Diet or exercise? Which is actually the most effective way to maintain weight loss?

Cleaning up your diet and exercising are intrinsically linked when it comes to losing weight, but what about when it comes to maintaining that weight loss? A new study has discovered which is more critical for you long-term weight loss goals.

By Anya Truong-George
When it comes to losing weight there's a huge importance put on cleaning up how you eat, hence the constant demand for weight loss diets – think the keto, Whole30 and Mediterreanean diets along with the increasing popularity of 'cleaner' diets like the vegetarian and vegan diets.
Exercise is of course another important step, many people talk about the idea of the 80/20 ratio rule – focus on 80 per cent diet and 20 per cent exercise.
And while this is all well and good when it comes to shedding the weight, one of the hardest parts is actually maintaining the weight you've lost and not putting it back on.
So does this ratio work when it comes to maintaining weight loss? According to new research, this may not be the case.
One of the hardest parts about weight loss is keeping that weight off. So which is the most vital to focus on? Exercise or diet? (Image: Getty)
A new study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Centre and published in the March issue of Obesity, has revealed that physical activity in fact does more to maintain substantial weight loss than diet.
"The study addresses the difficult question of why so many people struggle to keep weight off over a long period," says Danielle Ostendorf, a postdoctoral fellow at the university.
"By providing evidence that a group of successful weight-loss maintainers engages in high levels of physical activity to prevent weight regain – rather than chronically restricting their energy intake – is a step forward to clarifying the relationship between exercise and weight-loss maintenance."
This means people who relied on restricting their calorie intake were less likely to be able to keep the weight off than those who had high levels of physical exercise but ate approximately the same amount of calories as overweight participants.
In the study, successful weight maintainers were considered participants who kept a reduced body weight of 30 pounds (13.6 kg) or more for over a year.
The new study has found that high levels of physical activity is more effective for weight loss maintenance than restricting calories. (Image: Getty)
The research was conducted by comparing a group of weight loss maintainers with two other groups; a group of participants with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) that was similar to the weight loss maintainers' current BMI, along with a group of overweight/obese participants who were equivalent to the weight loss maintainers' pre-weight loss BMI.
Weight management physician and researcher at the university, Victoria A. Catenacci, says "Our findings suggest that this group of successful weight loss maintainers are consuming a similar number of calories per day as individuals with overweight and obesity but appear to avoid weight regain by compensating for this with high levels of physical activity."
So while this study shows that exercise does in fact play a much larger part than was previously stressed when compared with diet, this by no means gives us the excuse to eat whatever we want.
It's still important to make sure you're putting nutrient-rich foods into your body and trying to cut back on foods high in refined sugars, fat and salt for your overall health.
The study does, however, serve as an important reminder that movement and exercise are just as vital to our weight loss goals as they are to benefiting our physical and mental health too.