The Secret to Weight Loss? Good Nutrition!
By Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN
September 14, 2021
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! Nutritional biochemist, Shawn M. Talbott, PhD says, “As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart.” Exercise is still 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, supports bone health, 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) and Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? (Little, Brown and Company, 2018).
If you’ve been with us at Nutritional Weight & Wellness for a while, you know we love our quality protein, healthy fat, and balanced carbohydrate combo. Let’s take a look at each one to see how they support metabolism:
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. Vegetables and fruits have a lot of nutrients we need for overall health. How about going keto? While that works for some folks, it doesn’t work for everyone, so it is important to know how many carbohydrates are appropriate to eat in order to achieve weight loss for you and your body. 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.
So, what’s the secret to good nutrition?
Plan for it! If you leave it up to chance, it might not happen and it makes it an easier choice to grab that processed or fast food when you’re on the go, busy, or suddenly feel hangry from not getting your balanced meals and snacks. Here are some meal planning tips to get you started or to inspire you to get back on track:
- When you think about your meals and snacks, start brainstorming with protein, fat, and carbs in mind. Building your food around those three is a great foundation for your weight loss and overall health goals. (Bonus if you can get your kids or grandkids to start pointing out those three too!)
- Keep it simple and realistic. If you know you get home from work at 6pm, you’re probably not going to want to make an elaborate recipe for dinner. Or if you have to get your kiddos out the door for school early in the morning, keep breakfast quick. Save the slower, more involved meal ideas for the weekend when you have more time and keep the weekdays with easy staples you can whip up in a jiffy.
- Actually plan out your snacks. We often only think of the main meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner when we meal plan. Have you ever grabbed a bag of chips when you get the snackies or arrived starving and tired to supper because you didn’t have a good option near you? Putting your snacks on your shopping list ensures you have some fruit, nuts, nitrate free meat sticks, raw veggies, a protein shake, or hard boiled eggs around for when you need that mid-morning or afternoon snack.
- Always make a little extra. Our in-house chef, Marianne, says that even if you are cooking for one or two in your house, you are eating SEVERAL meals that week. So rather than thinking about cooking just one or two portions, double the batch or throw an extra sheet pan in the oven with some veggies and protein when you have the oven on. Lots of our recipes freeze well and just require re-heating, like our chili or meatball recipes (which also make great snacks!).
- Utilize all your tools. If you’re already in the kitchen, pop some squash, beets, or potatoes in the slow cooker and throw some hardboiled eggs or chicken in the instant pot. Know you like a protein smoothie for a quick breakfast, make a large batch in your blender, split into jars/containers, and freeze portions for later in the week.
- Keep what’s working and tweak what’s not. We don’t have to get it perfect every time, all the time. A recipe you tried doesn’t really hold up well as leftovers? What you had for breakfast doesn’t hold you over til snack? Can’t stand to look at another piece of chicken this week? Make some changes, get creative, and try something else! It’s helpful to write out a plan and to keep a food journal for a couple of days to make the connection between what you’re eating, how you feel, and what makes you successful.
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 for twelve weeks. In addition, you’ll receive in-depth personal nutrition counseling appointments plus access to a private Nutrition 4 Weight Loss Facebook group moderated by our nutritionists.
Once you change your nutrition, you will lose weight and feel better than you have in years.
For more information, check out these resources: