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Diet and Exercise vs. Training and Nutrition

“I’m ready this time. This is it. This time will be different. Forget every other attempt at detoxing, keto-dieting, intermittent fasting, supplements and signing up for the 30 day challenge at the local spin studio because as soon as Halloween is over, it’s daily running and no snacks, no alcohol and no sugar. By Christmas, the weight will be down 10 lbs on that scale and it’ll motivate permanent change”. Sound familiar? Then I’m willing to bet you’re frustrated and have been for a long time.

People who have had long term challenges with excess body fat often succumb to fast-fixes, crash diets and restrictive eating patterns in the hopes that they will derive magical motivation from the initial fat loss. It’s also the “thing to do” according to the vast sea of horrible quality nutrition advice out there on the interweb. The formula is to suffer through “calorie burning” sweatfest cardio sessions and eliminate sufficiently large parts of a normal human’s diet such that an energy deficit is inevitable; and so is misery and failure.

Long term and sustainable maintenance of a healthy body fat percentage is the result of good nutrition habits and a training plan, NOT dieting and exercise. I will describe the difference and hopefully convince you to abandon one in favour of the other.

Training refers to engaging in a purposeful, progressive and well programmed physical activity schedule that builds cardiovascular fitness as well as muscle mass over time. Exercise refers to physical activity without reference to such context.  If ‘cardio; workouts are all you ever engage in, then from a fat loss perspective you will benefit from the calorie deficit incurred by that workout, that day and that is all. In fact, your body has a wonderful way of becoming more and more efficient at cardio activity such that you burn less and less energy doing it. This is one of the reasons people hit a plateau with their tedious exercise routines, not to mention they get dreadfully bored.  By contrast, if you engage in a weight training session that is sufficiently challenging, you will not only burn many calories but you also incur muscle damage. The repair process and the growth of new muscle help you burn more energy. Assuming that your workouts are part of a properly designed and progressive training plan you will continue to build sufficient muscle mass over time and alter your resting metabolism. This will keep you from perpetually needing to be in the same calorie deficit to keep the fat lost from coming back. Not only that, but strength training programs offer psychological benefits. They allow people’s focus to shift away from the scale toward other short term changes  in strength, posture, sleep and overall energy. Training motivation comes from seeking these feel-good outcomes and progress in the gym rather than the sad shift of a few pounds on the scale – which is totally and utterly meaningless, and self-degrading.

When it comes to eating, dieting utterly fails where a healthy, balanced and individualized approach to nutrition wins. Fat loss schemes sold in the media usually encourage elimination of any number of potentially beneficial nutrients (or entire food groups) or suggest that you should replace real food with powders and supplements. These eating rules are simple and effective in the short term but have so many pitfalls over the long term. They fuel the cycle of dieting and damage ones’ metabolism and mindset/mental health around eating which actually makes future fat loss MORE difficult. The human psyche is such that if you put something out of reach, that thing then becomes more desirable. Diets disable people by making them believe nutrition is about fat-inducing foods to be avoided at all costs versus superfoods that you must consume to magically bring better health. Good nutrition, by contrast empowers people with knowledge of food and their bodies. It encourages solid nutritional habits, as well as mindfulness and intuitive eating practices; not measuring and calorie counting. The difference is a positive and sustainable relationship with food and your body.

I hope that this article has inspired you to step off the hamster wheel of fat loss. There is nothing to be gained from hitting that reset button over and over again. Halloween, Christmas and all their temptations will come back every single year and so will bad habits.  Training and good nutrition are part of a sustainable, lean lifestyle. Heal your mindset, heal your lifestyle.