Why You Can’t Out Supplement A Poor Diet

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One trend I’ve noticed in the real food and health communities lately is an almost fanatical obsession with an certain aspect of healthy living, while completely ignoring (or just not doing) other things that are just as important for health.

I’m calling myself out on this one! For instance, I wrote my post about The Importance of Sleep at 2 am…. hypocritical? Yes!

Bad for the adrenals? Yes!

Indicative of a bigger problem? Yes!

The basis of a good blog post (this time not written at 2 am)? Yes!

What these little instances of cognitive dissonance that happen in my own life (thanks Hubby for pointing them out 🙂 make me realize is that despite our general commitment to health, we all have our areas that we need to work on but just can’t or don’t.

For me, it is the sleep thing. I know that sleep is important and vital to good health. I am also the mom of four (almost 5) kids under 7 and try to keep up with a garden, a blog and a big writing project. Something occasionally has to give, and unfortunately, it is usually my sleep! (I laughed the other day when I found myself thinking “Maybe when the baby is born I will finally get some sleep!” Yeah right!)

True Health is a Complete Circle

Typically, we focus on our strongest areas of health and shy away from our weak areas. Chris Kresser has a great article on this at The Healthy Skeptic. He compares health to a chain, only as strong as its weakest link.

I’ve used a similar analogy with a circle. There are many parts of overall health (sleep, healthy eating, exercise, supplements when necessary, stress reduction, etc) and your health is only as strong as the weakest part of your circle.

Its always easier though, to further improve an area you are already good at than to focus on a difficult one. For instance:

Many athletes do this, focusing on improving their already impressive fitness level, while not working on aspects of their diet, sleep schedule or stress level that might need it.

I’ve seen this in many people who take hundreds of dollars of supplements each month but “can’t afford” real healthy foods and still buy processed snack foods.

I’ve seen this in professionals and moms who do great with the diet, supplements and even exercise but have trouble keeping stress levels down or getting enough sleep.

In other words:

  • You can’t out-exercise a bad diet
  • You can’t out-supplement a bad-diet (this is a big one!)
  • You can’t out-diet lack of exercise
  • You can’t out-diet lack of sleep
  • You can’t out-sleep a bad diet
  • You can’t out-diet lack of exercise
  • You can’t out-diet too much stress
  • You can’t out-exercise too much stress
  • You can’t out-supplement too much stress
  • Etc, etc etc

There are many pillars of optimal health and while it is easy to focus on improving the ones we are already good at, its often tough to focus on our weak areas. For me, its much easier to try to further tweak our diet or supplement regimen than to realize that a little extra sleep would go a long way.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are certainly areas that carry more weight than others. For instance, I agree with Mark Sisson’s claim that 80% of our physique is determined by our diet, but all the aspects are important.

If there is an area of your health that you still struggle with, despite making dietary or other changes, perhaps your weakest link is holding you back. Maybe you are having trouble losing weight? Want to up your athletic ability? Have hormones out of balance?

The Challenge

For the next two weeks, I challenge you (and myself) to focus on your weakest area and work to improve it. For me, this will be striving to get to bed by 10 pm each night and keep my stress levels down. For you this could mean getting regular exercise, finally making the jump to a real food diet, getting your Vitamin D levels checked, or another part of optimal health.

The Quiz

To help figure out where your “weak spot” might be, I’ve devised a completely non-scientific quiz! Answer “Yes” or “No” to each:

Food and Diet

  1. Do I get enough protein each day (usually about 80-100 grams a day or more)?
  2. Do I get enough fat each day, especially saturated fat (about half of total calories)?
  3. Do I get at least one big serving of veggies at every meal?
  4. Do I get probiotic rich fermented foods each day?
  5. Am I drinking enough water each day?
  6. Am I avoiding toxins (grains, processed foods, vegetable oils, sugars, etc)?


  1. Do I get Vitamin D every day, from sun or quality supplement?
  2. Am I getting enough essential fats (Omega-3s, DHA, RHA, etc)?
  3. Am I getting enough Probiotics through food or supplements?
  4. Am I getting a wide range of nutrients from food or supplements?
  5. Am I taking a balanced and carefully determined list of supplements (as opposed to a huge assortment)?


  1. Do I get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night?
  2. Do I feel rested each morning when waking?
  3. Do I wake without an alarm clock?
  4. Am I asleep between the critical hours of 10pm and 2 am?
  5. Am I able to sleep without chemical or herbal aids?


  1. Do I handle stress well?
  2. Overall, am I not-stressed most of the time?
  3. Can I handle stressful situations without negative health effects?
  4. Are all the sources of stress in my life necessary?
  5. Do I avoid taking stress out on others?


  1. Do I exercise at least a few times a week?
  2. Do I get high intensity exercise each week?
  3. Do I do some form of body weight or resistance training each week?
  4. Have I found forms of exercise that are enjoyable to me?
  5. Do I look forward to exercise?

Fun and Relaxation

  1. Do I take time to do things for fun regularly?
  2. Do  I spend regular time with my family and friends?
  3. Do I have hobbies that I enjoy and pursue?
  4. Am I comfortable relaxing (or do I feed guilty for not working)?

If you answered “No” to more than one part in any section, chances are this might be a weak link for you. (Though there is no science backing this quiz!). I’ll be focusing on improving my sleep these next couple of weeks….

It’s your turn…

What is your weak area, and how will your work on it? Tell me below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


22 responses to “Why You Can’t Out Supplement A Poor Diet”

  1. Teresa Avatar

    I try hard with eating properly but I do not exercise or move enough at all !! Not breaking a sweat ! I need to work on moving more ! I will try to remember that I do need to break a sweat and that I do like to walk ! I use to like to dance !:) will have to work on this area !

  2. Kerry Avatar

    I get it. You shouldn’t try to get nutrients from a pill, however, what is actually the best multivitamin for those of us who still want one?

  3. Lorelei Avatar

    Well, nothing I didn’t know already, but very compelling presented like that! I need more fun, exercise, and less stress. Regular good sleep would be nice; but baby decides that area!

  4. Shannon Avatar

    Omg. I didn’t even see stress and exercise.
    1. I do not handle stress well.
    2. I have about 7 exercise apps on my phone for every part of the body and some aerobic. Never opened them.
    3. I have scattered about my living room and my basement exercise equipment, weights, videos, dvds, stair steps. I bought TWO pairs of the same shoes that were a million bucks perfectly formed for my kinda feet and for running.
    4. One pair of those 100% I was running, jogging or at least walking shoes, I wear as my everyday shoes. The other pair have not left the box.
    5. In the past I exercised religiously. In the present, I eat baby food. If stressing was an exercise I could totally be in the Olympics. I would WIN that gold medal.

  5. Shannon Avatar

    I only drink water, but I no mater how hard I try I never drink enough.
    Yikes, I was super excited today that something was 10 grams of protein.
    I don’t know how much fat or sat fat I need & I don’t understand the explanation of about half of total cal’s
    I get about 3 servings microwave steamed vegetable maybe once a day. Bad I know.
    I don’t cook and I pretend I eat well, but if the Microwave is my cooking source…..
    But everything else on the toxin list I am doing stellar on.hahah
    The script D I get isn’t D3. I asked. The pharmacy crew acted offended & said it was all the same. I need D3.
    Don’t laugh, but I don’t know what DHA, RHA, etc. are. I want to know.
    I always take a probiotic. A month ago, I thought I had candida, so I stopped. Not sure when to start again.
    Don’t laugh, I have no clue what a prebiotic is. I would like to know.
    Getting nutrients is from supps. I am a veg that doesn’t cook and eats meat once a month? I do eat good?
    I take a huge list of supplements and the list just got bigger.
    I have a sleep disorder so I think I sleep longer than 7-9.
    I sleep at 3, 5 or 6 am. I have always been that way but adderal doesn’t help. Those hours feel natural.
    I need benadryl to sleep. I know! I know!
    Well, I sure feel guilty when I think about the lack of knowledge I have about putting foods together. This was before you, so don’t worry. I may eat one thing very healthy, but that one thing was meant to be in addition with other things. On top of it, I take meds that DESTROY my hunger and then metabolism. That makes me gain weight, and only crave one thing all the time, like fruit. Natural sugars. bad. So I will be going about my day and then WHAM! I am so starving I can barely handle it, which is partially why I don’t cook. I don’t have time. I want to eat NOW! I always buy great stuff to cook. Rice pasta and good sauces, organic, non gmo, I try to buy meat. All that stuff just gets to be a collection. Right now I am on a weirdo diet of baby food ( even the vegetables!! sick girl here!! ) baby food rice cereal and ten calorie jello. I know better, is the crazy thing. But I am incorporating the coconut milk and gluten free granola cereal
    ( balance) back slowly, chicken, gluten free bread, sugar free preserves and almond butter ( balance) so I am trying. p.s the chicken does not go in the sandwich. ? Shannon

  6. Liz Wells Avatar
    Liz Wells

    Great post and so true! Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  7. Cori Oliver Crews Avatar
    Cori Oliver Crews

    I’m totally lost on supplements. I don’t want to take to many nor too few but have no clue where to start. Do you have a suggested list of supplements to take? Thanks so much for your help!

    1. George Avatar

      Yea. Fish oil, b complex. check out Greg Barnes on Facebook. he has a video on it.

  8. Dainty Lia Avatar
    Dainty Lia

    What is the best way to take the Fermented Cod Liver oil/BB? I emailed to Green Pastures and they responded that it would be best in the morning on an empty stomach with diluted orange juice, what would you recommend?

  9. Kelly Avatar

    According to the quiz, I have many weak areas. I am going to focus on exercise and see if other areas will fall into place.

  10. Donna Avatar

    Sleep and taking time to relax instead of working is my weakness. I can’t seem to get everything done that needs to be finished.  If you find a good solution, please share. I’ve never caught up from home schooling my kids and eating healthy.

  11. Kristi Avatar

    This is such a great list of the things I need to work on.  I’ve been trying to out diet everything and it’s so not working.  I’m printing this one out.  Thanks!

  12. Mary Avatar

     I’m kind of stuck with the exercise area. I’m 14 weeks pregnant and on bedrest, so I’m not moving around a lot. My exercise consists of going to the bathroom, fixing food in the kitchen, and sitting up occasionally. I’m supposed to move around a little bit more, but I have a previous history of losing babies, so moving around too much not only makes me physically uncomfortable, but also triggers stress and panic.  I’m trying to keep my mental well-being stable by listening to my body when it tells me to lay down. 

    The good news is that I’m really doing well in all of the other areas, and once I get to 26 weeks, I should relax some and will feel more comfortable getting up and doing a little more light exercise.  Of course, I anticipate that the sleep thing will get worse as I get further into the pregnancy. This sort of proves your point, though, since my “circle” is missing a chunk. Given the circumstances, I’ll have to adapt until I’m physically able to do more.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      Congrats! My heart goes out to you! I can’t imagine bedrest, and you
      will definitely be in my thoughts. On the positive, you are probably
      able to do much better than most of us in getting enough sleep and
      relaxing, which will also be great for your growing little one! Best
      of luck for an easy rest of your pregnancy and an easy delivery!

      1. Mary Avatar

        Thanks. I’m really hoping that the third time’s the charm, pregnancy-wise. I am getting great rest, like you said. I’m thinking this is the most rest I’ll have for the next…18 years or more, I guess. The biggest problem with bedrest is that I don’t want to be so weak that I’m forced into a C-section because I can’t push. So…once I feel comfortable moving more, I’ll probably do much more. That would be in about another 12 weeks.  In the meantime, I’m trying to get up and move a little bit more every day.

  13. Lisa Avatar

    Exercise, definitely. Since changing my diet, I sleep better and am less stressed. But I still don’t find time to get much exercise. It’s harder to get motivated, too, since my weight (thanks to the new diet) is now exactly where I want it.

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