Losing weight isn’t easy for most people. Good nutrition is an essential element of successful weight loss, but it alone isn’t enough to lose weight and sustain that weight loss. What is the key to losing weight and keeping it off? You need a whole lifestyle approach!
One of the most important lifestyle habits for making weight loss sustainable is exercise. There are several reasons why you need to exercise to maintain a healthy weight. The obvious one is you burn more calories when you exercise as opposed to sitting in a chair.
Some research also suggests that physical activity suppresses appetite, although studies are conflicting on this. Plus, exercise is linked to better sleep quality and improvements in mood (which are important factors for successful weight loss and weight control). Lack of sleep contributes to metabolic dysregulation and insulin resistance which makes weight control harder. Plus, not sleeping enough boosts appetite hormones, like ghrelin, that increase appetite and cravings.
The good news is moderate amounts of exercise, especially morning workouts, improve sleep quality. Upgrading your sleep habits will improve your metabolic health and make it easier to lose weight and maintain your weight after losing it.
Exercise Helps with Weight Loss Maintenance
The most important reason you need exercise is for weight maintenance after losing those extra pounds. Research shows that 80% of people who lose a significant amount of body weight gain it back. They lose weight successfully but can’t maintain the lower weight. Gradually, the weight comes back on and sometimes more.
Exercise helps prevent weight gain after weight loss—meaning that diet alone isn’t enough to keep the pounds off permanently, you need regular physical activity. According to the National Weight Control Registry, people who are successful at maintaining a lower body weight after losing weight engage in higher levels of physical activity.
Exercise is Important for Body Composition
When you lose weight, especially if you’re restricting calories, you run the risk of losing muscle too. Research shows exercising while attempting to lose weight helps preserve lean muscle mass, so you shed more body fat than muscle tissue. Multi-joint strength training, like squats and deadlifts, is especially beneficial since it builds more metabolically active muscle and burns more calories than isolation exercises, like leg extensions and biceps curls.
Research shows that people who increase their physical activity often experience greater reductions in body fat than those who don’t increase their exercise levels at all—even if they consume the same number of calories as before starting an exercise plan.
Stress Management Matters Too
Stress is another factor that can cause weight regain. But why? Chronic stress increases the stress hormone cortisol, a contributor to weight gain. Plus, cortisol increases deep visceral fat, the most dangerous kind from a health standpoint. Stress triggers emotional eating in some people too and that can lead to weight regain.
Stress management and mindset are key when making changes to your lifestyle and eating habits. For successful weight loss management, you need strategies to manage stress, whether it’s meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Without stress management techniques, there’s a higher risk of emotional eating and using food to feel calmer. (at least short-term) Food isn’t an adequate coping mechanism. It only offers a short-term mood lift.
Vary the Type of Exercise You Do
While exercise is vital for maintaining a healthy body composition when you’re trying to lose weight and for weight loss maintenance, excessive exercise can make it harder to peel off pounds of body fat. If you do high-intensity exercise every day while restricting calories, you run the risk of stalling weight loss by slowing your metabolic rate.
Don’t assume that exercise that burns the most calories while you’re engaged in it is best for weight management. Strength training burns fewer calories while you’re doing it but builds metabolically active muscle for a healthier metabolism and better insulin sensitivity even when you aren’t exercising.
Don’t overdo it though! Balance high-intensity workouts with lower-intensity ones that allow your body and mind to recover. There’s something to be said for yoga workouts since the mind-body benefits can help you make smarter food choices. It’s not just about calories in versus calories out. To lose weight, ensure you’re eating the right kinds of food.
It takes more than just cutting back on food to lose weight, Food choices matter too. Make sure you’re eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods instead of empty calories. Your body processes a plate of broccoli differently than it does a bowl of ice cream. Think beyond calories and more in terms of foods with lots of nutrients per calorie.
How You Eat and Exercise Work in Synergy for Weight Loss
The best approach to weight loss is a combination of eating right, sleeping well, managing stress, and exercising regularly. Changing your mindset and how you view food is part of the equation too. It’s not a diet that you need but sustainable lifestyle habits you can live with.
Dieting alone isn’t enough to reach your weight loss goals and it reinforces the belief that certain foods are “bad” or “forbidden.” It’s one reason many people struggle to lose weight and turn to unhealthy eating habits after going on a diet. The best way to lose weight and keep it off for good is to make healthy lifestyle changes that you can stick with for life. Although regular exercise is the most important since it helps preserve a healthy body composition, stress management, mindset management, and sleep matter too.
- “National Weight Control Registry.” http://www.nwcr.ws/.
- “The National Weight Control Registry – nwcronline.com.” nwcronline.com/join.aspx.
- Calbet JAL, Ponce-González JG, Calle-Herrero J, Perez-Suarez I, Martin-Rincon M, Santana A, Morales-Alamo D, Holmberg HC. Exercise Preserves Lean Mass and Performance during Severe Energy Deficit: The Role of Exercise Volume and Dietary Protein Content. Front Physiol. 2017 Jul 24;8:483. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00483. PMID: 28790922; PMCID: PMC5522839
- “Body Recomposition: Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time – Healthline.” 05 Aug. 2018, healthline.com/nutrition/body-recomposition.
- “Why Is Sleep Important to Weight Loss? | Sleep Foundation.” 15 Apr. 2022, sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/weight-loss-and-sleep.
“Strength Training versus Aerobic Training: Which Is Better for My Health?.” 01 Apr. 2019, extension.psu.edu/strength-training-versus-aerobic-training-which-is-better-for-my-health.