FITNESS OR HEALTH?
I'm not a fitness expert nor am I giving you health and fitness advice. But I have had a lifetime of trial and error and am happy to give you my opinions on this subject.
You may want to think about your goal of fitness as these two loosely associated objectives: being healthy and being fit. Many look fit (thin, muscled, young) but are not healthy (blood chemistry, cardiovascular system, bones/muscles/joints). Check out Gina Kolata's 2003 book, "Ultimate Fitness: The Quest or Truth about Exercise and Health". She skewers a fair number of scared cows with the Amazon comments to prove it.
A more recent data point would be the story of Mark Haub, Kansas State University Professor who lost 27 pounds by eating mainly junk food; an experiment he conducted with his class. By eating fewer calories he lost weight, even if the food was unhealthy. Not surprising--if you eat fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. But what was unexpected was that he saw a real improvement in his blood chemistry. It challenges the idea that exercise and remaining overweight is healthy.
If you want to lose weight, you must accept that exercise alone is really an inefficient way to do it, even if you become more fit. According to the sixth edition of "Fitness & Health", by running a 12-minute mile for 30 minutes you have expended about 300 calories. That's it (it takes 3500 calories to make up a pound). You can often double what you lose by running that 30 minutes by calorie restriction alone. Being overweight is such a health risk that just losing weight alone can be an important health goal. Also, using exercise as your main tool for weight loss can encourage you to over exercise to meet your weight loss goals.
Yes exercising and being physically fit (muscle to bone ratio, more efficient cardiovascular system) are very important, but anyone can have trouble committing to so many goals at once (reduce weight, get physically fit, eat right, sleep more, drink more water . . .) that it overwhelms the desire to do anything at all.
I consider weight loss first if the weight I want to lose is significant; I get immediate benefits. Vigorous exercise when I am very overweight strains my joints as well as my cardiovascular system. When some success has been achieved, I have the motivation to begin exercise along with a now established pattern of calorie restriction.
Then, when I have achieved my ideal weight, I than can stop calorie restriction and eating only enough calories to match the amount of calories I burn; continuing with exercise to maintain fitness. Along the way I can gradually explore healthy foods and include them regularly in my diet. Yes, eating right, exercising, and maintain an ideal body weight are all important goals, it just may be that you want to tackle them one at a time.
What are your thoughts on this? How have you balanced feeling fit in a healthy way?