Which is more important when trying to get a healthy, lean body - diet, or exercise?
Here's my honest, overall take on this - every time I hear the saying that being or looking fit is "80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise," I cringe.
- Is diet incredibly important to fat loss, weight loss, and/or a healthy body? Yes.
- Is exercise essential to fat loss, weight loss, and a healthy body? Yes, completely.
Both are absolutely necessary for a strong, healthy, fit body, so there's no reason to diminish the immensely important role of exercise in order to highlight the value of nutrition.
In our personal (but informed) opinions, the minimization of the value of workouts is an over-simplified, overly-dramatic response to the incorrect assumption that you can out-exercise a bad diet.
To minimize the importance of exercise in the equation is to completely ignore the fact that working out has the capacity to strengthen your heart and your immune system, increase bone density, combat diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, increase your lung capacity, and more. For these reasons, we think it's irresponsible to downplay the role of exercise in both weight loss and overall health.
There is a big difference between weight loss via diet, and weight loss via diet and exercise. Methods that incorporate both are significantly more healthy, and lead to a body that is capable and strong. Lose weight from diet alone and you'll find yourself less able, less healthy overall than if you incorporate exercise too.
It's true that it's much easier (and some would argue also more fun) to devour a significant number of calories that would be very difficult or maybe even possible to burn off through exercise. For example, let's take a hypothetical huge holiday "cheat" meal, where a person has consumed upwards of 7000 calories. How likely is it that they have the endurance or the time (or will) to burn off that many calories? This even rings true for much less dramatic, day-to-day examples; if you eat poorly and take in many more calories than you burn, weight gain is bound to happen.
Think about it this way—without exercise, a person would be forced to follow a lower calorie diet to maintain a certian weight. This is not particularly pleasant, reasonable, or healthy. Additionally, unless a person is being 100% on point with their food choices, it also lessens the likelihood that a person is easily able to get all of the vitamins and nutrients that they need.
For anyone who's still standing by the idea of diet being so much more important than exercise, remember that weight loss, bodyweight, and/or physical appearance is not the end-all sign of a healthy body.
Diet-dominate weight loss also puts the focus on deprivation from food, instead of the growth and increase in strength and endurance that comes with exercise. Exercise increases self efficacy and confidence, which in turn can increase the likelihood that a person makes smart food choices.
Regarding the "abs are made in the kitchen" saying, I still disagree. Abs are made through good nutrution and exercise; the fat that covers everyone's abs is burnt off via strength training, cardio, and maintaining a healthy diet that includes an appropriate caloric intake.
In closing, we definitely, 100% believe that diet is enormously important to fitness, weight loss, and health. However, we don't see why the value of exercise needs to be dragged through the mud to prove this point. Both are important; it's not one or the other and what percentage each counts towards your end goal is highly dependant on many factors. The bottom line is that both are important to weight loss, weight maintenance, and living a healthy, fit life.
So, don't discount one or the other—focus on overall health, which includes proper diet and exercise.