Study Shows Losing Weight via the Traditional Approach is Harder than Quitting Smoking


“It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.” – American Heart Association

Some people are able to lose weight and keep it off by eating less and exercising more. A lot more people are not. The last forty years of fat-loss data reveal that the traditional approach can work—just not very often. Studies show that eating less and exercising more does not keep body fat off long-term 95% of the time. To put this 95% failure rate into perspective, quitting smoking cold turkey has a 94.5% failure rate. In other words, more people are able to quit smoking cold turkey than are able to keep body fat off using the traditional approach.

If eating less and exercising more works for you long-term, excellent. If not, science shows there is another—more effective—approach: Eat more. Exercise Less. Smarter.

Even better, research shows that this alternative approach is more effective at facilitating long-term fat loss and robust health. For example, researchers at Skidmore College compared a traditional “eat less, exercise more—harder” program against an “eat more, exercise less—smarter” program. Let’s call the groups in the study the Harder Group and the Smarter Group.

The Harder Group ate the traditional diet of 60% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 25% fat while doing low-quality cardiovascular exercise for forty minutes per day, six days per week. Low-quality cardiovascular exercise refers to exercises like walking, biking, and jogging, which must be done for hours to impact our health and weight. The Smarter Group ate a higher-quality diet* of 40% carbohydrate, 40% protein, and 20% fat while exercising only 60% as much, but with higher-quality**. The study lasted for 12 weeks and included 34 women and 29 men between the ages of 20 and 60.

At the end of the study, the Harder Group “successfully” ate less and exercised eighteen hours more than the Smarter Group. After examining the results though, the researchers concluded:

The primary finding of the current study is that a lifestyle modification program consisting of high-intensity cardiovascular and resistance training combined with a balanced carbohydrate and protein diet results in greater improvement in body composition, cardiovascular risk factors, and muscular strength than a program comprised of a traditional diet and moderate-intensity exercise regimen commonly recommended for weight loss.

Less academically speaking, eating more and exercising less—smarter—was more effective than the traditional approach. Here’s the data:

Combine the increased effectiveness of eating more and exercising less—smarter—with avoiding hunger or spending hours in the gym, and this smarter scientific approach may be just what the doctor ordered for the other 95% of us.

Next week we’ll start to explore the science of why eating less and exercising more fails to burn fat long term 95% of the time.

* We’ll cover why this is a “higher-quality” diet in future posts.
** We’ll cover what makes exercise “higher-quality” in future posts.

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