Why Exercise Is Not the Biggest Factor in Weight Loss

Learn simple ways to ensure your lasting success with weight loss.

Learn simple ways to ensure your lasting success with weight loss.
Learn simple ways to ensure your lasting success with weight loss.

It's Summertime and you've finally peeled off the layers of clothes you were hiding under during the chillier months. We’re in the weight loss crunch time of the year. You received an invitation to your best friend’s poolside barbeque in a few weeks, so you decide to take your favorite bathing suit from last year out of the drawer and check to see how it fits.

As you put it on, you’re suddenly made aware of how much your stomach has grown since in the past year and you fear accidentally ripping your bathing suit if you had to bend down.


As a feeling of frustration starts to take over you, you come up with a genius plan to magically fit into your bathing suit once again. You’ll hit the weights after work every day for the next month, and you’ll be lean by party day, right?

Not exactly. Yes it’s true that exercise plays a significant factor in weight loss, but it’s not the biggest factor. The most crucial factor in weight loss is what you eat.  

Lasting Weight Loss Happens at a Slow and Steady Pace

Even though we’d like to lose those unwanted pounds at the speed of light, those who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off all have something in common: gradual and steady weight loss of about one half to two pounds per week.

Diet: Creating a Caloric Deficit

Unfortunately, no one can eat whatever they want and still lose weight. You have to create a caloric deficit in order to lose weight by taking in fewer calories than you burn.


This can happen either by choosing healthier foods lower in calories or by burning calories through physical activity. A combination of the two is optimal for successful weight loss, which comes from adopting a new and healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and an exercise routine. 

Let’s look at the mathematics behind weight loss.

 If you can create a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories, then you lose one pound of body weight.

If you reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories a day, which is roughly the caloric equivalent of a plain bagel and cream cheese, you would lose one pound a week.

If you reduce your caloric intake by 1000 calories a day, you would lose two pounds a week. Once you reach a healthy weight, you can keep the weight from coming back by eating well and doing moderate intensity physical activity for 60 to 90 minutes most days of the week.

Boosting Metabolism

Your genes, age, medicines and lifestyle habits can all affect your metabolism, and it’s important to find ways to boost your metabolism in order to help with weight loss. Eating healthy, smaller meals consistently throughout the day and constantly moving around are both lifestyle changes which help increase your metabolism. 

Genetics, Poor Diet, Low Physical Activity and Disease

Your weight affects your health and it’s important to make sure that you maintain a healthy weight and body mass index, often referred to simply as BMI.

 People who are overweight or obese are at a much higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, various cancers, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and osteoarthritis.

A family history of heart disease, cigarette smoking, lack of daily physical activity and a poor diet are also factors that can increase your risk these illnesses. Moving more and eating a healthy diet low in fat, saturated fat and sodium, and high in fiber are positive lifestyle changes that can lower your blood pressure and risk of diseases while improving overall health.

What to Eat for Weight Loss: Don't Deprive Yourself

A healthy diet is not about deprivation; it’s all about moderation and balance. The ridiculous idea of skipping meals in order to lose weight will backfire on you as it lowers your metabolism over time which is the last thing you want to do if you’re looking to lose weight. 

Skipping meals also makes you feel hungrier so when you do sit down for your next meal, you eat much more than you normally would have in the first place. This is why studies confirm that skipping breakfast is linked to gaining weight and obesity.

Make sure that the foods you eat on a daily basis are good for your health and will give you the nutritious calories that your body needs. Eat a variety of foods so your snacks and meals don’t bore your palette.

A healthy and balanced diet stays within your daily calorie needs and emphasizes:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fat free or low fat dairy products

It also includes:

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Nuts

A healthy and balanced diet is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.  You can still enjoy your favorite foods even if they aren’t on your healthy eating list—you just have to eat them less often so they make up a much smaller portion of your diet. 

A great way to satisfy comfort food cravings without destroying your diet is to use low calorie ingredients to make the comfort foods and to eat smaller portion sizes. You can also prepare your food differently by baking, grilling, steaming, or even lightly sautéing foods instead of frying them.

It’s pretty simple to create lower calorie versions of your favorite foods; you just have to get a little creative. 

Healthy Breakfast Tips in a Busy Life

If you’re always late to work in the morning, and you simply don’t have time to eat breakfast, plan ahead so that you have something healthy to take with you on the go. Pack a Ziploc bag of chopped fruits and nuts the night before and store it in the refrigerator. Grab it on your way out of the house in the morning and you’ll have a healthy breakfast on the go.

Another quick and easy breakfast is to put oatmeal and berries in a Tupperware container the night before and just add hot water in the morning. Take it with you on the go and eat it in the car.

If you plan ahead, you won’t have to miss a meal and throw a monkey wrench in your diet just because you’re running late. 

Don't Fall for Dangerous Diet Myths

There are so many misconceptions about what you can and cannot eat if you’re looking to lose weight. Diet myths steer people in the wrong direction and cause them to lose hope before they lose weight. 

Fad diets promise delusional results like losing 30 pounds in 30 days. However, fad diets can be very unhealthy and don’t usually provide your body with all the nutrients it needs. Losing more than three pounds a week for a period of time or eating less than 800 calories a day on a consistent basis can create gall bladder and heart problems. 

The No-Carbs Myth

Avoiding carbs is another myth that can cause serious health problems. Your body needs carbohydrates for fuel and for brain function, but it needs healthy carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all healthy carbohydrates that are good for your body and that you should be eating.

The process of refining a whole grain includes milling the grain and removing the bran and the germ, which removes the fiber, iron, and B vitamins from the whole grain. “Bad” carbs include refined grains like enriched bleached flours, processed foods, and sugars with very little to no significant nutrient value or fiber content. 

Not all breads, pastas, and rice are created equally so the concept of avoiding grains in order to lose weight is not correct. Eating foods high in fiber are wonderful for weight loss because the fiber helps you feel full, and a diet high in fiber can lower your risk of developing some chronic diseases. The best grains to eat for weight loss are 100 percent whole grains. 

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber and vitamins, minerals and nutrients in your diet. A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Choose fruits and vegetables of various vibrant colors such as red bell peppers and tomatoes, green lettuce and broccoli, orange and yellow sweet potatoes and squash, and blue and purple blackberries and blueberries. 

Replace Emotional Eating with Mindful Eating

Even though we know what is healthy and not so healthy for us when it comes to food, many of us constantly fall victim to emotional eating habits. This is a tough habit to break and leaves us feeling powerless, upset and hopeless after an episode of emotional eating even though we had initially hoped that the emotional eating would make us feel empowered, happy, and hopeful. Sometimes we’re simply looking for a distraction or a way to make us feel better about ourselves and we fall victim to unhealthy eating and overeating to fill a much bigger void.

Unfortunately, the emotional eating never fills the hole you hoped it would fill and you’re left with the extra calories creeping their way to your waistline. A great way to combat emotional eating is by practicing mindful eating.

Mindful eating means that you eat and chew slowly, notice the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food, eat without distractions like television or phones, and most importantly that you learn to cope with your guilt and anxiety associated with food

Here are some tips for mindful eating:

  1. Eat slowly. After you eat, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize that you’re full. If you reach for a second helping of your meal or a dessert immediately after finishing your meal, you simply haven’t given your brain the chance to realize whether or not you're full. Try to take a full 20 minutes to finish a normal sized meal and time eating with a kitchen timer or a clock. Don’t reach for a second serving until the 20 minutes has gone by.
  2.  Eat with your non-dominant hand. If you write with your right hand, try holding the fork in your left hand and vice versa. Another option is to eat with chopsticks. 
  3. Take small bites and chew your food very well. Digestion involves hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system, so chewing your food very well with no distractions around you will make for better digestion. Washing your meal down with a glass of plain water will also improve the digestive process. 
  4. Before you eat, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you’re just tired, thirsty, anxious, or feeling anything other than hunger instead. If you’re looking for an energy rush, a more suitable option than eating is to to go for a walk or do some type of physical activity. If you’re dehydrated or sleep-deprived, you may think you’re hungry when your body just wants water or rest. Try to drink half your body weight in ounces of pure water daily in order to ward off dehydration. If you are physically active, you should drink even more pure water. 
  5. Meditate at mealtime and throughout the day. Studies show that this can help people control their inner struggles with emotional eating. Try to meditate before and during mealtime and focus on something positive in order to put you in a healthy mindset before you start eating. 
  6. Watch your portion sizes. Eating excessive amounts of any food can make you gain weight if you exceed the amount of calories your body needs. A great tip is to measure out the serving sized beforehand when your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach.

    For example, measure one serving of almonds and put it into a Ziploc bag. Prepare a few of these bags ahead of time and you'll avoid eating unnecessarily large portions. It’s much easier to choose your portion sizes when you’re not hungry as opposed to when you’re dying for something to eat. 

Set Reasonable and Attainable Goals for Success

If you’re looking to lose weight fast to fit into your favorite bathing suit by summer, do yourself a favor and stop reaching for dangerous and unattainable goals on your road to weight loss. Instead, make small, attainable, safe, healthy, and realistic goals that you can successfully accomplish every day, such as eating healthier and moving more. If you set yourself up for failure, you will achieve it. On the flip side, if you set yourself up for success and you’re determined to achieve it, you will. 

Use these tips to give your weight loss plan a reality check.The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. Don’t concern yourself with how long the journey will be, just get it started and stay consistent by sticking to these tips to keep yourself healthy and to ensure your lasting success.


Healthy Weight Loss and Dieting Tips. Robinson L, Smith M.  HelpGuide.org, Apr 2016.  Web.  29 Apr 2016.

Improving Your Eating Habits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 May 2015.  Web.  29 Apr 2016.

 Losing Weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 May 2015.  Web.  29 Apr 2016.

Mindful Eating May Help with Weight Loss. Robb-Nicholson C.  Harvard Health Publications, 6 Jul 2011.  Web.  29 Apr 2016.

Weight-Loss and Nutrition Myths. NIH:  National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Oct 2014.  Web.  30 Apr 2016.

Your Health and Your Weight. Eatright.org Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 5 Feb 2014.  Web.  29 Apr 2016.

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