A few weeks ago, my sister asked me this question, “If you had to cut corners, which is better to choose - eating healthy or exercise?” My initial response was “Trying to cut corners should be kept to a minimum. To achieve health and fitness, making wise food choices and engaging in consistent exercise are both necessary – they go hand-in-hand.” But I understood what she was asking. There are times in our lives when things get busy and we find ourselves doing one thing but not another.
Which one should we choose if we have to make a decision when in a pinch? Healthy eating wins hands down. Here’s why:
1. If you focus only on exercise without making changes in your food choices, you won’t see much of a weight loss. Those who exercise with the goal of losing weight but without cutting back on portion sizes or choosing healthier food, will see minimal weight reduction in 6 to 12 months compared to combining exercise with healthy eating.
2. Here’s another way to look at it. To calculate the number of calories burned per mile either walking or running, use the following formula from Runner’s World website:
WALKING - calories/mile - .57 x wt in lbs – or calories/minute - .03 x wt in lbs
RUNNING - calories/mile - .72 x wt in lbs – or calories/minutes - .07 x wt in lbs.
Let’s say you walk 2 miles and you weigh 165 lbs. Take 165 x .57 = 94 calories burned for each mile walked (188 calories). But then afterwards you’re tempted by Starbucks on the way home and order a nonfat green tea latte - sounds healthy right? The only problem is it contains 210 calories which just wiped out the 188 calories you burned walking.
3. Some people will believe that because they are exercising, they can eat more food. They have the mentality of thinking “because I’m exercising, I can eat whatever I want.” This goes along with the point made in no. 2 – eating more calories than what you burn through exercise will undo all your hard work. It’s not easy to out-exercise poor food choices.
4. If you exercise faithfully yet your food choices are unhealthy, you won’t be feeding your body the fuel it needs to perform its optimal best. Skipping meals or going for long periods of time without eating, can lead to fatigue along with blood sugar spikes and drops. Exercise gives us energy but eating healthy, well-balanced meals throughout the day, fuels you with the necessary nutrients needed to keep energy levels sustained and help reduce hunger jaunts tempting you to make poor food choices.
My best advice is to not get into situations where you have to make the choice between whether to eat right or exercise. However, next time you find yourself in a time-crunch, remember to choose healthy foods first over exercise. Limit highly processed/refined foods, eat a lot of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains), drink more water and you will be able to keep your weight in check until you are able to include both healthy eating and exercise in your daily routine once again.