Can you Out-Exercise a "Bad" Diet?


Written By: Heather Gerrish, RDN

Oftentimes we think of “nutrition” or “exercise”, but in reality, these two variables work together to support a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that is unique and different for everyone! This blog will discuss why this is a common topic and what this really means (it’s probably not what you think!).

What has your previous perception of each of these terms been? What comes to mind?

First, let’s review some of the more common thoughts associated with “dieting” or “exercising” that might not be the most sustainable approach. Going overboard or throwing yourself into a drastic change, may that be related to a diet plan or exercise regimen, does not often equal “success” long term (and that’s what we want, right?). Thinking more long term and how you are going to carry out the changes you make in either realm are important considerations when adopting any new routine and to assess the feasibility of the action you are pursuing.

When was the last time you went on an overly strict diet, or eliminated foods, or even entire food groups to follow a new diet?

What about exercise? Have you ever decided that you were going to attempt to reach a rather steep activity goal without thinking about HOW you were going to reach it and sustain your activity level?

That’s where we often are bogged down with society’s “quick fix” or “magic pill” methodology that often results in discouraging results and has us circling back to where we started, or on a step behind.

What’s important to consider is how establishing peace with your body (both for fuel and performance) allows you to pursue the things you enjoy and allow these aspects to complement each other rather than compete.

As you are well aware, exercise is not only good for the body but good for the soul! Taking the time for yourself to work on your personal goals is an important variable in this equation as well. Thinking of your physical and mental health as well as what you choose to put in your body to fuel your body and mind is a way to look at the “big picture” of health, not just one aspect at a time.

So, let’s get down to business. Can you out-exercise a bad diet?

Well, to start - what is your perception of this phrase? Where do you think it comes from? What does it make you think or feel?

Taking this phrase as it is, without context or explanation as to what a “bad” diet is or what classifies “out-exercising” one, you might think that this does not hold much truth (or does!). Either way, using this to reflect on your own personal balance between your nutrition practice and activity is a great way to assess and look for areas of improvement or future goals. Asking yourself not how you are going to exercise more to “burn off” your treats is not a very sustainable frame of mind and food can be enjoyed with the flexibility (remember, sustainability and feasibility!) to indulge on occasion. What’s not sustainable is breaking yourself down for one mistake.

If you haven’t already guessed my overall perception of the importance of balance and the creation of a sustainable lifestyle with both nutrition and exercise as a forefront! Both are essential to not only weight loss and maintenance, but also long term sustainability at a healthy weight. Exercise is not only for weight loss either - there are countless benefits across many variables of mental health to physical health, making it an even more important player in this “long-term” mix.

Both work together. Not independently and the idea of “out-exercising” a “bad diet” is simply not robust or definitive enough to provide any sound description as to what this actually means, let alone why we would consider separating these two components when they work so beautifully together!

What’s your plan for making a lasting relationship with a sound (but balanced) nutrition practice and including physical activity throughout your life? What do you enjoy? What is your passion?

Reflecting on what makes us unique and how “out-exercising a bad diet” really should have no room in the itinerary of the great things and GOALS we all have is important to stay motivated and gain perspective on what your body does and will continue to do for you. Just like we treat others with respect and kindness, we need to do the same for our bodies. Complementing our nutrition practice with exciting and invigorating activity and finding what makes us happy needs to find a home in your long term health plan too!

The next time you are thinking with this frame of mind, or determining if you need to run off that extra cookie - think again how your practice is moving towards a sustainable future and how you would feel about this way of thought in 30 years. Would you treat your body the same?

Heather Gerrish