You Can’t Out-Exercise A Bad Diet

by tinareale on June 21, 2012

Earlier this week, I received a very intriguing infographic in the newsletter I receive with articles and other information from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Take a look.

CDC The New (Ab)normal


Then, a friend in my running group shared a link to this article about obesity and links or possible causes. It discusses how our bodies become more and more addicted to the unnatural substances or levels of substances (like sugar or sodium) that we put in our bodies.

It’s no doubt that the increase in consumption of processed foods with added sugars, fats, and chemicals along with larger portions have played a role in our society’s health and wellness. For many, including myself, dietary changes present a lot of challenges. It can be easier to grab food on the go or at a restaurant. Quality produce, meats, and other products can sometimes be more expensive. Sugar and fat laden treats often do taste good. Our bodies seek out those ingredients and the cravings can be too much to handle. But it’s worth it to push past those “troubles” to make the changes for our health.

We cannot ignore our dietary habits. And we also cannot exercise away poor nutrition choices.

I love that I see exercise and fitness being promoted more and more in society. Yet, that isn’t enough. I guess this is just my friendly little reminder today that what you put into your body counts. Think before you eat. Check your portions. Know what you’re eating. Take care of your fitness, but also – and even more importantly – take care of your nutrition.


Have you ever tried to out-exercise poor dietary decisions? Thought about either the CDC’s infographic or the other article?


1 Miz June 21, 2012 at 6:24 am

<> will you come tell the other grownup in the domicile this? :-)

2 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 7:07 am

You should use your mad fitness skills to pin him down and explain the truth to him. Er, wait. He may like that. ;)

3 Heather @ Better With Veggies June 21, 2012 at 7:02 am

Um, yes. I still struggle with this. I LOVE food and I have to really focus on not eating too much of the “good stuff” because I’m training. Eventually I’ll get this down. :)

4 Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie June 21, 2012 at 7:08 am

Such a good post, a reminder everyone needs to hear!

5 Katie @wishandwhimsy June 21, 2012 at 7:15 am

Agreed! While exercise is super important, I think our diets are MOST important in terms of wellness. We need to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies. Great post!

6 chelsey @ clean eating chelsey June 21, 2012 at 7:22 am

I absolutely LOVE that quote about not being able to out exercise a bad diet. Fitness is so important, but so is eating rightand fueling your body!

7 Kimberly @ Redefining Kimberly June 21, 2012 at 7:36 am

During my college years (and the first few years following graduation), I used exercise as a method that would allow me to eat whatever I wanted – my weight stayed down but I was in no way, shape or form “healthy”. Now as a wife, mother, and soon to be 30 year old, I have come to realize how poor food choices make my body feel more than how they effect the number on my scale. I feel better, sleep better, and have more energy when I eat lean protein, whole grains, and fresh fruits/veggies. Moreover, I now exercise because I truly enjoy it rather than to try and counteract the Big Mac I just ate.

The CDC’s infographic is truly eye opening – I am going to share it with my daughter’s daycare — perhaps they will pass it on to each family.

8 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm

I went through the same thing. And what a great idea to share it at the daycare!

9 Lauren June 21, 2012 at 7:50 am

Great picture & article! There are so many causes to obesity, and the environment is a HUGE one. It’s so easy to get sugary and unhealthy convenience food. A lot of people don’t understand nutrition because of conflicting messages they’re told, and companies also trick us into thinking products are healthy – like breakfast cereals for kids that are loaded with sugar but say “full of whole grains!” on the front.

10 Becky Przy June 21, 2012 at 7:53 am

This is a great statement! I think so many people get into the mentality “I work out so I can eat whatever I want” Personally, I have been in that camp, I was eating what I thought was ‘healthy’ but it really was just a lot of low-fat/no-fat pre-packaged ‘junk’. I wasn’t over-weight, but I was not fueling my body properly (sick all the time, tired). Now I stick mostly to ‘real foods’…its amazing how much better I feel!

I believe in 80-90% of weight-loss begins in the kitchen!

11 Alex @ therunwithin June 21, 2012 at 7:55 am

I think this really speaks to that idea about balance, you should exercise, you should eat well but also you can eat bad and not exercise as hard. It all evens out!

12 Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) June 21, 2012 at 8:10 am

Eating right has never been hard for me. I guess I’m one of the strange ones that actually loves healthy foods. I do believe all food can be addictive. Meaning when your body becomes accustomed to a certain type of food, you will crave it. Sadly, people think fast food is cheaper, quicker and easier in their busy lifestyles. Even the trainer I work with says that to me. It infuriates me to hear this, but it seems that is the way most people think. Ultimately, no, I don’t believe you can out exercise a bad diet. However I do believe that treats are a healthy part of any diet! It’s a balancing act for sure.

13 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Agreed! They should be included – you know I have mine ;) – and it’s all about seeking a healthy balance. It’s crazy how skewed many of our bodies are now though. If we fuel ourselves properly I 100% agree that we will crave those types of things too.

14 Laurie @ Love, Laugh, Laurie June 21, 2012 at 8:10 am

I can’t believe how big portion sizes have gotten! It’s so crazy!

15 Heather June 21, 2012 at 8:18 am

I tried to do this for years. In high school I ate like crap but b/c I played sports year round for hours a day, I stayed very skinny. Then college hit and while i was still exercising, it was a more “noraml” amount and I still ate poorly and the weight crept on. Honestly, still today, this is my biggest challenge. I am a very picky eater so it’s difficult for me!

16 Meredith @ DareYouTo June 21, 2012 at 8:21 am

So true. I can have the best workout week of my life, but if I’m not eating clean, my body will just not feel or look its best.

17 Cheryl @ Happy is the new healthy June 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

The idea of working out to control your weight and not because it’s fun or something you at least get some kind of pleasure out of (i.e. training for triathlons might not be all fun, but at the end of it all and thanks to the community and the fun training that comes along with it it’s worth it!) is one that took me a long time to come to…but when I realized that my life totally changed! So if this idea that working out doesn’t undo bad eating helps people give up the endless compulsive exercise and seek out alternatives to move that make them feel good, then amen to that! If it helps them eat less processed food, AWESOME! But I think the problem is that people need to get away from weight and think about their other motivations: you work out to be healthy and to feel energized, you eat to fuel yourself, and your weight is just a byproduct.

Sorry for the rant!

18 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Rant away, my friend! I agree whole heartedly. I believe HEALTH is what should matter so much more than any number on a scale. Sure, that can relate, but it shouldn’t be the determining factor. Energy, happiness, longevity, etc all play such important roles.

19 Sara @ The Foodie Diaries June 21, 2012 at 8:30 am

A couple of months ago I realized you can’t out-exercise a bad diet so I decided to switch up my whole lifestyle. To be successful in working out and accomplishing your fitness goals, you can’t eat crap and then expect to be able to work it off in the gym the next day. It’s a whole life style change from what you eat, to getting enough sleep, to staying active!

20 Amanda @RunToTheFinish June 21, 2012 at 8:33 am

heck yes some days I ran an extra two miles so I could enjoy a cookie! I think there is a difference between understanding calories in food and occasionally doing extra so you can splurge and simply thinking because you worked out you deserve even more.

it’s kind of like after a 5K when they serve OJ and donuts and folks think they burned like a million calories.

21 Michele @ nycrunningmama June 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

HAHAHA. Amanda – I nearly spit out my coffee when I read your last comment. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Or how there are socials after a 3 mile run where people eat and drink 5x the number of calories they burned. :)

22 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Loved that last bit about the 5Ks too. They are still worthy races to run (I know you agree) but not necessary to finish by “refueling” with 1000 calories of sugars. Yea, it’s cool to splurge on occasion and balance it out with training, but not to the extreme or the be all end all of workouts. Totally agree with you that there’s a difference.

23 Michele @ nycrunningmama June 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

OMG. That picture is seriously disgusting! I can’t believe how much portion size has changed!! When we do splurge and order fast food, we order ONE meal and share the fries and drink – and only get a medium sized, at that. As much as I would love to Super Size or whatever it is called, it’s just too much food!
For a while I had the mentality that b/c I was running 50+ miles a week, I could sit on the couch each night and pig out on unhealthy food. I felt worse and was gaining weight! You are right – it’s all about a balance!! Great post, Tina!

24 Fiona @ Get Fit Fiona June 21, 2012 at 9:13 am

It’s definitely all about balance. If I’m going to put in the effort to workout, I might as well eat better too.

25 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Love that! What a simple, but inspiring, statement!

26 Kelly June 21, 2012 at 9:15 am

I am a BIG believer that it is 80% diet and 20% exercise. I really believe that. I don’t think you can make up for a bad diet. But I do think you can not workout and eat well and still be okay. I really believe you need both in your life but if you had to pick just one then it would be eating right.

27 jobo June 21, 2012 at 9:20 am

YES! The hamster on a wheel syndrome…trying to out-exercise a bad diet. The premise of – well, if I just work out a whole bunch, I can eat extra during the day, or whatever I want (worse). Absolutely agree with every word you say, as always!!

28 Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef June 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

so true!! even though sometimes a fast food meal does taste really good, i’m hungry an hour later because it’s all empty calories. and personally, i’d rather make a fun dessert or an unhealthy dinner at home then enjoy that…because it’s usually better tasting anyways! obviously i can’t do that all the time though… thanks for the reminder. i love those images!

29 Claire @ Live and Love to Eat June 21, 2012 at 9:34 am

I would love to shout this from the rooftops! Diet is key to weight loss, exercise for weight maintenance!

30 [email protected] June 21, 2012 at 9:46 am

I go nuts about portion sizes. The obscene sizes kill me (and are killing us).

I about spit out my coffee at Amanda’s comment, too. That cracks me up – the food and beer spread at a 5K.

31 Alicia June 21, 2012 at 9:46 am

Wow, don’t I know this all too well! I tried to lose weight for years; but, with a bad diet, or even semi-good, I had no luck. It was frustrating to put all that work in and get little to no result.
It wasn’t until I got a real grip on food reality that I finally started to lose weight. Getting all the bad substances out of my system was really hard. Now, I eat great and have more control over myself.
Thanks for doing this Blog.

32 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm

And you have been making great progress. ;)

33 Theresa @ActiveEggplant June 21, 2012 at 9:52 am

I totally know how futile it is to try to “exercise away” a bad diet. And during the process, I packed on 11 pounds despite the fact that I was training for/running 3 half marathons in 3 months. At the time I couldn’t figure outwhy I was struggling so much with weight loss. Then I took a step back and realized just how much damage I was doing with my eating habits. You know, the whole “I just ran 10 miles so I can eat whaterver I want” mentality.

I’ve backed off of running (for other reasons) and cleaned up my diet & have lost those 11 pounds and I’m still making progress towards my goal weight. So at least I learned the lesson eventually, right?

34 Heather (Heather's Dish) June 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

you know i totally agree with you that it’s awesome that exercise is being promoted more, but that’s only half of a healthy lifestyle. i think it’s easier for us to take on something new (exercise) rather than give something up that we love (crap food). BUT i think we’ll get there soon (hopefully)!

35 Tara Burner June 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

love the graphics and sadly soooooo true…
you can exercise and have massive sweat fests but at the end of the day if you’re consuming junk people will not reap the full benefits of their workouts…

36 Jess June 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

OMG YES!! No matter HOW MUCH you workout, if you’re fueling your body with crap food, it’ll do you no good whatsoever, and in fact it outdoes much of that hard work you just put into your workout. Plus, you feel SO MUCH BETTER when you eat well vs. lots of pre-packaged crap. Man, I wish more people would “get” this and really listen when research like this comes out to prove the point. (can you tell this really FIRES me up?? lol)

37 Eva @ committed2nutrition June 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I feel the exact same way you do! I so get fired up over this!

38 Amanda Perry @ Sistas of Strength June 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Great reminder. I always remind people that it’s about 80% diet and 20% fitness. I used to run every single day, but I ate like crap. Let’s just say I didn’t look like I ran every day. haha :)

39 Dana June 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Great post, Tina! I also read/love the blog, Mark’s Daily Apple ( and he claims that the key to losing weight is 80% diet and the remainder exercise. Based on my limited experience, I would tend to agree. Thanks for this reminder.

40 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Love Mark’s Daily Apple and I 100% agree with the 80% diet statement too. I learned it the hard way.

41 Cat @ Breakfast to Bed June 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

mostly try to outrun beer. I’ve been thusly unsuccessful.

42 Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic June 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Very true! I am shocked when I go to other countries (especially in Asia) and the portion sizes are so much smaller – but in reality they have the portion sizes right, I’m just not used to it anymore!

43 misszippy June 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm

So true! Our society somewhere along the line lost the basic instinct to eat real food. I am pretty good about eating real food and so are my kids, but I find that it is a real challenge to teach them this when they are surrounded by a society that is all about processed stuff. The saddest thing to me is that all of their sports activities parents insist on bringing snacks for after. Doritos, juice boxes, etc.–what are we teaching them?

Sorry–off on my soap box!

44 tinareale June 21, 2012 at 6:56 pm

I know what you mean! At M’s preschool whenever we had to bring snacks or little lunches for the kids it would be crazy. When I had to bring something I brought these mini whole wheat pumpkin muffins that Makenzie LOVES. Other kids wouldn’t touch them. Any other event, moms were brining mini packaged donuts, Chick Fil A platters, etc. I think those things are fine on occasion but do 2-3 year olds need that for EVERY little party lunch at school?

45 Lindsay @ FuelMyFamily June 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I like the you cant out-exercise bad eating habits. I think this got me in trouble when I trained for my half marathon. I thought well I did run 10 miles today so i can eat anything I want today. And I kind of laughed when I saw the little people at the bottom of the graph. Its so true though, so really its sad. Especially when kids are obese because its their parents who feed them to that point.

46 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats June 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

This is so very true! I’ve always heard that you can lose weight simply by cleaning up your diet, without even exercising (although exercise is very good for your health!) but if you’re only exercising and not changing your diet, then you won’t get too far!

47 Leonor @FoodFaithFitness June 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I tried to out-exercise my diet, it didn’t work. I would eat clean during the week and then cheat on the weekend. I figured my running would make up for it. I was training for a marathon. I actually gained weight. Once I cleaned up my eating, I lost 30 pounds.

48 PavementRunner June 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I am the king of trying to out excercise a bad diet. LOL. Weird, right? Well, I’m not really trying to lose weight, just sort of maintain my existing size. I tend to fluctuate 5-10 pounds, mostly because when I don’t run, my diet stays the same. See the problem. I enjoy running and I enjoy what I eat (which really isn’t that bad), but there is always room for improvement. Great share!

49 Charissa June 21, 2012 at 11:12 pm

The top picture totally scares me…it’s so sad where things seem to be going…but thank God, we can change all that!!!

50 Sarah June 22, 2012 at 10:51 am

GREAT post!! When I make a bad dietary decision, I often try to exercise it out and it NEVER works. I eat a pretty clean diet with the exception of dessert. These past few weeks I have been a little stressed because of my wedding last weekend. Because of the stress I ate as I normally do but didn’t feel the need to reach for dessert, I was too distracted to notice. It was amazing how great I feel b/c I cut out the unneccessary sugar in my diet. Now let’s hope I don’t get bored and reintroduce that nightly dessert.

51 Eva @ committed2nutrition June 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I am so glad you posted this and could not agree with this more. A lot of people come up to me at Zumba and even work and ask me questions about fitness. They tell me they are working out “soooooooo much” but are not seeing the results on the scale or on their bodies. I tell them, “Honestly, losing weight at least for me, is 95% of what I eat. I can teach 10 hours of Zumba a week, but if I eat poorly, I will NO DOUBT gain weight despite the calories I am burning. It is the FOOD that matters”..and most of the time, they look at me in disbelief. They think really, its all food? And I do truly believe losing weight and being healthy is almost entirely what you eat. Sure, exercise helps and you SHOULD exercise, but really diet is so, so, so important. I am also grateful that I just happen to be one of those people that LOVE healthy foods. I love oatmeal, vegetables, lean proteins, etc. just by nature. Anyway, this was a great post and I hope this digests with a lot of people out there.

52 [email protected] June 23, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I saw that info graph also. Sadly, portion sizes have been growing and growing for a while now. And it’s so true, our bodies become HIGHLY addicted to additives…and especially sugar. Sugar is the worst, and it’s hidden in our food in SO many forms! We should only be eating 30 grams per day, including fruit sugar, and the average American consumes 150 grams a day! Scary!

Great post!

53 [email protected] June 27, 2012 at 11:32 am

When I was younger, I used to think I could exercise off anything bad that I ate. Now I am learning that it takes a healthy diet and exercise all of the time to stay fit. There are no tricks or secrets!

54 Barjinder October 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I train hard, in the last 2 years I’ve increased my protein intake and cut my carbs, chocolates and salty snack consumption – I’m now seeing the results as well as having a 4 pack for the first time in my life.

My brother works for the post office and walks about 40 miles per week on his rounds, his diet isn’t good, to look at ham and another person – you couldn’t really tell that he’s the one who walks the beat, so all his hard exercise is going to waste.

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