For decades, people looking to lose weight have wondered if their biggest obstacle is dietary restraint or discipline in exercise. Both endeavors require tremendous self-control and resolve, and are fundamental in burning fat and improving overall health.

Of course, losing weight is an insufficient goal in and of itself. The problems of obesity are well documented, but emaciated individuals suffer as well. Staying active and eating healthy will lead to an ideal weight for most people and should be targeted in place of arbitrary numbers.

Still, the two go hand in hand and the caloric intake, outtake, and burn rate are worth tracking for everyone. The question remains: which plays the biggest role?

Personal trainers tasked with helping their clients tighten up before beach season often suggest “abs are made in the kitchen,” yet how true is it? According to a recent article from CNN, they may have a point.

Story author Ben Tinker explains, writing:

Think of it like this: All of your “calories in” come from the food you eat and the beverages you drink, but only a portion of your “calories out” are lost through exercise.

According to Alexxai Kravitz, an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases — part of the National Institutes of Health, “it’s generally accepted that there are three main components to energy expenditure”:

  • Basal metabolic rate, the amount of energy it takes just to keep your body running (blood pumping, lungs breathing, brain functioning)
  • Breaking down food, scientifically referred to as “diet-induced thermogenesis,” “specific dynamic action” or the “thermic effect of food”
  • Physical activity

For most people, basal metabolic rate accounts for 60% to 80% of total energy expenditure, Kravitz said. He cited a study that defines this as “the minimal rate of energy expenditure compatible with life.” As you get older, your rate goes down, but increasing your muscle mass makes it go up.

About 10% of your calories are burned digesting the food you eat, which means roughly 10% to 30% are lost through physical activity. …

Even a vigorous cycling class, which can burn more than 700 calories, can be completely canceled out with just a few mixed drinks or a piece of cake.

The good news is that combining a well-balanced, nutritional diet with consistent exercise has a doubling impact, so no individual ought to feel forced to choose one over the other. Still, it is helpful to learn how the body works and act accordingly.

To read Tinker’s full article, click here.