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Which is More Important? Eating Healthy or Exercising?

Can you exercise your way out of bad eating habits?


Which is more important, exercise or eating healthy?


Have you ever thought…"It's ok to have that doughnut…I had a great workout this morning!"?  Have you ever felt like you were working out like crazy, but just not seeing results?

That was us several years ago.

We went to the gym every day, but just weren't seeing any results.  Once we changed what we were eating, let's just say, that is when we started to see changes...and the results were astonishing!

In a perfect world, we would be able to eat right AND exercise every day.  However, none of us are perfect and we have to make choices every day about how we are going to nourish and exercise our bodies.  So, if we have to make choices, what is most important?

First, exercise (any exercise...just getting up and moving) is crucial because it:

It doesn't even have to be hitting the gym every day or running a marathon.  In the parts of the world where people live the longest without chronic disease, they don't think of exercise the way we think about it.  Instead, they integrate physical activity into their daily lives.  Walking is a huge part of their lives, along with yard work, housework, gardening and other consistent doses of physical activity they naturally get every day.

So, yes, it is good for all of us to exercise, but we would venture to say that healthy eating is even more important!  There, we said it!  Notice we didn't say "diet"…we said "healthy eating"…and we are not saying eating less, we are saying eating right!

To be VERY clear, we are NOT advocating skipping out on daily exercise!

Just as exercise provides significant health benefits, the benefits from eating healthfully are potentially even more powerful!  (We don't want to sound like a broken record here, but check out our many other coaching tips we have on the benefits of eating healthy!)



We can keep the concept super simple:

calories in, calories out (not too thin, not too stout)!  These need to be in balance!

Obviously, if someone is trying to lose weight, "calories in" need to be less than "calories out."  This is nothing new.  For most of us, however, we have to recognize it is probably easier to cut calories than burn more calories if we are trying to adjust our "calories in and calories out" balance.  For example, burning 300 calories requires running 3 miles (yes, a 5k)!  If we want to reduce our "calories in" by 300, we could simply not eat those two handfuls of potato chips or we could choose a great-tasting REAL food meal instead of a cheeseburger and fries for lunch.


What are the challenges to making healthy eating the highest priority?


  • Focusing on one healthy habit tends to result in less focus on another.  If we are worried about fitting exercise into our already busy schedule and getting to the gym every day, then the time we spend on healthy eating is likely to suffer.
  • Overestimating the number of calories burned during a workout (calories out).  Running 3 miles should burn at least 500 calories, right?  Unfortunately, that is typically not the case.  Of course, if we feel like we had a good workout, this can lead to more calories in…this is where the “I worked out today so I can treat myself” theory comes in!
  • Underestimating the number of calories we consume (calories in).  A handful of chips…150 calories!  Two handfuls…you guessed it…300 calories!  The Quesadilla Explosion Salad from Chili's...1,410 calories!  What?!  You would have to run a half marathon to burn this one off!  Add their Skillet Queso...1,430 calories!  (And that doesn't even include the chips!)  As we know, the calories in certain foods can add up much faster than we think!
  • Culture.  Think about shows like The Biggest Loser.  Have you ever noticed how much time is devoted to the high-intensity workout sessions vs. healthy eating?  This is just one example showing that exercise seems to trump healthy eating in many aspects of our society today.


What can we do?


  • Think about how much time and effort you put into healthy eating.  Have you conquered healthy eating or are you still trying to exercise your way out of not-so-good eating habits?  We know we say it all the time, but it really is all about planning!  Packing a lunch so you are not tempted to eat out.  Packing healthy snacks so you aren’t tempted to hit the vending machine or the concession stand when hunger strikes.  Plan for weeknight dinners so you are not stuck with fast food, take-out or a frozen pizza.
  • Take action and start with one change!  No matter where you are on your journey, everyone make at least one change!  Designate one weeknight as slow cooker night.  Replace your sugar-filled coffee with regular coffee (even just one day per week).  Designate a REAL food night, where dinner is made from only REAL (non-processed) ingredients -- Eat REAL America has lots of ideas!
  • Get help!  There are lots of resources and personal trainers to help with our exercise routines. If healthy eating is even more important, what about resources to help you eat right and support you with planning and preparing for those busy weeknight meals?  Eat REAL America can be that resource!


Of course, the most powerful results come from the combination of healthy eating and regular exercise!


But, what else should we consider?


  • Quality of calories matter!  Eating 2,000 calories of high calorie, nutrient-light foods does not have the same result as 2,000 calories of lower calorie, nutrient-rich foods.  Unfortunately, exercise cannot erase the negative effects of processed foods.
  • Cutting calories doesn’t have to mean eating less if you are eating the right foods!  Instead of those two handfuls of chips, how about a big bowl full of the Kicked-Up Kale Salad or the Sweet & Spicy Popcorn?  A great trade that will keep you full without adding calories!




The best news is that we don't have to pick one or the other!  Eating healthy and exercise really do go hand-in-hand.

What has your experience been with exercise and eating healthy?

Do you think you can have one without the other?



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