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What's Better for Weight Loss: Diet or Exercise?

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When you set your sights on weight loss, the formula seems easy: work out more, eat less. But a new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology shows that it might be more about what you eat, putting truth to the idiom "abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym." (Want more truths? Check out these 25 Inspirational Fitness Quotes to Motivate Every Aspect of Your Workout.)

In 2013, researchers from Loyola University began looking into the relative power of diet and exercise as they relate to moving the scale. They thought they'd discover that exercise would prove to be a crucial component for weight loss. Two years later, though, the science shows that the largest driver behind obesity is not how sedentary people are but instead how poor their diet is.

"Physical activity is crucially important for improving overall health and fitness levels, but there is limited evidence to suggest that it can blunt the surge in obesity," the study authors explained. Why? The more you work out, the more your appetite increases.

Of course, this new Loyola study isn't the first to come to this conclusion. Research has consistently shown for years now that exercise doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss. In a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last year, for example, researchers found that people only lost noticeable weight if they combined exercise and calorie restriction.

This is the problem with most weight-loss advice, the Loyola researchers said, which often puts statements like "take the stairs instead of the elevator" or "walk 10,000 steps a day" on par with calorie restriction. Study authors Richard S. Cooper, M.D., and Amy Luke, Ph.D., said they're not trying to drive people away from fitness, but rather expose problems with current health campaigns. Take this new one funded by Coca-Colaβ€”it (falsely!) emphasizes exercise over a healthy diet.

But don't you dare drop your gym membership! Being active has a ton of benefits that go far beyond what the scale says. Increasing your strength and endurance has been shown to help prevent cancer, improve mental health, help diabetes, and help you live longer. Plus, research shows that dieters who exercise are better able to maintain weight loss and are also able to lose fat while keeping valuable muscle. (Learn about The Best Workout to Avoid Gaining Weight.) You just need to make sure you're logging your gym time and your food intake. (For how closely should you track your calories, read Should You Count Calories to Lose Weight?)

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