You’ve heard it over and over again: Diet and exercise are the keys to a healthy weight. As it turns out, though, one is far more important than the other. If you’re looking to drop pounds, your best bet is to focus on food.
Despite the constant message to burn fat and calories away at the gym, people who only change their diets lose more weight than those who only increase physical activity, according to a report in the journal Systematic Reviews.
You might have heard that muscle weighs more than fat. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean you should claim that bigger number on the scale is all muscle. “That’s a few pounds, not 20 or 30 pounds,” says Nolan Cohn. “It’s not an excuse for the weight gain.”
Still, don’t cancel your gym membership. The Systematic Reviews study found that pairing diet with exercise was even more successful for weight loss than diet alone. Exercise doesn’t just burn calories and build muscles—it boosts endorphins too, says Nolan Cohn. “It improves feelings of positivity or accomplishment,” she says. “When you combine those forces [of diet and exercise], it reinforces losing the weight and keeping it off.” While adding exercise to a healthier diet doesn’t lead to additional weight loss in the first six months of a program, those who both diet and exercise have better long-term results over a year, found a review in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.