What’s more important: diet or exercise? If you want to achieve long term weight loss results, you need to commit yourself to both.

When people decide to lose weight, the first thing they usually think of is joining a gym. After all, nothing says “I want to lose weight!” more than a steadfast commitment to hours running on the treadmill or lifting weights.

In fact, every January the gym fills up with New-Year-New-Me goal setters looking to finally cut weight with a good helping of exercise. But the results usually go as follows:

Weeks 1-4: An hour a day running on treadmills and pumping through elliptical workouts

The next 11 months: Spent at home watching television and wondering why that holiday bonus was spent on a gym membership

Okay, we’ve all been there. We want to lose weight. So why do we only spend January in the gym? Why do we give up so easily?

For many of us, the answer is that we aren’t seeing results. After all, what’s more discouraging than spending a ton of time at the gym just to see the same body in the mirror a month later?

The problem is that most people overlook just how important diet is to their results. Just because you are doing more exercise doesn’t mean much if you celebrate every ‘successful’ workout at the gym by going for fried chicken and beers.

Working out alone isn’t enough to have a significant impact on body weight. You need to have both diet and exercise working in sync if you want to achieve the long term results you are looking for.

1. You are what you eat

Remember the popular line, “You are what you eat”? It may be cliché, but it’s true. Nutrition is vital to weight loss.

In fact, a person’s diet actually has more of an effect on their body weight than physical activity does. So changing your eating habits is more important than the amount of minutes you spend in the gym.

The proof lies in the statistics. Look no further than the National Weight Control Registry, a large-scale scientific surveillance study that has been conducted since 1994 by the University of Colorado and Brown Medical School.

The study monitors 10,000+ American citizens who have lost weight and maintained a slim figure for an extended period of time.

A staggering 89% of those studied lost weight with both diet changes and exercise. Another 10% relied only on a diet while only 1% accomplished significant weight loss through exercise alone.

These successful diet changes are often based off the concept of calorie intake. The average moderately active male should eat somewhere around 2,500 per day and as for moderately active women the number is around 2,000.

Chances are that if you consider yourself overweight or have the desire to slim down, you may be taking in more the required calories that your body needs each day.

“Most people who exercise to lose weight and don’t restrict calories shed only 2 to 3 percent of their weight over 6 to 12 months,” claims Tim Church, M.D., the director of preventive medicine research at Louisiana State University.

The general idea is that if you want to lose weight, you must decrease your calorie intake.

All body types are different and the calorie numbers above are just estimates for the ‘average’ human. However, as we all know, everyone is different.

Your height, age, and amount of exercise all effect how many calories you need each day. The more you work out, the more calories you burn, which means you need to eat more to sustain your body with energy.

It’s important to understand that the exercise that causes you to eat more is not what is preventing you from losing weight. It’s more about what you eat to sustain your body due to your workout; not the exercise itself.

2. The proper foods will help you make positive changes in your body

Different kinds of foods have different effects on the body and some give you more energy than others.

If you eat a double-cheeseburger right after you use the stair climber, sure you are giving energy back to your body, but you’re also doing it a disservice by filling up on a ton of calories.

Many people think they can work around the calorie problem by just eating half of what they regularly eat.

The problem with this strategy that often times when you decide to just cut your regular meals in half, you’re still hungry afterwards.

This means that either you’ll try to suffer through hunger and not have enough energy for work and exercise or you’ll break down and eat the other half of the cheeseburger anyway. This kind of diet could mean giving up your workout routine.

While sacrificing exercise may seem like a good trade-off for cutting calories, you don’t have to do that if you change what you eat.

There are plenty of healthy, filling foods that will get you through the day and help you to limit your calorie count. Fresh fruits like berries and apples are a great way to start off a healthy, low-calorie day.

Water-rich whole grain oatmeal is also a good breakfast choice. Nonfat dairy, brown rice, and legumes such as black beans and pinto beans are all good for midday meals.

Lean animal meats like seafood and white meat chicken or turkey make for good dinners and can be complimented by starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn.

Nutrition Research Specialist Dr. Jay Kenney at the Pritikin Longevity Center highlights the importance of a good diet while also maintaining an active lifestyle.

Kenney states, “For staying slim and overall [better] good health, both food and fitness are important. But science is now discovering that Americans are getting fatter largely because of what they choose to eat and drink.”

These foods and others can supply you with the energy you need to burn fat with your workouts, but also cut out the excess calories in your diet. However, it is important to maintain at least a moderately active lifestyle. Exercise has an immense amount of health benefits besides weight loss.

Not only does exercise help you to burn calories, but it also reduces blood sugar, chance of heart attacks and diabetes, blood pressure and other health concerns.

In addition, exercise improves muscle mass, longevity, and mood while decreasing stress and depression. In a nutshell, exercise makes you feel good; and when you feel good you also tend to look good.

3. Eating healthy energizes and motivates you to exercise more

Now you’re back to square one, maintaining the ambition to work out. Where do you get the motivation to make it past January? There are a few solutions to this problem. Once you start eating right you’ve already put yourself on the right track.

Similar to working out, healthy foods also do you favors in the motivation and energy departments.

The natural sugar found in fresh fruit for example supplies the body a quick burst of energy and helps maintain blood sugar levels due to its fiber content. You’ll find that you have an extra boost once you’ve subbed out strawberry Pop-tarts for actual strawberries.

Aside from the lacking energy, there may be something else holding you back from getting your proper amount exercise each week.

Maybe the workout you are doing is boring or you’d rather being spending time doing something else. The key to working out on a regular basis is making your workouts fun.

A workout buddy can go a long way to making that possible; even if they aren’t doing the same exercises or workout loads as you.

It’s a lot easier to overcome challenges when you’ve got some friends to tag along. You can even set combined goals together, as long as they are appropriate workout loads for all parties involved.

You could also try cutting down on the gym hours and join an intramural sports league instead. Some people find that playing basketball or tennis is a lot more addictive than working out on the treadmill.

If you join a league or a group that has set playing times then you also have others counting on you to show up and participate. This extra boost can help you to pick up momentum in living an active lifestyle.

It’s also important to break from unhealthy habits. Staying up too late or partying every weekend can suck the energy out of you and pile on more stress.

Everyone wants to have fun every now and again and it’s okay to do these kinds of things irregularly, but you need to pick and choose your battles.

The same goes for nutrition. We all have a sweet tooth or an extra taste bud for something that really isn’t good for us.

It’s okay to still eat the foods you love while trying to slim down and get healthier, but it is imperative that you cut those foods down immensely and substitute them with better choices.

Just look at these comparisons to see how different foods and drinks affect your body:

  • A small serving of French fries contains more than double the calories of a medium sized apple.
  • This strawberry smoothie contains fewer calories than a can of soda. Not to mention it’s more filling and just as tasty.
  • The average chicken breast has about 230 calories while steak has nearly 680.

These are great examples of how similar foods in size can have dramatically different calorie counts. Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to make nutritional adjustments it’s important to plan around these kinds of substitutions.

Make sure most of the meals you choose are the better option. Use the USDA Food Composition Database to check in on calorie counts for the foods you eat.

6 helpful tips to get you started right away:

  • Make sure that you’re consuming enough calories to give your body the proper energy needed for the day. Take care of your body and nourish it with good foods.
  • Workout and nutrition plans are a great way to keep track of the amount of calories and exercise you need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • If want to cut out things like soda and beer but can’t find a cheap substitute – DRINK WATER! It is incredibly good for you.
  • Do your research and find out what other good food options are out there.
  • You can use calorie counter apps to track what you eat throughout the day.
  • Be persistent and loyal to your body. You will see results if you keep at it. Don’t give up.

The moral of the story here is that your diet is just as important, if not more important, than your exercise plan when it comes to losing weight. The food you put into your body is the energy source for everything you do.

You shouldn’t cheat your body by working out incessantly just to end up feeding yourself an enormous amount of awful calories; but as was mentioned above, you need to make sure your body is getting enough food to exercise and accomplish tasks throughout the day.

The bottom line is that if you want to lose weight and have an active lifestyle then it’s time to start eating healthy. Good luck, and have fun transforming yourself and looking good!