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Trying to lose weight and get in shape is often frustrating. In fact, only 45% of Americans have confidence in diet programs. In a world of growing obesity, we need to figure this out.

That leads to the question, is diet or exercise more important for weight loss success? It’s actually more complex than the old 80% diet/20% exercise belief. Keep reading to learn about the three major players in sustainable weight loss and optimal health.

The Calories in Calories Out Theory

Losing weight isn’t as simple as eating less while exercising more. If it was, the struggle to maintain a healthy weight wouldn’t stump so many well-meaning people. The calories that exercise burns is pathetic compared to the calories we eat, even from healthy foods.

The law of thermodynamics is not the answer. It’s the intricate interaction of hormones in the body that matters in weight loss.

Eat foods that heal your body and balance your hormones. Avoiding processed foods and sugar is a perfect place to start.

The Role Hormones Play in Weight Loss

Almost everyone who has trouble with weight gain is also battling a hormone imbalance. Here’s a list of the main hormones involved.


Did you know that fat cells produce estrogen? The more fat you have, the more estrogen you have circulating in your body. When estrogen gets too high it causes insulin resistance.

High Cortisol Levels

Have a lot of belly fat? Sugar cravings? Sleep problems?

These are clues of high cortisol levels. Cortisol controls a few of the other hormones in this list too. They are estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones. This is one of the most common hormonal issues among overweight individuals.


Insulin resistance is becoming an epidemic in our culture for both the young and old. Insulin is the fat-storing hormone. When your cells no longer hear insulin messages, you store fat. To make it worse, your body doesn’t access it for energy either.


Low thyroid hormones create a slow metabolism. Symptoms of this condition are brain fog, gaining weight, depression, and fatigue.

Low Testosterone

Low testosterone makes it hard to build muscle with resistance training. Low levels of this hormone also slow your metabolism.


Leptin is one of the hormones responsible for controlling hunger signaling. It’s made by fat cells and decreases your appetite when you have enough fat stored. It also gives the signal that you’re full.

Leptin resistance is a condition where your body no longer listens to leptin signals.


Ghrelin is another hunger-related hormone, but this one increases hunger. Ghrelin goes up before you eat and comes down afterward.

Normally, it’s lower for at least three hours after eating. Those with ghrelin imbalances feel hungry again soon after eating.

Exercise and Weight Loss

While exercise isn’t a must for weight loss, it helps and comes with many health benefits. For example, a stronger heart, an optimized immune system, and a stronger body.

If done right, exercise increases muscle mass, which in turn, increases metabolism and fat burning. In fact, working out helps correct a weight loss plateau caused by eating less.

That said, don’t overdo cardio while trying to lose the fat. Excessive cardio increases cortisol release.

If you want to have a firm, defined body after weight loss, you’ll want to include a resistance training program in your life.

Get Moving

Walking is an easy way to get exercise. You don’t need any specialized equipment or gym membership. If you want to take it a step further, get a personal trainer who will work with you one-on-one to hit your fitness goals. Joining a class at the gym is another good way to stay motivated.

What’s the Bottom Line? Is Diet or Exercise More Important?

Losing weight is a complex combination of eating right, balancing hormones, and exercising. On top of all this, a persons DNA plays a part too.

So, to answer the question addressed in this article, “is diet or exercise more important,” they both are for different reasons.