Diet or Exercise: Which is more effective for weight maintenance?
Katie Hampel
Contemporary Issues in Nutrition
June 21, 2014

It is agreed by many health specialists that the formula for weight loss can be simplified into dieting and exercising. Both factors are important when it comes to weight management, but which is the most effective? There are hundred of “fad diets” and “workout programs for success”, so it becomes easy for people to assume that one factor over the other may be more effective based on the advertisements they see, but it is important to become educated on both factors in full before coming to the final conclusion. People try to manage their weight in order to live more healthy, fulfilling, and longer lives, and to develop the habits that they need to keep in order to accomplish these goals.

Factor One: Dieting
Meal Frequency
The frequency in our consumption of meals and snacks throughout the day is a huge factor in determining how successful we will be in managing our weight. By spreading out your caloric intake over the day, you’ll prevent food cravings and keep your metabolic rate and blood sugar normal (1). In addition, it is important to limit the amount of times you consume meals or snacks to be five or six times per day (3). It is aslo very important to eat a good breakfast in the morning. Eating balanced meals at each designated meal time can be a huge factor when it comes to success in weight management. It is also important to stick to these meal times when eating, because not doing so may easily hurt your weight. Specifically, it is important to avoid eating meals late at night. Consuming a lot of calories later at night can make it very difficult for the body to burn the calories and it is very difficult to compensate for the excess calories that you are consuming from eating late at night (1).

Portion Control
Many people who struggle from dietary problems face issues when it comes to controlling the size of the portions they consume. Controlling the size of your portions can help in reducing the energy load that comes with consuming so many calories. Current marketplace servings are exceeding the correct serving size by at least two fold, so it is important to monitor these sizes (3). This problem can be fixed by premeasuring out sizes of the foods that are being consumed so that they measure up to what is accurate and healthy. Your kitchen could be full of accurately portioned foods that are ready to be eaten to ensure that you are eating well (2). Planning for these meals can be the best way to ensure that you don’t binge eat and that you are consuming the proper amounts. In addition, it is important to balance the portions in your meals, because if you consume small meals throughout the day, you may be convinced to binge on a larger, less healthy option for your final meal, and that can cause troubles with the way your body digests each meal, and it may cause health risks like cardiac problems (2).

Factor Two: Exercise
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Exercise Basics for Weight Management
As mentioned before, exercise and a healthy diet are crucial for weight management. Weight loss can be sped up if a regular exercise pattern is established, because you can burn off many more calories than those involved in simply eating less. More than 66% of the United States population is obese, meaning grossly overweight, (5) and exercise is something that can quickly fix this. To manage your weight, you should exercise for 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes, 5 times per week. In order to lose a larger amount of weight, you should exercise more than 150 minutes of more intense workouts as well (5). Exercise helps because it burns the calories that can’t be gone from simply a healthier diet. It has added benefits, such as putting you in a better mood, strengthening your cardio vascular system, and lowering your blood pressure to a healthier level (4). Realistic and simple goals are the most effective way to have a successful exercise experience, such as taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator, or decreasing the amount of weight you want to lose for specific time periods. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) surveyed 1,000 personal trainers about the best ways to get fit, and the top three results were strength training, interval training, and cardio and aerobic exercise (6). It is important to incorporate a variety of exercises into your routines, so that all parts of your body are being worked.

Challenges of Exercise

In order to manage your weight, it is important to get about 150 minutes of exercise into your week, but to see more results of weight loss, about 250 minutes of exercise can be needed. It can be challenging for people with busy schedules to fit that much time into their week to dedicate to exercise. It can be difficult for adults to lose even one or two pounds per week due to the 1,000 calorie deficit that needs to be earned each day of the week. Because this form of weight loss does require a bit more work than simply cutting calories out of your diet, the impact it may have tends to be modest in many cases (3). The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommended that 60-90 minutes most days of the week should be dedicated to exercising (3) so it can be difficult to understand what is the most efficient way of exercising to manage your weight. The influence that physical activity has on weight loss depends on each individual’s ability to get the adequate levels of exercise so that the energy lost in their exercise is greater than the energy that they consume in their meals that day (3).

Final Points and Conclusion
It is important to remember that once you lose weight, you need to continue to manage your weight after by continuing the habits that you have developed to get you to that point. Exercise and physical activities are crucial when it comes to preventing weight gain after some is already lost. The National Weight Control Registry, which is composed of over 3,000 individuals who have lost at least thirty pounds and kept it off for at least a year, reported that 90% of its members found it crucial to have constant exercise in order to manage their weight loss (3). Consistency is the key to being successful with this combination of factors. One may be more beneficial for you than the other, but the combination of both is what will put you over the edge, whether you are trying to lose weight or manage the weight that you have.

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Although both factors are very important when it comes to weight management, there is a conclusion that one is more universally applicable to the success of all. It may be easier for some to burn excess calories through exercise and then maintain relatively good dietary habits, but not everyone can have success in this. It is easier and more efficient for people to maintain theirweight through a good diet. Anyone can replace their daily salty snack with something more nutritious, such as fruits or vegetables, and can do the same by enhancing the rest of their meals. People typically have more time and energy to spend on changing their dietary habits than they may on consistently keeping up with an exercise regime, so by efficiently cutting out the excess calories from their diet, they can most
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effectively manage their weight.


  1. 1. Aronne LJ. Weigh Less, Live Longer. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1996.
  2. 2. Harper B, Crister G. The Skinny Rules. New York, NY: Ballantine Books; 2012.
  3. 3. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight Management. 2009;109(2):330-346. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.11.041
  4. 4. Mayo Clinic Staff. Weight Loss: Strategies for success. Mayo Clinic. Published February 26, 2014. Accessed June 9, 2014.
  5. 5. American College of Sports Medicine. ASCM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss Now Available. American College of Sports Medicine. Published 2009. Accessed June 17, 2014.
  6. 6. Sorgen, Carol. 10 Workout Secrets From the Pros. WebMD. Published November 20, 2012. Accessed June 9th, 2014.