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Fat Loss: Diet vs. Exercise & Where To Start

Fat Loss: Diet vs Exercise

Would you be surprised if I told you I don’t believe in exercising for fat loss?

I also don’t believe you should simply diet to lose weight.

Between diet and exercise, which is more important?

Chisel & Rock

(No, it’s not just a horrible band name.)

Have you ever seen the statue of David? It isn’t by accident that it looks the way it does.

The statue obviously didn’t diet or exercise (or use any type of male enhancement), but it did take three elements to make it: chisel, rock, and a sculptor. And each element had its own role to play.

What does this have to do with diet and exercise?


Keep reading to find out.

Exercise Alone

If you want to lose weight and your first thought is “I need to start running,” you’re doing it wrong.

Same with weightlifting. It can boost your metabolism, and the added muscle can help burn fat. But if that’s all you do, you might just end up getting bigger and not losing fat, instead of slimming down and toning up.

So yes, exercise can burn fat. BUT, in the grand scheme of things, it plays a relatively small part in fat loss.

That’s a big “but.” And we’re talking about fat loss here, so big buts of any kind should get your attention.

Am I Full Of Crap?

What if you’ve had success with exercise before? Whenever you do it you lose weight.

Here are the facts:

  • If you run 10 miles a day, but eat more calories than you burn, you won’t lose fat.

  • If you don’t exercise at all, but eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight.

It’s a more complicated process than it sounds, but fundamentally, fat loss boils down to how much you eat.

If exercise helped you lose weight in the past, it’s probably because you also started eating a little better (even subconsciously). Either that or you temporarily burned more calories than you were consuming. But eventually your body adapts and fat loss becomes minimal, and/or short lived.

Knowing this might lead you to say diet is the most important element in reaching your fat loss goals.

However, if you stop there, you’re in danger of something I call…

The Diet Dilemma

Many people change their diets and lose 5, 10, 20+ pounds, only to be discouraged because it doesn’t feel like they imagined.

Either they don’t feel significantly different, or in better shape, or often times they just still feel… well, kinda flabby.

I’m not shaming anyone for looking a certain way. You should feel proud after reaching a goal like that!

But that’s the problem. A lot of people don’t feel proud.

So you double down your efforts and say, “I guess I need to lose more weight than I thought.” But it becomes increasingly more difficult, and you stop losing weight altogether.

Then you start eating even less, essentially starving yourself, but you’re still unhappy with your results. So you become even more discouraged, eventually giving up completely. Until one day you’ve gained all the weight back you had lost, plus a few pounds.

The ultimate cause of this problem? All you changed was your diet.

Diet and Exercise

If exercise is such a small factor in fat loss, and your goal is to lose fat, why workout?

Well if you diet without exercise, you can lose weight. And you’ll be healthi-ER. But that doesn’t mean you’re healthy. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’re in shape.

Add exercise and you will get in better shape, feel better, be fully healthy, and it’ll be easier to keep the weight off once you lose it.

But let’s say you don’t care about getting into better shape. Maybe you’re in decent shape already. You just want to look better naked. (There’s nothing wrong with that.) Would I still advise you to combine diet and exercise?


Think of your body as a sculpture. Right now your sculpture is bigger than you’d like.

Your diet is the chisel. It can hack away as much as you want.

Exercise is the sculptor— the artist making decisions about how the sculpture will look when it’s finished.

Your exercise program should be put together in a way that will predetermine the shape of your body to match your goals, or your vision. That way you aren’t just hacking away at fat, like a sculptor wouldn’t hack away at a rock, hoping it looks good when there’s nothing left to chip away.

Exercise is the catalyst to shaping yourself how you want, so you don’t lose all that weight and still not like how you look.

Where to Start

You get that you should diet AND exercise, and someday you will, but you want a practical place to start.

If you’re only going to do one thing, should you start with diet or exercise?

Here are some guidelines to help you make that decision.

What is your real goal?

  • If you want to lose fat mainly for your physical appearance:

Decide what look you’re going for.

If you prefer a skinny look and don’t care as much about being toned, start with diet. You can always tone up with exercise later.

If you’d rather have some curves (women) or some muscle mass (men), and don’t mind keeping a little bit of fat that you can always cut later, start with exercise.

  • If you want to lose fat mainly to improve your health:

Either option, diet or exercise, is fine. If you want someone to tell you what to do, I suggest exercise.

Lifting weights (assuming you are already healthy enough to do so) attacks a multitude of health issues you can notice immediately. Once you’re feeling more fit, use that as motivation to start working on your diet, too.

What will be easier for you?

This is the main thing to consider when deciding where to start.

If you like to cook and think it might be a fun challenge to try some healthier choices, start with your diet:

  • Cut out sugary drinks. 

  • Snack on something healthy, like strawberries instead of chips.

  • Replace a couple unhealthy meals throughout the week with easy, healthy, home-cooked meals.

  • Get your portions right. (See how to do that here.)

If you enjoy working out but haven’t gotten around to it in awhile, start with exercise:

  • Walk an extra 15-30 minutes every day.

  • Google “mobility exercises” and do 2 or 3 every day.

  • Do bodyweight exercises at home.

  • Join a gym and start lifting weights 3 times a week.

Diet and exercise are equally important both in fat loss, and for your health. But if you aren’t doing well with either, pick whatever you can handle and get to work.

Have questions? Send them my way.


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