at night before bed.  At that time my children were not sleeping through the night and by the time 5:30 a.m. rolled around I was too exhausted to even think about exercise.   This worked out for me for years, but as the kids got older they started to demand more time in the evenings so I switched to morning workouts.  I’ve been waking up on weekdays at 5:30 a.m. to do 45-60 minute cardio sessions for just about one year.  This is what works now, but I know that I can change if necessary. 
  3. Get support.  Support is critical when establishing an exercise habit.  Chores may need to be delegated and childcare arrangements may need to be made.  Sometimes there really are not enough hours in a day and the only way to find time is to find another way to take care of your obligations. Also, make sure your support is positive.  Your support should not be saying to you, "Are you going to the gym again?!" SparkPeople has amazing teams that can help you deal with just any situation! Join a team today!
  4. Don’t burn out.  Start slowly. You will have much more success if you start with shorter sessions (think 5-20 minute workouts) than if you try to go from couch potato to hourlong cardio sessions.  Distract yourself to get through your workouts if necessary.  Read while you are on the exercise bike, watch TV while walking on the treadmill, or watch your kids play while on the elliptical.  Keep it interesting but not overwhelming.  Do not exercise to the point of extreme discomfort and certainly do everything possible to avoid injury!
  5. Wear appropriate clothing.  If you are exercising at home you can get away with working out in an old T-shirt and ripped shorts.  But, if you plan to exercise in public, you may want to invest in proper attire for a couple of reasons.  First, you look like you are there for business and you will blend in with the crowd.  Also, athletic clothing designed for exercise manages sweat much better than an old T-shirt! Try it! You will be amazed at the difference!
  6. Find opportunities everywhere.  I know you’ve heard it before but every little bit does ads up. Sneak in exercise by taking the stairs, parking far away from the door, carrying your own groceries, cleaning the house, and standing instead of sitting.   These calories burned may not seem worth it, but over time they add up to pounds per year! 
  7. Be consistent.  Forming a habit requires consistency.  You need to establish your new habit and the only way to do it is through consistency.  SparkStreaks are a great tool to help you achieve consistency. 
  8. Accept activity for life.  When I was losing weight but still over 200 pounds, I had a conversation with someone who I thought was "naturally thin."  I wondered why in the world she was counting calories and exercising almost daily.  She told me that her mother taught her from a young age to eat nutritious foods, watch your portions, and make exercise a part of your life.  She also told me that she nips any scale creeps in the bud even though she had never been overweight.  That conversation was an "A-ha!" moment for me.  This is when I accepted and understood that most thin people are that way because they work for it.  Just as it is not magical for me to lose and maintain my weight it is not magical for the "naturally thin" as well.  
So, are you ready to stop minimizing the importance of getting off the couch?  Do you accept that most "naturally thin" people do some form of regular exercise?  Take the plunge and start today.  Only 5 -10 minutes a day are required to get your feet wet.  Keep doing it almost every day until you have formed a new habit. If you have not adopted an exercise plan, stop shortchanging yourself.  Look at the statistics.  Successful maintainers exercise.  This is a proven fact.  I know that you are not losing weight to gain it back, so start consistently exercising today! Keep sparking!

Did you start an exercise program before or after you started watching what you ate? Which of the two has more of an effect on your weight loss?
Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D., is happy to offer her expertise to the SparkPeople community; however, she cannot offer specific medical advice to dailySpark readers. Please do not share confidential medical information here. If you have a personal question or a concern about your health, please contact your health-care provider.