Have you ever heard that weight loss is 80% what you eat and 20% working out? Well, this is either good news or bad news, depending on how much you enjoy that cardio machine of yours. Losing weight today can be hard, especially with so many diets floating around on the web. Keto? Vegan? Paleo? The list is endless - so which one is best for weight loss?
Some of these are even hard to commit to long-term, which means the weight will eventually come back the moment you decide to get off the diet. Beyond that, the cycle of going on and off diets is worse for you in the long term regarding weight gain. This phenomenon called “yo-yo dieting” (where you are constantly going on new diets and then getting off them), causes you to not only gain back the weight you lost - but also adds a few pounds on top of that. It’s kind of like your body’s way of storing energy so that it has excess energy to use the next time you go into what your body thinks of a diet as, “starvation mode.”
Therefore, it’s essential to avoid dieting altogether and instead make manageable dietary changes that you can stick to long-term (yes.. we’re talking years). Keep reading to find out why the gym won’t get you the kind of weight loss you’re hoping for, and what long-term diet is best for you to not only lose weight but continue keeping it off.
Why the Gym Won’t Get You Real Results
Most people seem to think that the gym is the best way to lose weight, but as I mentioned earlier - 80% of weight loss is through diet and 20% is through exercise. This means that an hour on the treadmill is not nearly as important as deciding to pass on that bowl of ice cream late at night. You simply can’t outrun your spoon. The reason for this is that it’s much faster to lose a pound of fat by eating healthier than it is by going to the gym.
For reference, a single pound of fat is 3500 calories. So for example - if you’re a female weighing ~160lb, it would take you almost 12 hours on the treadmill to burn a single pound. (This assumes you are fast-walking the entire time). Compare this with that 1,230-calorie Ben and Jerry’s pint of ice cream you ate last night. It would only take 3 nights of denying yourself that ice cream to burn a pound of fat. As you can see, you can spend roughly 12 days in the gym fast walking for an hour - or you can spend 3 nights deciding to eat something else for dessert that’s much healthier. Both will get you the same results.
Now.. this is assuming that the ice cream is the ONLY thing you decide to cut out. However, when you start cutting out other foods in your diet and replacing them with healthier, lower-calorie options, the comparison I mentioned between the gym and eating healthy further amplifies. You end up losing an even more substantial amount of weight the more you reign in your cravings. How about some more examples while we’re on the topic? Did you know you can cut the calories from chicken in half by switching from fried to grilled? Did you also know that you can save more than two and a half times the calories by switching from a Dr. Pepper to a lemonade?
These changes add up quickly, and before you know it - the weight just falls off. Now.. I don’t want this to come across as me hating on the gym (because God knows it has a whole host of health benefits in its own right). If you have time for both, do both. Although, I think if you can only prioritize one, prioritize eating healthy if you’re looking for weight loss. There are benefits to going to the gym that healthy eating won’t accomplish, but how you eat simply provides much quicker and longer-lasting results. I like to think of eating healthy as the best way to lose weight and the gym as the best way to put on muscle and get toned (if you’re lifting weights).
The Most Optimal Way To Lose Weight
If you didn’t know already, here’s a quick science lesson for you. The three fundamental macronutrients are Carbs, Fats, and Protein. Our body needs all three to function properly and so it’s important not to cut any of them out. Research has shown over and over again the importance of eating a variety of unprocessed whole foods. Think fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, etc... I like to think of this way of eating as, “eating from the garden.” If you can find it in nature, or if the individual ingredients that makeup what you’re eating can be found in nature - then it’s healthy.
These natural unprocessed whole foods are easily processed in the body so they can be used as energy more efficiently. This means less energy gets stored for later, or another way of putting it - less gets stored as body fat. Whenever your body stores energy for later, that essentially means that it gets converted to fat on your body. When your body needs the energy to accomplish a demanding task, and it has already used the energy from your previous meals - it will break down and use your stored fat.
Beyond “eating from the garden,” it is important to always eat a well-rounded macronutrient meal. This means including a carb, protein, and fat in each meal. This not only provides our bodies with well-rounded nutrition but doing so actually keeps us full much longer. This means we end up eating fewer calories in the day overall.
What Are Some Healthy Carb Ideas?
Examples of healthy carbs include quinoa, barley, brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread/crackers, 100% whole grain bread/crackers, sweet potatoes, potatoes and any and all fruits and vegetables. (Side note: if you’re at the grocery store looking at bread and it doesn’t say “100%” whole wheat, it’s likely a processed carb).
What Are Some Healthy Fat Ideas?
Examples of healthy fats to add to your meals include almond butter, peanut butter, olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, cheese (certain kinds), and nuts.
What Are Some Healthy Protein Ideas?
Healthy proteins include fish, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Vegan protein sources include beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa, and spinach. Any of these are great protein ideas to include in your meals.
What Foods Should I Limit or Cut Out?
It’s just as imperative to cut out foods as it is to add in healthy ones. Some foods that should be cut out or limited beyond any doubt are fried foods. Think French fries, tortilla chips, wings, fried chicken, fried cheese, etc... It’s also super important to cut back on added sugar intake. Added sugar can be found in soda, sweet tea, desserts, some juices, pastries, coffees, pasta sauce, pizza, and many more. It’s best to read the label and to try and keep “added sugar” intake to no more than 30g per day. This can be very difficult given how much sugar is added to everything, so think of it as a target rather than a hard and fast rule.
Salt is another thing that should be limited as well. With so many things today being processed, the addition of salt is necessary to keep things from going bad. Try to keep your “sodium” intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. Don’t be afraid to look up nutrition facts online.
In addition to these, it’s important to remember that when including carbs into your diet - a good place to start is making sure you’re eating whole grains. Try ordering your subs or burgers on 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain if available. If you’re getting pizza see if they have a cauliflower crust option instead.
Lastly, the “drunk” feeling that alcohol causes and everyone loves so much, comes from the fact that our bodies can’t process it correctly. Therefore, alcohol is best to be limited as calories can quickly turn to body fat. My advice: drink less and find healthier alternatives than that frozen margarita you get on Taco Tuesday. Weight loss favorites include Cranberry Vodka, or Vodka Soda (not to be confused with vodka tonic), Trulys, White Claws, and wine.
A Sample Meal for a Day
Here’s a quick meal plan for you that I challenge you to follow one of the days this week.
- Breakfast: Turkey bacon, 100% whole grain bagel with butter, and unsweetened greek yogurt with fresh honey (to sweeten it), and blueberries/strawberries mixed in.
- Lunch: Subway whole wheat sub with turkey, swiss cheese (or provolone or pepper-jack), tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, banana peppers (really any veggies you like), olive oil, vinegar, pepper, and oregano.
- Dinner: Baked chicken made with olive oil and any spices, grilled asparagus, and quinoa.
- Dessert: A few dark chocolate squares (70% Cocoa or more)
Losing weight can be hard, but it doesn’t need to be. The trick is to divert your attention from the gym to your plate. Include as many unprocessed whole foods into your diet and limit your intake of fried foods, salt, sugar, and alcohol. Remember, weight loss happens quicker and more effectively when you focus on what you’re eating than how fast you’re running on the treadmill. Ask yourself, when was the last time you regretted eating a healthy meal? You’ve got this!
Looking for more tips? Purchase my hour-long personalized weight-loss session: Total Transformation Weight Loss with Lauren.
About The Author
Lauren is a Certified Nutritionist having received her undergraduate degree in Public Health (covering topics like fitness, nutrition, supplements, environmental health, etc...) She has coached family, clients, and friends to lose over 20 lbs while still eating the foods they love with no cardio required. She has an array of knowledge in skincare, healthy aging, beauty, and environmental health. Browse other Wellness Expert sessions offered by Lauren on Well Me Right.