Weight loss: What’s more important – diet or exercise? Or is it a case of chicken or the egg?

Weight loss: What’s more important – diet or exercise? Or is it a case of chicken or the egg?
Justin Moran

Now for those of you that don’t know what total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is, I should first explain that it is generally broken into three areas …

Seventy per cent is your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is the number of calories that your body uses just to survive. Ten per cent is accounted for from the thermic effect of food – which is required when we eat, as we need to burn calories to process what we’ve just consumed. The remaining 20 per cent is attributed to physical activity.

Now with that said, it is important to note that to achieve weight and/or fat loss, we need to achieve calorie deficit daily, weekly, monthly or for set periods of time and interchange with an energy balance (not a surplus).

So, to do this requires specific attention paid to our dietary intake and, therefore, if diet or exercise were more important, it is clear that it is diet that is more important.

But I want to show a story of how regular exercise, behaviour change, and accountability can be the catalyst in achieving better nutrition and in turn, weight loss.

You see, I was referred an 18-year-old girl some years back by one of Melbourne’s extremely sought after and highly regarded psychologists and a dietitian. The instructions were simple – “get her exercising and do not discuss nutrition, especially telling her what not to eat or she will rebel”.

As someone who has spent countless hours counselling, educating, guiding, and supporting clients on how to improve their nutrition, this went against everything that I had done.

But equally, teaching my clients how to enjoy exercise, find the time for exercise and to develop a safe an effective gym program is something I know how to do well. So, that is exactly what I did.

We started with two personal training sessions per week and a starting weight of 128kgs. We set out with a basic but varied and flexible program focusing on small wins physically. In the first year we barely discussed nutrition at all.


Twelve months later and she had lost a rather modest seven kgs. We cut down to one session per week in the second year, but she started asking nutrition questions of me and I remember taking her and partner to a Coles supermarket and we spent 30 minutes going through her typical food choices and exploring “good” and “not so good” options and of course “why?”.


This led to a deeper discussion and moved more toward the typical educative approach I take and then setting her a “fruit and vegetable challenge” that we give to our clients. She scored the lowest number of fruit and vegetables consumed over the seven-day period I have seen but it was the catalyst for things to come.

She lost 16 more kgs in year two (a total of 23 kgs since we started). We then moved down to one session per fortnight in the middle of our third year together and she lost a further 14 kgs (a total now of 37 kgs lost). Then she started her career and life got in the way somewhat. We needed to make further adjustments to her nutrition and exercise to fit in with her new lifestyle but managed to lose another six kgs and achieving a total weight loss of 43 kgs!

Now as you can see here, if she and/or we focused on nutrition from the outset, it is safe to say that we would not have achieved all that we have. So, while in theory, nutrition is the winner when it comes to weight loss; both nutrition and exercise are of equal importance and the best part is they are both required for keeping active, fit and healthy and that above all else should be the focus for us all.

Weight and body size do not define who we are. Life is all about health, happiness, fitness and wellness, so whether it is the chicken or the egg in your case, take your pick and get started.

Find the support you need to help you either get going or back on track and then make it part of your life from today.

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