Which Is Better for Losing Weight: Diet or Exercise? #550 04/14/2014

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Which Is Better for Losing Weight: Diet or Exercise?

By Rebecca Swanner

If you've ever tried to lose weight, we bet you've wondered: Is diet or exercise more effective?

Apple and Weights

Spoiler alert: The answer is both, done together.

Only work out and you'll have a hard time losing inches or pounds. Only diet and you might end up skinny-fat. Together, they have a symbiotic effect. It's not just doubling your results, it's turbocharging them. Let's break it down so you can explain to your roommate, spouse, coworkers, or barista why you can't skip your workout and why you're passing on the muffins. And so you don't talk yourself into thinking eating them is a good idea when your willpower is flagging.

The Impact of Eating a Healthy Diet

I hate the word "diet." It makes me think of ordering off the part of the menu that has the iceberg lettuce and the cottage cheese. It isn't appetizing (OK, admittedly I really hate cottage cheese) and it feels like punishment. What I mean by "diet" is the way you eat. What you put in your body is your diet. A healthy diet generally means eating clean and staying hydrated. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and lots of water. And, of course, the occasional real treat—like real chocolate, full of sugar and fat and deliciousness. It's not a diet; it's your diet!

Let's look at a few reasons you should make your diet healthy.

  • You'll be Happier and More Productive
    Your diet has a bigger impact on how you feel than you might think. By eating the right foods—particularly complex carbs, iron-rich foods, and foods high in omega-3s—you can boost your serotonin levels and energy levels so you feel happier and more equipped to handle what life throws at you. The reverse is also true. A study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Young Women's Hospital found that women who ate a diet high in saturated fat performed the worst of all groups on memory and cognitive tests. Other research has revealed that low omega-3 levels, too little iron, and a diet high in simple carbs (sugar) may correlate with depression.
  • Your Digestive System Will Run Better
    Woman with Tape Measurer around her waistThe Standard American Diet is high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and low in fruits and vegetables. The body responds to this in a variety of negative ways, and one of them is with sluggish digestion. Fried foods and foods high in fat can slow down your digestive system. A lack of fruits and vegetables results in not getting enough fiber for everything to move down the digestive tract, and if you're not drinking enough water (a good gauge is half your body weight in ounces), then everything can get…stuck. The result is constipation. On the other hand, when you eat a healthy diet, your digestive tract runs like clockwork.
  • You'll Get to a Healthy Weight
    "You can't out-exercise a bad diet." "Abs are made in the kitchen." You've heard these classic, clichéd adages before, and they're true. When I spoke with the 21 Day Fix's Autumn Calabrese recently, she touched on this as well. "I see it all the time, people who go to the gym five to six days a week. But they don't eat right and they're all still overweight. They all still look the same as they did three years ago when I saw them. You can undo a good workout with one wrong meal."

    For example, this morning, I did the stairs near my house. They were hard and I felt like I had exerted myself. When I looked at my fitness tracker, it showed me I had burned 300 calories. That seems like a lot, so let's put this into perspective. It's fewer calories than 22 of the 30 items on Taco Bell's new breakfast menu, and the same amount of calories in a chocolate croissant from Starbucks.

The Impact of Regular Exercise

You need to exercise. It doesn't matter if you're at your goal weight or not. The human animal is built to either move or fall apart. Here's what the CDC recommends at the very minimum:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity (jogging or running) or an equivalent mix of the two every week. Women GolfingThat's 10 to 21 minutes a day.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups two or more days a week.

This isn't very hard. Do any Beachbody® workout program and you'll surpass those recommendations. Even if you're doing the Ultimate Reset®, which recommends only gentle exercise, you'll still exceed it. And it will change your life in so many ways. Let's look at a few.

  • You'll Feel Less Stressed and Happier
    Like diet, exercise can help reduce the amount of the stress hormones floating around in your bloodstream and boost your serotonin levels so that you feel happier. And you don't even have to get a "runner's high" for that to happen. Even low levels of exercise can help alleviate and may, in some cases, prevent depression. Additionally, those who work out regularly often experience high levels of self-esteem and an improved body image. Who doesn't want that?
  • You'll Sleep Better
    Sleep is when the body recovers, muscles heal, and performance-enhancing hormones are released. When you sleep, your body's leptin levels recover, which is a hormone that tells us we're full so you're better able to have the mental wherewithal to say no when someone passes the chips. Exercise helps you sleep in numerous ways, the simplest being that it breaks down tissue, which makes you tired because your body knows that it's the best time period to make repairs. Thus, it's not surprising that studies have shown regular exercise helps cure insomnia.
  • You're Less Likely to Get Sick
    Though sometimes it seems a new exercise routine can bring on a mild cold, exercise actually increases your lymph circulation in the long run and the result is improved immunity against getting sick. According to the National Institute of Health, exercising can help flush bacteria from lungs, purge the body of cancer-causing cells, and "trigger the release of hormones that 'warn' immune cells of intruding bacteria or viruses."

    The long-term results are even cooler, where exercise has been shown to boost your overall energy levels, improve bone density, lower cholesterol, and decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
  • It Can Help You Lose Weight
    To really see results on the scale, you need to create a caloric deficit. By existing you burn X amount of calories a day. To maintain that weight, you need to eat that many calories a day. To lose weight, you need to eat less. Eat more and you gain weight.
  • You'll Tone Up
    Woman walking on the beachIf you can help it, you want to avoid being skinny-fat because a muscular body ages slower. You don't need to be a bodybuilder, either. All exercise keeps your muscles toned, but for the toned "look" of sexy, defined arms, legs, back, and abs, you'll want to resistance train.

The Benefits of Eating a Healthy Diet and Exercising Regularly

By now, you hopefully understand how important it is to eat right and work out if you want to live a happier, healthier, life. But, there's even more benefit to combining the two. A healthy diet helps you exercise better. It provides your body with the energy it needs in a workout so you can push harder, and it helps you recover quicker. In return, exercise helps you eat better. You start craving healthier foods to fuel your body and you become more in tune with what your body needs. Perhaps most importantly, doing them both at once greatly speeds up results. Numerous studies (as well as Beachbody test groups) show that the synergist effect of combining exercise and diet isn't 2+2 = 4, but more like 2+2 = 10! Not sure how to get started? Go to Beachbody.com to find an exercise program that fits your lifestyle, or visit TeamBeachbody.com to see hundreds of healthy recipes.


  1. The Benefits of Fiber: For Your Heart, Weight, and Energy
  2. Food and Mood: 6 Ways Your Diet Affects How You Feel
  3. Boost Your Memory By Eating Right
  4. Physical Activity for Everyone: Guidelines: Adults
  5. Moderate Exercise Not Only Treats But Prevents Depression
  6. Sleep and Weight Loss: How Lack of Sleep Can Cause You to Gain Weight
  7. How Exercise Can Help Us Sleep Better
  8. Exercise and Immunity

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The Best and Worst Cooking Methods

By Ani Aratounians and Denis Faye

There's an old culinary expression that goes something like, "It's not the firmness of your zucchini, it's the way you cook it." In other words, buying (or growing) the right foods is crucial to good health, but if you don't prepare them properly, you'll throw all that grade-A nutrition out the window.

Person cutting up Vegetables

Whether we're talking organic fruits and veggies, grass-fed beef, or whatever else you're feasting on tonight, the trick is to keep both fat and cooking time to a minimum if you want to retain the nutrients in your food.

The Best Cooking Methods


While dropping foods in boiling water is better than dropping them in boiling oil, it's not ideal, given it tends to leach nutrients and taste. Steaming keeps food above the water, so the nutrients—and flavor—are more likely to stay put. It's also a good way to slightly break down fibrous foods for people with digestive issues, ranging from Crohn's Disease to general gassiness. Almost any food that can be boiled can be steamed. All you need for steaming is a metal colander for holding the food and a tight-fitting lid for the pot.


Stir-Fried Meat and VegetablesTraditionally an Asian cooking technique, the difference between stir-frying and regular frying is that you're cooking small pieces of food at high temperatures—therefore you don't need as much fat or oil. In fact, instead of cooking oil, you can use broth or wine. Although using a wok is an ideal way to stir-fry, it works in any pan, provided you use high-heat and minimal fat, and you chop up your food into small pieces so that it cooks faster. An important tip—if you're using a nonstick pan, don't use a metal spatula. It will scratch the Teflon and make the pan unsafe to use.

Broiling and Grilling

These great American cooking methods are winners, when done right. When you expose food to direct heat, it leaves it crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. This helps seal in flavor and nutrients. It doesn't require cooking oil, and excess fat drips away. (If you're grilling, you'll need to clean up those drippings at some point, which is kind of a pain, but let's not worry about that now.) There are a couple things to keep in mind. First, avoid charring as much as you can. The blackened (i.e., burnt) bits can actually be carcinogenic (cancer causing). Second, avoid charcoal grilling since the smoke is also carcinogenic.

Best bets for grilling and broiling are meats, poultry, and certain fish and veggies. If you're having problems with veggies or flaky fish falling through the grill, invest in a fish and/or veggie basket, which will hold your food in place so it doesn't get lost in the cracks.


Poached EggsYes, we know we just dissed boiling, but poaching—which is basically just a fancy word for boiling—can be okay in some situations. Gently simmering meats, poultry, eggs, or fish in water or liquids such as wine and broth adds flavor and prevents them from drying out. It also avoids the fats needed for frying and the charring that comes from grilling. And if you poach those foods in a soup or stew, you still get all the nutrients because they leached into the broth.

Pressure Cooking

Think of your pressure cooker as a holistic microwave. By steaming foods under pressure at extreme temperatures, cooking happens super-fast, keeping nutrients in and making this medium a real time-saver. In less than a couple hours, you can turn a pile of tomatoes and veggies into a big pot of healthy, delicious pasta sauce that you can freeze in individual containers for months. In addition to sauces, pressure cooking is ideal for legumes, grains, and meats. Be careful with veggies though because they can easily become overdone.


Sorry, we're not talking about baked cakes and pies. Instead, think seafood, poultry, lean meats, and veggies. You don't need added fat to bake or roast and it's a great way to intermingle the flavors of produce and/or meats.

The Worst Cooking Methods


Deep Fried Onion Rings with KetcupNot only are you adding fat to your food, but it's probably really, really bad fat. High heat oxidizes polyunsaturated fats in, well, almost all vegetable-based cooking oils, killing their nutrients and potentially turning them carcinogenic. Coconut oil is a notable exception because, since it's a saturated fat, it doesn't oxidize. But still, by frying in it, you're adding a lot of fat to your meal, making it difficult to balance your daily fat intake with protein and carbs. Also, deep-frying decreases the antioxidant nutrients in foods, nullifying one of the main reasons we need vegetables.


This one is nearly as bad as deep-frying. In some situations it can be even worse because if you do it at too low of a temperature, your food will absorb even more oil.

Microwaving in Plastic

Microwaving is, by far, the most controversial cooking method around. There's plenty of debate as to the health benefits—or detriments—of vibrating food molecules to heat food up. We don't microwave for two reasons. First, it doesn't do food any favors from a culinary perspective. Second, microwaves didn't come into general use until the late sixties—not even a generation ago—so how can we know their long-term effects? Between that and all the contradictory research, it's just not worth it to us.

On the other hand, we don't know of any truly compelling research causing you not to use them and they do cook food quickly without added fat. So the choice is yours.

However, there's no denying that microwaving in plastic is bad news. The plastic can actually leach into the food. Especially troubling are meats and cheeses because their fats absorb a carcinogenic chemical in plastic called diethylhexyl adipate. The FDA requires pretty stringent testing for "microwave-safe" plastics, so if you see this claim, that means the leaching falls within an "acceptable" amount. Personally, we find using a pressure cooker even more "acceptable"—and delicious.

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Look Slimmer With These 5 Tips

By Sarah Stevenson

We don't all need or want to look slimmer, but dressing to enhance your body works, no matter what shape you're in. So even if that cheat day extended a few extra…decades, there are ways to hide it as you prepare to embark on the journey back to the land of the toned. Let's look at some wardrobe tricks to make you appear slimmer, which will ease your transition from flab to fab.

Women Smiling

"It's important to be aware of your body shape at the moment—not 10 years ago," says Atlanta-based wardrobe stylist Robert Ballew. "That includes knowing how to hide or accentuate the good and the bad. Some people hang onto things that no longer fit because it signifies something they're having trouble letting go of from their past," he adds. "They might also have hopes of getting that small again. But we need to change and grow as we age—not get stuck." For instance, bellbottoms are not coming back in style for a third time. (We hope.) So those can make the trip to Goodwill.

This doesn't mean dump everything in your closet. Instead, select some clothes that can work for you in the interim. Ballew suggests, "Consider getting those clothes altered once or twice to keep the longevity of the look until you reach the next level of your weight-loss goal."

Here are five tips to help you look thinner until you actually are thinner:

1. Layer Wisely

Layering up shouldn't make you look like an overstuffed throw pillow; done properly, layers will create a distraction from less-than-flattering areas.

Woman Dressing in Layers"If you're top heavy and you're layering with a sweater and jacket, you're going to look heavier," Ballew explains. "Instead, try laying with a soft-colored V-neck shirt, blouse, or cami." V-neck tops can draw attention away from your midsection and give your torso a longer appearance. Just don't allow the V-neck to plunge too low. A way men can create this look is by wearing a shirt with a collar.

Not surprisingly, anything too baggy—a tent-like sweater, for example—will make you appear shapeless and bedraggled. Not ideal when your objective is to look svelte. "A big boxy sweater creates more mass," Ballew says. "You're better off going with something that gathers at the bottom and at the sleeves in order to create shape; that way you won't look like a giant sweater."

2. Avoid Lighter Colors

Colors like light blue and beige don't disguise bulges. "Darker colors like emerald green, navy, and gray can hide things better," he says. When adding color, let your accessories do the legwork. "Pops of color can come out in a scarf, cuff, blouse, or shoe; this can help draw the eye up and down instead of side to side."

3. Dress for Your Body Shape

Woman SmilingYou know if you're lugging extra baggage. And if you are, own up to it. That means staying away from clingy, pinchy clothes like Dri-FIT shirts or tank tops. "Women also need to choose the right undergarments," he says. "Wearing the wrong bra can cause things to roll, tuck, and do weird things." According to Ballew, both sexes can benefit from Spanx or Manx—slimming "shapers" that come in the form of bras, panties, boxer briefs, and undershirts. "They're great because they're soft, comfortable, and made from material that breathes," he says. "They'll take an inch off while you're working out toward your weight-loss goal."

4. Consider a Tailor

Whether you're shaped like a beanpole, basketball, or hexagon, a tailored suit or garment will unquestionably spruce up your look. "Something off of the rack may have arms that are too long or shoulders that are big, and that will cause you to look a mess," Ballew says. "Especially for men, a tailored fit will make you look like a million bucks." Also, as you lose weight, be cognizant of the size and fit of your pants. Far as we know, nobody in history has ever been promoted in ill-fitting trousers.

5. Allow Stripes to Work for You

A 2012 experiment from a University of York psychologist1 may have debunked the myth that horizontal stripes make you look wider. Using two drawings of the same woman wearing outfits with vertical stripes and horizontal stripes, participants found the figure wearing horizontal stripes to look more slimming. A second experiment using the same method replaced the drawings with 3D objects and achieved the same outcome. Also, thinner, black-and-white stripes were more slimming than wider stripes.

Woman in StripesHowever, don't use that as a hard-and-fast rule for choosing stripes. And just because you've heard a zillion times that vertical stripes help elongate the body and draw the eye up and down doesn't mean it's true for you. Go with your (shrinking) gut: If you think the stripes you're wearing make you look as broad as a tractor-trailer, you're probably right. If you're hell-bent on avoiding stripes altogether, go with diagonal stripes or zigzag patterns, which can trick the eye into looking at non-problematic areas.

What fashion tips do you use to look slimmer? Email us at mailbag@beachbody.com


Yes stripes DO make you look fat: Unless they're narrow, black, and horizontal. Confused? Here's how to make them work for you.

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Recipe: Mango Salad

Mango Salad
Mangos are back in season! This mango salad is kicked up with a zing of jalapeno and is a great—and easy—side salad that you can pair with almost any meal.

Total Time: 20 min.
Prep Time: 10 min.
Cooking Time: None
Yield: 4 servings


  • 2 medium mangos, peeled, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno (or Serrano chile), cut in half, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup 100% orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sea salt (to taste; optional)
  • 8 cups baby greens (or arugula)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Combine mangos, onion, jalapeno, orange juice, cilantro, and salt (if desired) in a medium bowl; mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Place greens in a large bowl.
  3. Drizzle oil over greens; toss gently to blend.
  4. Add mango mixture; toss gently to blend.
  5. Divide salad evenly among four plates. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Fat Saturated Fat Cholesterol Sodium Carbs Fiber Sugar Protein
115 4 g 1 g 0 mg 84 mg 20 g 3 g 17 g 2 g

P90X®/P90X2® Portions:

Fruit Vegetable
1/2 1

P90X3™ Portions:

Carbohydrate Fat
1 1/2

Body Beast® Portions:

Fruit Vegetables
1 2

21 Day Fix™ Portions:

Purple Container Green Container
1 1

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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