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Does the 80/20 Rule Work for Everyone?

By KERI GLASSMAN

To be or not to be? That's one question. Here's another, more pertinent question: to diet or to exercise? We couldn't possibly have to commit to both -- that would be out of the question, right?

An ongoing battle persists regarding the balance of diet and exercise for optimal weight loss. What is the right mixture? Eighty percent diet with 20 percent exercise? Or 70 percent diet and 30 percent exercise? What do these numbers even mean? Well, I've got 100 percent of the answers for all your questions on the matter. 

young woman eating vegetable green salad

The Dish on Diet
When we want to shed a few pounds, the first place most of us turn is our diet. If you eat calorie-controlled meals with the right proportions of carbohydrates, fats and protein, you'll lose weight, right? Not necessarily. Research indicates that people are successful at losing weight on various types of diets. If losing weight on a diet was so easy, it wouldn't be such an issue, and I'd be out of a job.

Losing weight -- and keeping it off -- involves a wholehearted change in thought, attitude and behavior toward food, not just a change in portions and types of food consumed. Both the quality and the quantity of the food that we ingest are important. In Japan, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and unsaturated fats is not a diet fad -- it's a lifestyle. But in the United States, the typical diet is rich in saturated fats, processed snacks and sugars. According to the World Health Organization, only 4.5 percent of Japan's population is obese. Compare that with a 31.8 percent obesity rate in the U.S! If losing weight on a diet was so easy, it wouldn’t be such an issue, and obesity wouldn’t be a national epidemic.

Pump It Up
I'm sure you've heard the quote by the famous fitness enthusiast Jack LaLanne: "Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together and you've got a kingdom." According to Jack, exercise trumps diet. While I don't doubt that exercise has an essential role in the weight-loss equation, I know that it doesn't always guarantee a person will lose weight.

Research shows that people who exercise without changing their diet lose little to no weight. In a randomized trial, the majority of women who improved their diet and exercised regularly shed an average of 11 percent of their original weight. This number was significantly less for those who just improved their diet; these subjects lost 8.4 percent of original weight. Women who only incorporated regular exercise and didn't adjust their diet lost 2.4 percent of their original weight.

In basic terms, people lost more weight when combining exercise and diet. Exercising, especially weightlifting and strength training, increases lean muscle mass. Muscle mass contains metabolically active tissue and burns more calories than fat tissue. Even if the scale says you aren't dropping pounds, you may be building muscle due to the hard work in the gym. What's more, muscle weighs more than fat.

The overall health benefits that come from working up a good sweat are numerous. Exercise has been shown to prevent heart disease and diabetes, increase strength, flexibility and endurance and boost the immune system. Working out can also pump up our sex lives and enhance our moods. A recent study showed that subjects who exercised without diet may not have lost much weight, but significantly improved endurance, lowered blood pressure and reported positive moods. So even if working out isn't part of your weight-loss strategy at the moment, exercise is crucial to the larger landscape of living a healthy life.

The Bottom Line
Exercise and nutrition are like a complex dance -- getting the proper balance of both is key to nailing your hardest move. So what about the percentage of diet to exercise? The numbers will be different for every individual. For some, it may be 60 percent diet and 40 percent exercise. Others may find that their ratio is closer to 90 percent diet and 10 percent exercise. You have to figure out the balance that works best for you.

--Keri

Readers -- How do you balance diet and exercise? Which formula works best for you? Do you have any tips for what to eat after a grueling workout? Leave us a comment below and let us know.

Keri Glassman is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women's Health magazine and is the nutrition and health contributor for NBC's New York Live. She is regularly featured on national television programs and hosts an original series called "A Little Bit Better," which is featured on the LivestrongWoman channel on YouTube. Keri resides in New York City with her children, Rex and Maizy. Whether she is training for a marathon, going to the farmers market or drinking her nightly cup of herbal tea, Keri lives and breathes a nutritious life while inspiring others to do the same. Connect with Keri on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

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