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What is Most Important When You Want to Lose Weight?

A personal fitness trainer explains why diet and a positive sense of self is 70% more important than exercise when you want to lose weight.

“When it comes to changing the size and shape of your body, exercise is only 30% of it,” says New York City-based certified personal trainer and boot camp instructor Ariane Hundt. “The rest needs to come from proper nutrition and a positive sense of self.”

Did you know it only takes a few minutes to consume 1,500 calories (one Quizno’s Classic Italian Sub, for instance) – but it can take hours to burn that sandwich off?

One of the best books on weight loss is The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss. I’m not into his “ice water baths” to lose weight, but I love his idea that we can have one “eat whatever you want” day every week. Bring out the chocolate dipped strawberries!

What is More Important When You Want to Lose Weight – Exercise or Diet?

Even if this personal fitness trainer said exercise is more important that diet in the weight loss battle, I wouldn’t have believed her. I lost 25 pounds after I got married, and it wasn’t because I started exercising more. It was because I adopted my husband’s eating habits. I started listening to my body, stopped stuffing my face, and practiced tuning in to how I felt.

To learn how I lost weight, read Best Ways to Lose Weight – 8 Lessons From My Skinny Husband.

And here are a few tips to take you beyond the basic weight loss question (“what’s more important – diet or exercise – when you want to lose weight?”). These tips are from personal fitness trainers I interviewed while writing an article for Health magazine.

Take celebrity fitness tips with a grain of salt

Los Angeles-based fitness instructor Torri Shack says, “Don’t believe everything you read about how the stars stay fit. Many celebrities work out four to six days a week for 90 minutes, have professional trainers, and eat a clean, very calorie-restrictive diet. They don’t ‘just’ do Pilates or yoga twice a week.”

Movie stars have chefs and all sorts of people taking care of their wants and needs, so they can focus on keeping their bodies thin and beautiful. It’s their job, and they hire people to make sure their exercise routines and diets combine to help them lose weight and keep it off.

Sweat doesn’t mean you’re burning calories and losing weight

Sweat signals a rising body temperature, not an increased calorie burn. Getting sweaty doesn’t mean you’re burning calories this summer; it just means you’re hot!

“In the sauna you’ll sweat buckets but you aren’t burning fat,” says Brad Schoenfeld, author of 28 Day Body Shapeover. “The best indicator of calorie burn is either heart rate or rate of perceived exertion (RPE).”

RPE is a self-report scale that ranges from 1 (complete rest) to 10 (maximum effort). High intensity equals increased heart rate, which equals more fat burn.

Going barefoot is healthier than shoes, sandals, or sneakers

If you wear shoes as little as possible this summer, you may enjoy better blood circulation, a happier mood, stronger bones, and better posture.

According to the “Barefoot in Toronto” experts, barefoot walking and running – even in winter – increases skin health, reduces foot calluses, builds arch strength, and enhances sensory stimulation. Going barefoot also creates healthier toenails and reduces foot odor. If you want to lose weight, you need to exercise – but you need to find the exercise that suits your personality and lifestyle.

If you think diet is more important for weight loss than exercise, read Dr Oz’s Weight Loss Tips – Best Times of the Day to Lose Weight.

Yelling increases your fitness level and self-confidence

IntenSati is “active meditation” – a fitness program that uses the voice and mind to intensify physical workouts. Participants say or shout empowering affirmations while kicking, jumping, or lunging.

For example, while punching, they yell “I. Am. Strong. Now!”  These motivational chants boost confidence and distract participants from feeling fatigued, which increases the workout benefits. And, they’ll fill you with the confidence you need to wear a bikini at the pool or beach!

Interval training is better when you want to lose weight

“You can do too much cardio,” says fitness lifestylist Susie Shina, author of 60 Second Circuits: 1000 Ways to Get Your Body Back. “When your body uses up its glycogen stores, it starts to ‘feed’ on lean muscle to keep going. Instead of long cardio stints, do 20 minutes at a higher intensity to burn fat.”

Sprint/recover repeats (interval training) on any cardio machine are effective. Or, tackle your intervals outside: walking, running, biking, or skipping.

Buddies are as important as diet and exercise when you want to lose weight

If you want to lose weight through both exercise and diet (probably the smartest way), your best bet is to find people who have the same goals.

“It’s not necessarily resistance training, cardio, or core work that keeps you fit,” says Florida-based John Kent, creator of Adventure Boot Camp for Women. “It’s meeting with others. Most of us live in voluntary isolation – answering emails, surfing the internet, listening to iPods – we need more support.”

Bonding moments – such as running hills or attending Pilates classes together – keep you motivated and focused on your fitness goals this summer, whether it’s wearing a bikini or losing 40 pounds.

You don’t need to exercise for a long time to lose weight – especially if you’re on a healthy diet

“People are surprised at how little exercise they need to get and stay fit,” says personal trainer Keith Morton, founder of CityWide SuperSlow in Chicago. “It’s the quality, not quantity, of exercise that counts.”

Mississauga-based fitness trainer Marc Lebert adds that his best workouts occur when he’s pushed for time. “If I give myself 20 minutes to work my legs, I know I have to increase my intensity,” he says. “A time limit makes every set count.”

If you never seem to have enough time to exercise, read 7 Ways to Get a Better Workout in Less Time.

Weight loss happens faster at certain times of the day

Hundt advises doing cardio in the morning, on an empty stomach. “Since you haven’t eaten since dinner, the carbohydrate stores in your muscles and liver will be nearly depleted,” she says. “So, your body has to reach into your fat stores for energy.”

This fitness trainer encourages lean people to eat easily digested carbs before morning workouts, such as oatmeal and fruit. Why? Because they risk losing lean muscle mass if they exercise on an empty stomach.

Vegetarian food leads to more weight loss than a meat-based diet

Vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reports that a vegan diet increases calorie burn because the body metabolizes plant-based foods more efficiently than meat.  Plus, vegetarians tend to eat more fruits, veggies, and other fibrous foods that are filling and low in calories.

To learn more about how important diet is when you want to lose weight, read 5 Safe Diets for Weight Loss – Plus the Pros and Cons of Each Diet.

What do you think – is diet or exercise more important when you want to lose weight?

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