If your goal is to lose weight – whether it’s for vanity, stamina and energy, or overall health – which is most effective: diet, or exercise?
A word of warning – I am not a fitness expert, a trained dietician, or a health professional. The answers below come from my personal experience, along with everything I’ve read about this topic, over more years than I care to confess. That makes me not an expert on what you should do, but pretty much an expert on what has worked for me.
My answer: Whatever gets you started. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a preference. I prefer exercise, for reasons I’ll elaborate below. But any action that constitutes a change, either in how much and how often we move, or in what we chose to eat and how much, is a starting point. We can’t reach our goals if we never start.
Most health experts do recommend a combination of healthy eating and appropriate amounts of exercise for overall body health – you knew that, right? Of course “Diet or Exercise?” was a trick question. My point is that anything that induces you to make a change can start to snowball and lead to even more and bigger changes, especially if you’ve chosen something you can do and will do to start with.
Choosing a starting place: It’s important to identify which starting place will be easier for you. If you can’t decide between diet and exercise, you could try making a list of what you like and don’t like about each option. Or, you could list several small changes of each type that you might make, and see which one has the most appeal. Or even which one is the least noxious, but let’s not go there just yet.
For me, it’s exercise. I love most of the activities I do for my workouts. I love being out-of-doors whenever possible. I love how I feel after I’ve completed an aerobic workout. And I love the fact that once you’ve completed a workout, you can’t really reverse it. Whatever benefit you’ve given your body can’t just be undone. With diet, if you’ve been “good” all day, you can still cancel out your accomplishment by eating.
If you begin with something you like, you’re more likely to make the effort to get started and keep going. And once you begin to experience success, you’ll be more motivated to take on something more as time progresses. Positive feedback is naturally reinforcing.
The three most important tips I’ve learned apply equally to beginning with exercise or beginning with diet. They are 1) start small; 2) choose something that appeals to you; and 3) find a buddy.
Tips for Starting with Exercise:
Start small: One of my favorite exercise DVD’s (Extreme Makeover, The Workout) starts with just standing up and swinging your arms. Doesn’t sound like much – but it’s a trick I use to get my routine started on mornings when I really don’t feel like making the effort. Arm swings constitute movement, and once I’m already moving, it’s easier to move on to the next element in the series.
This principle applies to whatever activity you choose. After my husband’s heart surgery, daily walking was imperative. The first day, we walked slowly for one minute away from the house and one minute back. The next day, double that, and so on, adding a minute each direction every day until we’d worked up to the recommended forty minutes. You can bet I benefitted from accompanying him every step of the way!
Choose something that appeals to you: We’ve always liked walking/hiking, but there are days too hot or cold or wet to walk. What else appeals to us? Dance: we now have X-Box 360 Kinect, and our dance repertoire ranges from The Beach Boys to Lady Gaga. What’s an activity you love? Something you enjoy or find exciting is more likely to pull you up out of your chair on a blah day and keep you going.
Find a Buddy: As you can tell, I have a built-in buddy: My husband, with whom I also write erotic romance. But it wasn’t always so. Some of my best memories of living in Chicago in my single days were before-work bike rides up the lake shore and back with two friends. Not every morning, but more mornings than not, and not all three of us all the time, but at least two of us. It was harder to skip a morning because I didn’t want to let my friends down. Exercise is more fun with company, and making a commitment to someone else increases the odds that we’ll keep at it.
Tips for Starting with Diet:
Start Small: There are a host of “eat this/not that” apps for smart phones built on this principle – in the grocery store or at a restaurant, you can quickly find a healthy substitute for almost anything you were reaching for. I personally found it easiest to start by adding something rather than subtracting: in reasonable amounts, fiber helps keep blood sugar levels stable and decreases the cravings that can be triggered by simple carbohydrates (sugars and refined flours, for example). I started by switching from applesauce to a fresh apple with my lunch. Next came relying on whole grain breads and crackers, and finally I added steamed green beans (I drizzle just a touch of olive oil and sprinkle rosemary on while they’re still hot) with lunch several times a week. I’ve found it far easier to avoid calorie-loaded snacks and desserts since beginning this way.
Choose something that appeals to you: The same smart phone apps work for this principle, too. Craving a steaming slice of apple pie a la mode (my favorite)? Core any apple, place two or three pecans in the center, set in a ramekin, drizzle the tiniest bit (1/4 tsp) of butter over it, sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 for an hour – and when it comes out of the oven, pour skim milk or soy milk over it. Keep your favorite fresh fruit on hand for that moment when you want to reach for a high calorie dessert. I was never a celery fan, but now I love the crunchy taste of celery with my favorite hummus flavors, roasted pine nut or roasted red pepper.
Find a Buddy: A diet buddy is a tad different from a workout buddy – I’m not sure anything can make eating healthy as much fun as some exercises can be. Getting and staying fit and sexy is very hard work. There’s great payoff, to be sure, but like any sports athlete, we need cheerleaders, coaches, mentors, trainers. Weight Watchers knows this. If you can’t find a friend or relative for a buddy, search on line for local or virtual groups and get to know them.
I hope these tips are helpful – and I’d love to hear from you what has worked for you. Have fun, and stay sexy!