Exercise vs Food: which one wins?

Per the poll a while ago, random musings on exercise vs. food was one of the high-ranking elected topics.

Honestly, folks, I got a little stuck on this one.* Apparently, I felt two ways about this enough that when I went back to try and finish this post, I discovered my Past Self (she’s more reliable than me) had started not one but TWO drafts of this post. One titled, ‘Food vs. Exercise: Which one wins?’ and the other titled, ‘Exercise vs. Food: Which one wins?’ These were spaced just four days apart. Hmm.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified dietition or personal trainer, only a meticulous person who tends to over/extra-analyze things.

Exhibit A: Bored Panda: What 200 Calories Looks Like
Remember that meme that went around the Internet a couple years ago? I think it was this one, or one like it. It features photos of the same-sized plate, loaded up with different things that are 200 calories. Such contrast, from 2 tablespoons of butter to a giant plate of celery, to an avocado. It seems clear from this wide variation, that it’s much easier to eat a wide variety of calories than the burn off those same calories through exercise.

Exhibit B: Real Simple: Diet or Exercise?
If you want to weigh less, focus on diet. If you want to feel better, increase energy, and other great quality of life factors, do both but focus on exercise. One motivation for me to exercise is certainly so I can eat a bigger variety of delicious foods, but I fully admit I’m always struggling a bit on the diet side, which doesn’t feel like a pressingly urgent need to fix at present. Novelty and rich food is just so delicious, and when 3 days of 7 in the week are weekend-style eating, it can be a bit much. Also, the more I exercise, the hungrier I get. What a conundrum.  Note: a convenient limiting factor in food for me is that I eat slow, and also I tend to notice the next day if I have eaten badly, so it deters me from eating badly extra frequently.

Exhibit C: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) on the benefits of exercise.
Recent awkwardly-phrased statements on alcohol, women, and pregnancy in the news aside, the authority of the CDC states that exercise reduces all kinds of risk for poorer health.


Doodle #1:

Exercise & Eating: doodle by Y. Wong.
Exercise & Eating: doodle by Y. Wong.

The size of the scales above is reflective of the time you spend in activity. It shows how it takes more effort and time to exercise for the same calorie impact vs. eating. The two are perpetually seesawing up and down depending on the latest thing I ingested or activity I did.

However, the dimension of this that I haven’t drawn is that while it takes time to exercise, the time you spend doing that can be seen as an investment in extending your healthy vibrant time on Earth. Reducing health risks can be read as increasing your chances of more healthy years. That way, I can get closer to my goal of being able to chew the occasional steak when I’m 80. As you can see from the idle doodle above, the word between the two is not ‘or’, but ‘and’. Sometimes when you have two choices, I choose the third one: both!

Now, to apply some behavioral economics fixes to my own eating habits to make them line up better with maximum satisfaction short and long-term..

Well, I promised random thoughts, so that’s all for now. What are your thoughts on exercise vs. eating?

How would you depict it?


Novelty Rating: 4 of 5, novelty tastes good, and helps me to eat a bigger variety of things that are likely good for me (see: trying new vegetables).
Likelihood of Repeat: 20% I likely won’t write about this particular topic again unless requested.
Lesson learned: using the word ‘random’ in a title makes me want to hack it.

*That, and work, and generally trying to live a full life sweeping me away.


  1. Well, I excercise because it makes me feel well physically and manage stress. Integral part of my life and well being. It incidentally burns off a good junk of my extras (beers on Thursday night). But I stopped counting on it for significant weight loss years ago. Eating on the other hand, is key to the weight management part since it’s way easier (nowadays) for me to just cut out a few things, or eat more vegetables, then to try to run off 4 cupcakes consumed in an afternoon.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts! For my part, I think I need to work on landing on a better metric for feeling fit and well than weight, and that will help keep my eating and exercise in better balance.

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