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Is Diet More Important Than Exercise For Maintaining Weight Loss? New Study Weighs In

Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy
April 1, 2019

When it comes to losing weight, a large emphasis has been put on cleaning up our diets. And it makes sense! What we eat has become inextricably linked to whether or not we're able to drop unwanted pounds—bringing diets like keto, Whole30. and even veganism into the spotlight for their weight-shedding properties (and other health benefits as well).

Many of us have also heard the saying "you can't out-exercise an unhealthy diet" over and over again, and as a result, we've shifted our focus from fitness to food. But is this really the best way to lose weight and keep it off? According to the latest research, it might not be.

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A new study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center found that exercise was more effective than diet for people trying to maintain their weight loss. Specifically, the study showed that "successful weight-loss maintainers rely on physical activity to remain in energy balance (rather than chronic restriction of dietary intake) to avoid weight regain."

In other words, the study showed that successful weight-loss maintainers (defined in the study as individuals who maintain a reduced body weight of 30 pounds or more for over a year) ate a similar amount of calories per day as overweight individuals but avoided weight regain by adding on high levels of physical activity.

"This study addresses the difficult question of why so many people struggle to keep weight off over a long period," says Danielle Ostendorf, a postdoctoral fellow at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. "By providing evidence that a group of successful weight-loss maintainers engaged in high levels of physical activity to prevent weight regain—rather than chronically restricting their energy intake—is a step forward to clarifying the relationship between exercise and weight-loss maintenance."

While this study isn't a free pass for us to eat whatever we want, it is another reason to move our bodies more and worry about calories less. These findings underscore the value of exercise in helping us achieve weight-related goals—and besides, the mental and physical benefits of exercising are reason enough to keep our bodies moving.

Looking for workout inspo? Try these five easy exercises you can do anywhere, or this five minute warm-up for injury prevention.

Want to turn your passion for wellbeing into a fulfilling career? Become a Certified Health Coach! Learn more here.
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Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor

Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction. A runner, yogi, boxer, and cycling devotee, Bass searches for the hardest workouts in New York (and the best ways to recover from them). She's debunked myths about protein, posture, and the plant-based diet, and has covered everything from the best yoga poses for chronic pain to the future of fitness, recovery, and America's obsession with the Whole30 diet.