Whether you carry your excess weight along your belly or thighs, and no matter what you call it, one thing rings true: you want it gone. Maybe you’re hoping to drown your sorrows in chocolate and compensate for the extra calories with plenty of exercise. Or perhaps you hope you can altogether avoid exercise by selecting the right diet. While it’s certainly possible to lose weight with only one of the two, it’s also significantly harder. Healthy, sustainable weight-loss is more likely to come from a blend of healthy eating and active living.

If you’re like most people on a weight-loss journey, you want to expend as little effort as you can to get the results you want.

Burning Calories, Burning Fat
If you have a problem area, like most people do, you might be tempted to endlessly exercise just that area of your body. The truth is that you can’t spot-reduce, no matter how many crunches or squats you do. Instead, the key to losing fat is to create a caloric deficit—a fancy way of saying ‘burn more calories than you take in’.

A single pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories—almost two day’s worth of food. Burning this many calories is challenging for anyone, especially if you rely on exercise or diet alone. To successfully diet to lose a pound a week, you’d need to cut the equivalent of 22 sodas, seven hamburgers, 20 bags of chips, or 44 cookies from your diet. That’s no small feat.

Exercising the fat away won’t be much easier. The number of calories you burn depends on a host of factors. Generally speaking, though, you can expect to burn anywhere from 100-500 calories with an aerobic workout. That means you’d have to exercise every day at a very high intensity—by, for example, running for an hour—if you wanted to be able to lose weight with exercise alone.

The solution seems clear: If you want to lose the most weight possible, you can get ahead of the game by exercising and eating less.

What the Research Says
Of course, people opt not to exercise or diet for a variety of reasons. Maybe health or time constraints figure prominently in your decision, or perhaps you’re reticent to adopt a new lifestyle. If you’re bound and determined to try only one approach to weight-loss, you should structure your plan around substantive research, not weight-loss gimmicks. Most research suggests that people are more apt to lose weight when they diet, so if you have to choose between the two, dieting may be your best bet. Of course, if you can add in a bit more activity—such as walking more places, spending some time walking your dog, or enjoying a game of baseball with your kids—you’ll lose weight more quickly, even if you never hit the gym.

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