The Secret to Weight Loss? Good Nutrition!

By Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN
September 12, 2012


Here’s a question we hear almost daily at our offices: “Why can’t I lose weight when I’m working out every day?” If this is something you can relate to, read on to find out why working out is just one piece of the weight-loss puzzle.

Exercise is important, but won’t be the magic bullet

In an analysis of 33 clinical trials, researchers determined that diet controls approximately 75% of weight loss (Men’s Health, April 2008). Don’t move your gym shoes to the back of your closet though! Exercise is an important part of any weight loss plan and helps build metabolism and develop lean muscle mass that is essential for long-term weight management. Not to mention that exercise increases energy, improves moods, builds self-esteem, and reduces the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Just keep in mind that the majority of weight loss happens from properly nourishing the body.

Make sure your eating plan is balanced

One of the biggest mistakes people make nutritionally when they attempt to lose weight is considering new eating habits as a temporary diet fix, relying on low-calorie foods or restrictive eating plans to help them slim down. This strategy generally backfires because it tends to slow metabolism and increase cravings, which is a vicious cycle.

It is more useful to approach eating in a way that is sustainable, even after you hit your weight loss goal, from a point of balance. This means balancing your meals to keep your blood sugar balanced. Eating five to six times per day will balance your blood sugar if the meals themselves are balanced with protein, carbohydrate and fat. The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is often low in protein, laden with unhealthy fats, and too high in processed carbohydrates. Your body responds to the S.A.D. diet with irritation, confusion, cravings, low moods, inflammation and weight gain, according to Mark Hyman, MD, and author of UltraMetabolism (Scribner, 2006). 

Protein is the most important nutrient for weight loss, and increases metabolism by 30% for several hours, every time you eat it! Eating protein five to six times per day keeps your metabolic fire fueled all day long. A study conducted by the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Illinois in 2000 found that protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. The amount of protein used in the study was 125 grams per day (17 ounces). We recommend about four ounces of protein at each meal and two ounces at each snack. Men typically need about six ounces at meals and three ounces for snacks.

Then there is fat, an important nutrient which you cannot skimp on. Eating too little fat or the wrong type of fat will slow metabolism. We see this all the time with people on low-fat diets who are exercising daily and not losing weight. Don’t be afraid of consuming healthy fats such as olive oil, butter, nuts, avocadoes, and coconut oil. We recommend eating about 10 grams of fat with every meal and snack. Avoid hydrogenated and other refined oils (corn, soybean, cottonseed, canola), as they can desensitize insulin receptors, which eventually leads to insulin resistance and weight gain.

What about carbohydrates? Is it best to get rid of all carbohydrates and go on a diet similar to Atkins?  Absolutely not, but it is important to know how many carbohydrates are appropriate to eat in order to achieve weight loss. Carbohydrates supply energy, so the more active you are, the more carbohydrates you need. A marathon runner has very different needs than a moderate exerciser. Most of us are not active enough to justify a high carbohydrate diet and don’t need more than 25-30 grams for a meal (half of that for a snack). This should be achieved with mostly fruits and vegetables and smaller amounts of starchy vegetables. Limit total carbohydrates to less than 130 grams per day for weight loss. Remember: any excess carbohydrates are stored as fat.

Changing habits is not easy, but it’s doable with support!

Changing dietary habits (or any habit for that matter) is not easy. We get used to doing things in our usual way. And we live in a society where processed foods are available everywhere. Without daily focus and commitment, along with support, the chance of long-term success is greatly diminished.

If you’re ready to make changes to your diet, but would like some support, I encourage you to take Nutrition 4 Weight Loss. You’ll receive stellar information in each weekly class and get the support you need from fellow class participants. In addition, you’ll receive an in-depth personal nutrition counseling appointment. Once you change your nutrition, you will lose weight and feel better than you have in years.

About the author

Kara knows the power of real food to heal almost any health concern—from anxiety to weight loss. She discovered the power of food for herself when she used nutrition to heal her insomnia. Kara received her M.A. in holistic health studies at the University of St. Catherine with an emphasis in herbology. She is nationally recognized as a certified nutrition specialist through the American College of Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist through the Minnesota Board of Dietetics and Nutrition.

View all posts by Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN

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