‘The issue with the health and fitness industry is the need for a dichotomy. “Is it this or that?”, “Do I eat carbs or don’t I?” The reality is, much like many things in life, the answer to the question of ‘Which is more important – diet or exercise?’ depends all upon the context of the situation.
The truth of the matter is that you cannot out-exercise a poor diet, just as you can’t out-diet poor exercise habits. However, with that in mind, we also need to prioritise what we can focus on given the circumstances we are in.
For some people, exercising frequently can be difficult during certain periods in their life: new babies, work commitments, injury, and other obstacles that can get in the way. On the other hand, there can be periods where diet quality tends to go out of the window because of similar circumstances. It’s all about finding which of the two you can shift your focus to, maximizing the potential of either one, relative to the environment, and ‘state’ you’re currently in. Don’t get me wrong, ensuring both are in check to the utmost degree is when you’ll see the best results, but we have to assess if this is a realistic goal. I say this a lot to new people who come to The Den and are literally starting their journey to better health that very day. “You want to go all-in, 100% on this, but the reality is if I give you everything, the majority of it won’t stick.”
“You cannot out-exercise a poor diet, just as you can’t out-diet poor exercise habits”
Now, let’s look at it from a different perspective rather than the effects on weight-loss or even physiological health. Eating “healthy” (I use quotations marks here as this is a very subjective term) and exercising is the most underutilized performance enhancer for productivity, cognitive ability, and just genuinely feeling damned good. You all know how you feel after you’ve worked out, have been eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and you’ve ticked the boxes as far as your nutritional requirements are concerned (calories, portions or whichever method of monitoring you choose). The energy you have throughout the day, the ability to undertake tasks you may have never felt confident, or “bothered” about doing before, are suddenly just things you get on with. There’s a huge, compounding effect on your overall ability to “get stuff done”, having embarked on a journey to bettering your diet and training simultaneously.
So in answer to the question of whether diet or exercise is more important than the other, the answer is neither one beats the other. It’s all relative to the situation you’re in, what you can realistically stay consistent with, and finding the ability to balance both of them – because then, and only then will you really start to see the magic unfold, and improve body, mind, and soul.