Why Weight Loss Is Not 80% Diet and 20% Fitness

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Ask 100 people for their number one weight-loss rule and you'll likely hear 100 different answers, but there's one answer that seems to pop up time and time again: Weight loss is 80 percent diet and 20 percent fitness. The reasons behind this widely accepted truth include the idea that we burn fewer calories than expected during a workout and that it's easy to eat the equivalent amount of calories we burn during a workout directly after said workout. On the other hand, with food choices, it is easier to directly cut your calories and have a higher degree of certainty that those cut calories will lead to weight loss.
 
Don't get me wrong, this calorie equation makes sense—your calories from food are incredibly important in losing weight. Switching to healthier food choices in your appropriate calorie range, especially, will lead you to making a sustainable healthy lifestyle change that eventually doesn't even feel like a diet. Those changes include learning that healthy foods really can taste better than bad-for-you foods when you find proteins, fruits, vegetables, spices and recipes you genuinely love.
 
But guess what? You aren’t a calorie equation. 
 
You have a life that gets messy and challenging with setbacks due to stresses and demands on your time. By "you," I of course mean "all of us," myself included." We're all in the same boat trying to reach our various goals.
 
I often see SparkPeople members talking about this topic in our community as a reason to put most of their focus on food, which is why I want to counter this "80/20" way of thinking.
 
The underlying program I used to reach my goals and eventually build SparkPeople integrates the best of health and fitness with the best of goal setting, motivation, leadership and behavioral psychology. This is called the SparkPeople Fuel for Improvement System. Thanks to the support of SparkPeople members, my book, "The Spark," which discusses this program, even became a New York Times Bestseller!
 
As I work to build a Small Goals Commitment Challenge based upon the fundamentals laid out in my book, one of the top concepts I'm focusing on is called Crisscross Effects. Put simply, all areas of life have an impact on other areas of life and once you come to this realization, you are more likely to use many different ways to reach your weight-loss goals or any other life goals you may set for yourself.  
  
The journey to weight loss is a road filled with pot holes, hills and ditches, making the ability to adapt and embrace a flexible mindset crucial if you want to find success. To further demonstrate the point that the 80-percent-diet-20-percent-fitness concept is not without its flaws, consider a few real-life situations that shed light on goals in the big picture of life as they relate to Crisscross Effects.
 

Life—and Weight Loss—Is More Complex Than 80/20
 

Drinking Water and Eating Vegetables
 
People who consistently exercise often report that they find it easier for them to drink water and eat vegetables, which makes sense since the body needs rehydration after losing water to sweat. When you drink more water, it becomes easier to give up consuming sugared drinks like soda. As you can see from this simple example, exercise can result in consuming more water and vegetables, and less soda, important nutrition results that would not have been as likely without your sweat session.

Emotional Eating
 
In our early days at SparkPeople, we learned that emotional eating was the top issue facing our members. The topic is mentioned nearly every day in the SparkPeople Community Feed when someone mentions working to recover from a round of emotional eating. In other words, what is going on in your head can be just as, if not more important as what goes in your mouth.
 
Here again, exercise comes into play, as it is physiologically proven to lower stress levels. Positive support and relationships, as well as other stress management and mindfulness techniques, can also help to lower stress. Because much of our emotional eating results from a tension and anxiety due to overbooked schedules, pressure at work, emotional situations with family or friends, or any number of stressful situations, the ability to lower stress levels through exercise or other means can reduce the odds of emotional eating getting in the way of your goals. I love boxer Mike Tyson’s quote that says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” When some type of stressor punches you in the face, you need ways to handle it in a way that doesn't lead you back to food.

Sleep
 
How do you feel when you are really tired? Are you more likely to eat the closest items available? Are you more likely to eat sugary foods to get a quick energy fix? Are you more likely to drink extra caffeine beyond the moderate amount that is generally okay to consume? Are you less likely to take the time to prepare or choose healthy foods? All of this shows the importance of quality sleep on your nutrition choices.

Goals and Core Values
 
In my Small Goals Commitment Challenge, the very first activity I ask participants to think about is why they want to be healthy and fit. When you connect what goes into your mouth to what is most important to you in life—and realize that good health and fitness will help you reach your most important goals in life—then you are more likely to make better food choices. Here again, you can see how your goals can positively influence your daily nutrition choices.

In a quote posted on my Small Goals Commitment Challenge, SparkPeople member MORAVIANSTAR perfectly illustrates my argument against the hard-and-fast "80/20" philosophy:

“It struck me this morning when thinking about all your posts related to this 'challenge' that, overall, the focus is going away from diet and becoming much broader. When I have tried to lose weight in the past, my entire focus has been on food, which leads me to obsess about food, which leads me to think about eating all the time, which leads to eating too much (even if it's healthy stuff), which leads to very little weight loss! This new focus has me thinking about coming up with a mantra I can use—maybe something like, 'Is this decision (about whatever) going to further my good health plan.' This new 'challenge' has me starting to think in different ways about this entire issue."
 
Do you see how the 80 percent diet and 20 percent fitness way of thinking can actually be dangerous? Each of these other areas of life—fitness, sleep, stress management—have their own amazing benefits, but they also have Crisscross Effects that directly help people make better food choices. So even if food is the primary way to lose weight, this is a vastly better way to increase your odds of making better food choices. This is the real world of what happens to people every day, not simply a scientific measurement of calories.
 
If you are interested in learning more about this, visit my challenge. As of this writing, I have published eight activities and lessons for the challenge with many more to come.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints

Comments

KHALIA2 5/26/2019
Great info! Thanks! Report
LESSOFMOORE 5/15/2019
Good information! Report
PLATINUM755 5/9/2019
Excellent share...and definitely something to think about - the body changes over time. Report
2DAWN4 5/8/2019
This was a great article! Report
DJ4HEALTH 5/1/2019
good info Report
ONLYME33 4/29/2019
I think this is doable for most: be aware about food not controlled. I think all people can exercise : sitting /lying lifting legs and eventually weights is great start-After injuries and surgeries I came back lifting a "Butter Knife-to a-Can of Tuna" working arms and legs. Exercise: It can be done. Report
BLUEJEAN99 4/27/2019
Thank you for writing this! I 100% agree. That 80/20 rule always stressed me out, and I never figured out why until I read this blog. Report
DRAGONFLY631 4/4/2019
Good info Report
KHALIA2 3/22/2019
Thank you for this great article! Report
SXB990 3/18/2019
Great article Report
KITTYHAWK1949 1/4/2019
thanks for article and for this website. Having read a lot of articles here, most of this is just a summary of what I've learned. everything we do is important and related. Report
KITT52 12/26/2018
very interesting Report
DEE107 10/29/2018
thanks for sharing Report
PRECIOUSKITTEN 9/23/2018
For some people, exercise can be more important. I already eat healthy most of the time. Low starch/sugar. High vegetables. If I vary from this, I gain weight.

If I eat less calories, my body shuts down. If I exercise more, my metabolism excellerates. If I exercise less, I feel less capable of choosing good food choices. If I exercise more, I feel better - the boost in mood, balancing hormones and metabolism means food works out better on all counts.

I disagree with the 80/20 rule for me. I get that it probably works for a lot of people. That doesn't mean it works for all people.
Report
JANETEMILY 9/22/2018
Have been a Spark member for several years. I track every day, trying to stay within a certain calorie range. I am also in the habit of walking and circuit training most days. The exercise means I'm in much better health, but unless I keep within my diet goals, I will re-gain. Nine weeks ago, broke my leg, and while the doctors and therapists have said my exercise history is a big part of my easy recovery, have not been able to do any cardio exercise. Still have lost eight pounds! Report
Do you see how the 80 percent diet and 20 percent fitness way of thinking can actually be dangerous?
NOPE. I really don't. And I think it's more like 90/10. We cannot exercise out of a bad diet and exercise stresses my body out.
Also, I get "enough" sleep, but deep sleep cannot be controlled and apparently that's what I'm missing. And yet, by controlling my diet/food intake and eating at certain times, I'm able to lose weight. Report
PMT530
Thanks for the information, it gave me a lot to think about Report
It is if you've been a gym rat for decades. And yes, I change up workouts....for me, it was ALL about diet. I can't out exercise a bad diet. That really helps me to BE mindful of the other issues of sleep, intake and emotional or boredom eating. Report
It is if you've been a gym rat for decades. And yes, I change up workouts....for me, it was ALL about diet. I can't out exercise a bad diet. Report
ROSSYFLOSSY
Great perspective! Report
Good article, thanks. Report
KHALIA2
Thank you! Report
thanks Report
Thank you. Report
My doctor told me that if I ate heathly, nonprocessed foods 80% of the time, and only ate not-necessarily the best 20% - then I would lose weight. That's what the 80-20 rule means to me. I think if you eat that day, you need to exercise that day. Report
Excellent article!!! In fact, I read it twice! I’m an extremely active person whom exercises 6 days per week. I DO tend to overeat on the concept of believing I have done the work so my body can handle it... wrong indeed! It’s all about being mindful and having the facts. Read the labels, know your balance and make smart choices. I will continue to educate myself & create a balance that works for me AND my body. Report
great information Report
the struggle is real and you have made that struggle bearable with positive feedback and info. Report
Great article on a very real struggle for ALL of us. Thank you for your insight ;) Report
GREAT Report
ESMERELDA12
Very practical and down to earth. Report
BONDMANUS2002
good info Report
This is well written and filled with great advice. Report
CLEMENTINA7
Good article. We can lose weight and be healthy or lose weight and be unhealthy. I agree the interaction between diet, exercise, mental health, sleep, and good nutrition are important. Dieting alone, we can lose muscle (the heart is a muscle). We can also lose weight by losing bone density. Who wants to lose that weight -- muscle and bone density. Not do we want to lose water weight, we'll become dehydrated and that brings its own health perils. The Crisscrossing fosters a good balanced plan to lose weight and be healthy. Thank you, Chris. Report
I know it's not all about weight loss. I know that when everything is not in balance in my life that weight loss is very difficult. You will tend to over eat more when you have emotions running wild and your not getting enough sleep. I do also agree that what you eat is more important then your exercise because you can do an hour of exercise and ruin it with your eating that follows after your exercise. Report
If it's about weightloss, then the not so hard and fast 80/20 works for me. Not so hard and fast because being medically challenged at 64, I can barely get my daily bmr above 1300 without more injury. So, when losing, I have no choice but to keep my intake closer to 1000 cals and when maintaining I can bump it up to 1200-1300 cals, depending on my bmr. So, it may not be 80/20, for some, but for me it is 100% tracking. Report
Great perspective! Report
Thanks for dispelling a demotivating myth! Report
SERICSON2
Always awesome content for weight loss. Report
"Crisscross Effect", yes, I so agree! Balance seems to really help me reach my goals. Report
If (s)he's an apple and you're an orange,
celebrate your differences -
make a great fruit salad.
Love isn't about being the same -
it's about being sweet with each other.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie Report
thanks Report
Thanks u inspire me Report
I do have to admit I just made this statement about the 80/20 last week. Although when I am eating better and conscientious about what I am putting in my mouth I lose more weight. I will say it's really such an individual journey how each person loses their weight. Report
I have always been told you "Can't out-train a bad diet". That has been ingrained in my mind for years but I am finally realizing exercise is what counts. It energizes me and lifts my mood which in turn encourages healthy eating. Great article! Report
KATTLEEN
Very motivational thank you Report
This is a good lesson. I am saving it to reread over and over. Report
LAURELR99
And what about the many many ppl. who cannot exercise AT ALL due to physical limitations or health restraints doctor's orders? Report