Essentials for Eaters and Dieters

Dieting That Works


Weight loss is a special condition our bodies adapt to
When our body weight is stable, our body fat undergoes very small daily cycles of deposition and mobilization.  In order to lose body fat, we reduce the number of calories consumed to create an energy deficit.  When the body has adapted to this condition, body fat is continuously mobilized and burned to supply part of the energy needs for our daily activity.  This adaptation is a big change for the body and will take a few days. Once your body has adapted, you can perform daily tasks without feeling hungry. 

All other nutrients come from foods
During weight loss, except for a reduced amount of calories, we still need to obtain nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals from foods.  Otherwise, you will lose muscle and bone (not fat), or may become sick from malnutrition because our bodies have only a small reserve for most other nutrients.  Thus, for successful weight loss, you will need to reduce the number of calories consumed through foods while maintaining your intake of all other nutrients.

Skipping a meal won’t work
Eating regularly is more important in weight loss than in weight maintenance because irregular eating breaks the adapted weight loss condition. If you skip meals, you will be hungry more often than if you eat regular meals that your body can adapt to. Skipping meals can also lead to eating more at the next meal. Furthermore, skipping a meal deprives us of other nutrients necessary during weight loss.

WARNING: If you have emotional problems, an eating disorder, or have a tendency to binge eat, attempting a weight loss diet without addressing these issues can be a disaster. Concentrate on establishing a healthy weight maintenance diet first.

How fast can we lose weight?
At the most basic level, weight loss is a matter of simple math. You eat fewer calories then your body needs so that you are forced to use excess body fat stores to meet your energy needs. As a result, you lose weight.

  • man who lost weightCalorie is the general term for energy in food. Often Calorie or Cal is used instead of kilocalorie on food labels, in diet books, and in other sources of nutrition information.
  • Most adults require ~2,000 Calories a day.
  • With a daily deficit of 500-1000 Calories, one can expect to safely lose 1-2 pounds of fat tissue a week

500 Cal X 7 days = 3500 Cal = 1 pound of fat tissue per week

  • After the desired weight is lost, you must return to the previously established weight maintenance diet or you will start losing muscle instead of fat.

Where should we cut calories?
I’m sure many of you would prefer cutting them from the fruit and vegetable group. Sorry Charlie—not going to cut it. Fresh fruits and vegetables are important to eat during weight loss because:

  1. They will help maintain good bowel movement during reduced food intake.
  2. They do not contain many calories. Read the Centers for Disease Control Pamphlet on how eating more fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight. (PDF)
That leaves protein, fat, and carbohydrates on the chopping block.

Eating small pyramid is not for rapid weight loss
pyramidWhen wanting to lose weight, many people will reduce the portion sizes of ALL food groups. Numerous health and nutrition experts recommend this “smaller pyramid” approach to weight loss. This approach is okay for very slow weight loss (50-60 calorie daily deficit,  loss of 10 pounds in two years), but not for the significant calorie reductions that result in rapid weight loss (500-1000 calorie deficit, 1-2 pounds per week). Why? Because reducing the size of ALL food groups by that much may reduce your intake of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein below optimal levels for short-term satiety and long-term nutrition.

Current research has shown that maintaining adequate protein levels in the diet is especially important to prevent muscle loss during weight loss. When you don’t consume enough protein, your body has to take protein from your own muscles. This is likely to make the body unhappy and as a result you’ll feel hungry and want to stop dieting.

Weight loss trapezoid is the way to go
pyramidEat an adequate level of protein for your current weight, keep eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reduce the number of calories you eat by cutting out desserts and reducing the portion sizes of carbohydrate foods in your meals. Instead of reducing calories in the protein, vegetable and fruit groups, reduce the amount of grains, starches, sweets, and fats eaten. This can be done by simply removing the top portion of the Pyramid and part of the carbohydrates (orange bar) from your eating pattern.

It’s important to reduce carbohydrates instead of fats because if you are already eating lean meat and dairy products, it is difficult to further reduce caloric intake from fat without reducing protein intake.   Refer to what Americans eat for a more thorough understanding of the nation’s eating habits and then check out the healthy eating page for info on setting up a healthy weight maintenance diet.

Do not decrease physical activity
Maintain or increase your physical activity level during weight loss. Physical activity accelerates weight loss by increasing calorie expenditure. Also, it helps maintain muscle mass. Once your body has adapted to the weight loss diet, you can exercise during weight loss as rigorously as during weight maintenance. The most important thing is to retain muscle mass while still losing fat. If you do it right, you won’t get tired and hungry!

Essentials for Eaters and Dieters | Version 2.0
Copyright ©2005, 2006 University of Illinois Board of Trustees