I admit it: I was once one of “those women” for whom post-pregnancy weight loss was relatively quick and painless. I’ve never been model-skinny, but after the birth of my first two children my previous waistline was recovered with little to no effort. Yeah, I know what you want to call me, and I don’t blame you. So kick back and laugh when I tell you that the pounds decided they wanted to take up permanent residence after my third son was born. No amount of calorie counting or exercise did the trick, which threw me for a tailspin worse than those teacups at Disney World.

One morning, by way of The Dr. Oz Show, I discovered Shaun T, fitness trainer and creator of INSANITY workout (of infomercial fame). His program intrigued me, but what really kept my attention was the way he harped on nutrition. Most exercise programs promise extreme results just by going through the motions. But he was adamant that great results can only be achieved by also overhauling your eating habits. Since exercising like a maniac had scarcely made a dent in my dimples, I decided to give his way a shot. Sayonara, fried and processed food. I was in for a nutritional overhaul.

Rumor: Nutrition and exercise are equally important when trying to lose weight

Diet and exercise. Depending who you talk to, these words are either dirty or sacred. There’s no doubt that they’re both vitally important to good health, but do they carry equal weight when it comes to losing weight?

The Verdict: All the exercise in the world won’t help you lose weight if your nutrition is out of whack

You know when you’re out spending money and a few dollars here or there seems like no big deal? Then you get your credit card statement and the sum total of your big-spender ways is painfully apparent? That’s how it is with calories, fat, sodium and other nutritional information, but this stuff is far more difficult to itemize and track than dollars and cents. The end result is that we eat way more than we need to… even when dieting.

“They [dieters] seriously underestimate portions, especially for grains and meat,” says Eat Your Way to Happiness author Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D. “They eat too many processed foods that are high in calories, fat, salt, sugar and low in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They eat far too few fresh fruits and vegetables and when they do eat them, they chose the worst ones, such as potatoes, iceberg lettuce, apple juice, etc.”

Science repeatedly backs up this claim. A recent study published by Plos One followed members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in Northern Tanzania. Researchers obtained physical activity, metabolic and nutrition data and compared it with the average Jack and Jill who indulge in the common Western diet. What they found was that the tribe members are comparable in every way except for their nutrition habits. Rather than the fat and calorie-laden diets we typically enjoy, they eat only whole, natural foods. The study’s findings are simple and common. Basically, you can keep running 5Ks or Sweatin' to the Oldies, but chances are high that results will be disappointing unless you change what and how much you’re eating. To get healthy and stay that way, the trend has to continue -- not just for a week or a month, but for the long-term.

Nutrition Mission: Not So Impossible

“There are a million reasons why dieters fail, and the reasons vary from one person to the next,” explains Somer. “People lie about what they are eating, underestimating their calorie intake by about 700 to 800 calories a day.” Exercise is also grossly misinterpreted by a lot of dieters. “They think/say they exercise far more than they really do,” Somer elaborates. 

The good news is that all of these miscalculations are manageable with a little effort. First, be truthful with yourself. Are you really exercising as hard as you think you are? If not, step it up. Next, experts advocate ditching the processed junk for real, whole foods. Somer suggests committing at least 75 percent of your diet to a menu rich in fresh fruits and veggies, 100 percent whole grains, legumes, nuts, nonfat dairy products and seafood. “Load at least three-fourths of every plate with colorful plants,” suggests Somer. “Bring food with you so you aren’t tempted by drive-throughs and vending machines.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for nutrition. “You must design a diet you can live with for life, not a quick-fix gimmick that always results in weight regain,” says Somer. “Respect and love yourself to feed your body only foods that will fuel and nurture it, not foods that undermine health.” So, ask around, do some research and find a healthy, doctor-backed plan that appeals to you. Will it be hard? In the beginning, yes. Any major lifestyle change usually is. Is it worth it? Do the work and button-up your old skinny jeans. Then you’ll have your answer.


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