Sunday, September 10, 2006

Avoid These Five Common Weight Loss Mistakes

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Avoid These Five Common Weight Loss Mistakes

Mistake 1: Not changing your calorie plan as you lose weight. The fallacy of the "1200 calorie diet" plans and the like.

Most people set their calorie intake at a given number and expect to keep losing weight at the same constant rate over a period of weeks. Therefore dieters look for 1000 calorie or 1800 calorie diet plans on web.

Simply put, fixed calorie diet plans don't work. If you burn 3000 calories a day at the start of your diet, after losing weight for a week or two, you are no longer burning 3000 calories. Now you might be burning just 2800 calories.

If you maintain a constant calorie intake in the face of a decreasing calorie expenditure, your weight loss will continuously slow down as you lose weight.

If you really want to lose weight at a constant rate, you repeatedly have to:

- lower your calorie intake to accommodate the calorie expenditure drop
- exercise more to increase your calorie output
- do both

It's also important to understand that you have to set realistic and slow weight loss goals. If you opt for fast weight loss, you won't be able to sustain it for a long period unless you go to an extreme in your calorie reduction and exercise plans.

For people who want to lose 20 pounds or more, the goal should be a loss of no more than 2 pounds per week. Those who need to lose just a small amount of weight should try for weight loss of 1 pound per week.

Why does our calorie expenditure drop as we lose weight? The most important factors are:

- You weigh less! A smaller, lighter body burns fewer calories both while active and at rest

- You may involuntarily burn fewer calories than you did before. Many dieters lack energy and move around less

- Calorie restriction lowers the metabolic rate

- You have less body fat, which may further suppress your metabolic rate

These important factors contribute to an ever-decreasing calorie expenditure as we lose weight. The more we cut calories, the larger our calorie expenditure drop. Also, the leaner the dieter, the greater the calorie expenditure drop.

Now you need to understand that if you want to succeed in losing weight, you first have to make changes in your nutrition plan. I recommend burning more calories because it facilitates smaller calorie restriction and a milder calorie expenditure drop.

It's extremely difficult to estimate the rate of the metabolic drop, but as a general rule, the bigger you are, the smaller the rate of the metabolic drop. The more weight you lose, the more you must cut your calorie intake or increase your level of exercise.

If you're overweight, you might need to cut 10 more calories for every pound that you lose. If you're lean on the other hand, you might need to cut 60 calories for every pound you lose. (I chose these numbers just as an example.)

Mistake 2: Overreporting the "extra" calorie expenditure of exercise

Most people prefer to count the calories they burn while exercising as "extra" calories, but there is a difference between calories burned while exercising and "extra" calories burned while exercising!

Consider this example: you burn 300 calories by walking on the treadmill instead of your usual activity (watching TV). In reality, you need to subtract the calories you would have spent watching TV from these 300 calories in order to calculate how many additional calories you have burned.

Let's say that if you watched TV you burned 80 calories. In this specific case, you have expended 300 calories while exercising, along with 220 "extra" calories.

Calorie counters often add the calories burned exercising as "extra", and in some cases this practice can significantly influence the calorie calculations. Thus, calorie software usually counts the part of your usual activities that overlaps with the extra activities twice.

How do you estimate the "extra" calories burned while exercising?

In order to increase the accuracy of the calculations, I must first introduce the concept of MET values. MET values are a convenient way to calculate the calorie expenditure of activities.

MET values are multiples of one's resting energy expenditure per time period. In plain English, MET = 3 means burning 3 times more calories than resting. MET = 1 denotes the number of calories you burn at rest (your Resting Metabolic Rate or Basal Metabolic Rate).

No matter what you do, you burn calories at a rate of at least MET = 1, except for sleeping which has MET = 0.9. During the day, most activities include sitting and walking which have MET values between 1.2 and 3. Your total daily energy expenditure is calculated simply by multiplying your Resting Metabolic Rate by the average MET of all your activities. Is your head spinning yet?

Let's look at a real world example: Consider a female person with a Resting Metabolic Rate of 1200 calories per day. One day consists of 1440 minutes. Our example lady is burning 1200/1440 = 0.84 calories per minute at rest, which signifies a MET = 1.

Let's say our example lady just returned from an aerobics class, where she exercised for 30 minutes. General aerobic class training has a MET = 6. Our example lady has just burned 30 (minutes) x 6 (MET) * 0.84 (calories per minute) = 151 calories while exercising.

Now suppose this woman would have chatted on the internet instead of exercising (MET = 1.5). In this example, the woman substituted chatting on the internet with aerobic exercising. Keep in mind that every time you do something you substitute one activity for another, so in order to get the extra calories, we have to subtract 1.5 (chatting) from 6 (exercising). Now let's calculate the extra calories: 30 (minutes) * (6 - 1.5) (MET value) * 0.84 = 113 calories.

Let's discuss what a standard calorie counter would have done in this example: First, it will assume an average calorie burn rate of 1 calorie per minute. Then the counter will find that exercising for 30 minutes will yield 30 (minutes) * 6 (MET) * 1 (calories per minute) = 180 calories. The calorie counter will add these 180 calories to your daily calorie expenditure without considering that a part of these 180 calories is already accounted for by your regular activities.

Now do you see the difference between 113 calories and 180 calories? If that same lady spends 5 hours per week in the aerobics class, the standard calorie counters will over-report her calorie expenditure by: (180-113) * 10 = 670 calories a week.

She will thus be fooled into thinking that her metabolic rate has dropped while she just overestimated her calorie expenditure. Enter a typical weight loss plateau, wasted time, and effort. Do you have time to spend on trial and error calorie estimations?

Remember these two rules:

- Report only your extra activities to your calorie counter. If you walk to the office each day, don't log "walking to office for 30 minutes" as an extra activity. You must consider only unusual activities that actually contribute to expending extra calories!

- Always subtract the calories that you would have burned instead of exercising. As a general rule, you should subtract from 1.2 to 1.5 from the MET values. In some cases, you'll need to subtract a higher MET. If you substitute 30 minutes of bodybuilding (MET = 6) for 30 minutes of slow rope jumping (MET = 8) then the additional MET would be 8 - 6 = 2.

How do we determine the MET values of activities based on standard tables?

In order to perform the above calculations, you have to know the MET values of your activities. Standard tables provide name of activity, duration and calories. These tables assume an average calorie expenditure of one calorie per minute. To get the MET you simply divide the calories by the duration.

Example: "Bicycling, stationary, general", "20 minutes", "140 calories" MET of "Bicycling, stationary, general" = 140 / 20 = 7

I know these calculations are a bit tedious, and in many cases the standard calorie calculations are close to correct. But in some cases they can significantly over or under-calculate the calorie expenditure of activities and compromise your weight loss plan with daily miscalculations.

Mistake 3: Training with light weights and performing lots of repetitions

I have seen numerous women come to the gym, grab the lightest dumbbells possible, crank out hundreds of reps, and go home. These women usually do not achieve the results they want.

The problem with this type of weight training is that it doesn't burn many "extra" calories unless you spend a lot of time in the gym. Lifting Ken and Barbie size weights has a MET value of 3, which means that it burns just 3 times more calories than resting in bed.

By contrast, virtually anything you do during the day has a MET value of at least 1.2 to 2. Even browsing the web on your computer has a MET value of 1.5!

You have to realize that almost anything you do during the day (average MET = 1.5) has about 50% overlap in calorie expenditure with training with very light weights (MET = 3). If you work out using super light dumbbells, only about half of the calories burned are "extra".

Of course, it is possible to burn a considerable amount of extra calories training with light weights, but you'll have to extend the duration of this type of training by a wide margin. Curling 5 pound dumbbells for 4 sets of 20 reps and talking for 20 minutes in the gym isn't going to burn many extra calories.

Remember this rule: The less intensive the activity, the greater the calorie expenditure overlap with normal activities. The less intensive the activity, the more time you have to devote to it in order to expend a lot of extra calories. Always subtract a MET of 1 to 1.5 to arrive at the additional expended calories.

Mistake 4: Using "average person" calorie estimations

There are all kinds of calorie tables on the Internet showing the calorie expenditure of different physical activities. But these tables don't show your calorie expenditure! They really give you the calorie expenditure for an "average person".

These tables assume that you're an average person who burns one calorie per minute while at rest. Yes, we covered this in the first part of the article but it deserves repeating: Most men burn more than one calorie per minute and most smaller women burn less than one calorie per minute while at rest.

In reality, these standard calorie tables overestimate the calories burned by smaller people and underestimate the calories expended by bigger than average people. Combine this error with the common mistake of counting all burned calories as "extra calories" and you have a wide range of possible miscalculations.

Mistake 5: Going on a very low calorie diet (VLCD)

Research has found little or no difference in the weight loss rate of 1200 calorie diets and 800 calorie diets. The 1200 calorie threshold is the point where further calorie restriction simply doesn't yield faster results.

Diets in the range of 800 to 1200 calories per day suppress the resting metabolic rate starting on the very first day. And after several weeks on these diets, the metabolic rate drops by up to 20%. This reduction in the metabolic rate is just a consequence of the calorie restriction factor. Other factors, including the level of leanness may further lower the rate of calorie expenditure.

A large percentage of the quick initial weight loss on a VLCD consists of nothing but water. VLCDs create an illusion of rapid fat loss, but in reality most of the weight loss is due to water loss.

It's very hard to continue a very low calorie diet for a long time because the severe calorie restriction makes you feel hungrier than ever. People on VLCDs usually lack energy and move around very little. Worse still, when you stop the diet, you're prone to instant overeating. Eating a very low calorie diet is the ticket to yo-yo dieting.

Instead of going on very low calorie diets, I recommend diets with just a small calorie reduction and an emphasis on exercise. People who are overweight and know and what they are doing can stay on VLCDs for a limited time.

It is essential to get enough vitamins and minerals from supplements, because such low calorie diets are woefully inadequate in nutrients. Your water intake level should be high.

Athletes, bodybuilders, and powerlifters, must stay away from very low calorie diets because the huge calorie restriction causes a greater proportion of the weight loss to be a result of muscle loss.

Hristo Hristov owns X3MSoftware, a company specializing in developing diet and fitness tracking software. Hristo has a degree in Computer Science and passion for strength training. Hristo has designed and written Fitness Assistant, X3MSoftware's leading software product. Download your demo at Download Diet Software and Fitness Software by X3MSoftware

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Atkins Diet -- The Final Verdict

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Atkins Diet -- The Final Verdict

Supporters of the Atkins Diet claim that a low carbohydrate diet is a safe and effective method for losing weight. This article evaluates the low carbohydrate diet and specifically the claims made about ketosis.

The Low Carb-Ketosis Link

By severely limiting carbohydrates in your diet, the main energy source used by your body, glucose, drops to low levels. In return, insulin levels also drop. With low glucose and low insulin levels, the body turns to alternative sources of energy.

Because of a significant change in your body's chemistry when on the Atkins Diet, certain metabolic pathways are turned "on" that are normally not "on" or run at very low levels. One such pathway involves the breakdown of fat, called Beta-Oxidation of Fats.

Now, normally fats are broken down to produce energy when your body senses a need. But in the context of a low Carb diet, the normal breakdown pathway of fats is altered and an alternative pathway kicks in. This alternative pathway produces what are called ketone bodies.

Ketosis is the term used to describe when ketone bodies are circulating in your bloodstream. The ketone bodies can be used as alternative sources of energy by, most importantly, your brain.

In case you might be curious, the three ketone bodies produced by this alternative pathway for breaking down fat are acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone. These ketone bodies are formed in your liver and then are transported to other tissues, mainly the brain. In your brain, they are converted back to a form that can provide direct energy during times of starvation.

Here is the whole process...

1. Atkins Diet lowers glucose and insulin (the body's main energy source)
2. Alternative pathways are turned "on" to provide energy
3. One alternative pathway breaks down fat and produces ketone bodies
4. Ketone bodies represent the state called ketosis
5. The brain uses ketone bodies as an alternative source of energy

So, the Atkins Diet (and any low Carb diet) produces a low energy state (low glucose) that causes the breakdown fat using an alternative pathway that leads to the development of ketosis.

So far it sounds pretty good. By limiting Carbs in your diet, you can essentially force your body into breaking down stored fat, the very thing you need to get rid of to lose weight.

But there are problems...

Atkins Diet and Toxicity

Ketone bodies are toxic. Many supporters of low Carb diets claim that ketosis is safe. They state that they are natural byproducts of fat breakdown and even babies have high levels of circulating ketone bodies.

First, they are not natural by-products of fat metabolism. The normal beta-oxidation of fats does produce ketone bodies but these are incorporated into the normal cycle of energy production, called the Krebs cycle. When ketone bodies are circulating in your bloodstream, it signals an abnormal physiologic state, called starvation. They are not incorporated into the normal energy cycle, the Krebs cycle, and spill into the bloodstream.

Just because your body has the ability to transport ketone bodies to certain tissues and then use them for energy, does not make it a normal process. It is an alternative pathway that turns "on" only when your body is faced with depleted levels of the main energy source, glucose.

Secondly, babies are not small adults. A baby's liver and brain tissue are made up of different chemicals and pathways, specifically geared to handle the high fat diet coming from mother's milk. These pathways change as a baby grows and starts to eat other foods. Eventually, the normal adult pathways are set up and the infantile chemistry used as evidence to support the safety of ketosis, stop working.

But this is not even related to the fact that ketone bodies are toxic. In medicine, the three ketone bodies mentioned above are classified as toxic acidic chemicals. At high levels, they can cause your blood to become too acidic, a disease state called ketoacidosis.

Granted, this is rare because most of the ketone bodies will be used by the brain as an energy source. Ketoacidosis is usually seen in type 1 diabetics. It is a medical emergency.

So, is ketosis dangerous to your body? Yes and no. Yes, ketosis represents a state of starvation. Losing weight when the body thinks you're starving is the best way to guarantee weight regain. The weight will come back and come back as fat. No, ketosis will not cause ketoacidosis in non-diabetics. And as long as you have a large storage of fat, your brain will not starve for energy.

The Final Verdict

1. As an alternative physiologic state, ketosis is not dangerous, assuming the levels of ketone bodies do not increase to acidic levels.

2. As a diet plan, ketogenic diets are not recommended because of the state of starvation they create. Your metabolism will eventually slow down setting you up for weight regain in the near the future.

3. Ketogenic diets, like the Atkins Diet, may also be dangerous not because they cause ketosis, but because they promote high protein and fat intake. High protein diets, unless you're body building, increases urea production and can damage the kidneys. Supporters claim that this just doesn't happen, reporting that no kidney damage has occurred to the millions of dieters on Atkins Diet or other ketogenic diets.

However, it is well known that microscopic damage can occur to the kidneys effecting their ability to filter the blood. But clinical signs of this damage may take several years to manifest. Chronic renal insufficiency is a concern for ketogenic dieters, which may cause problems in the years to come.


Atkins Diet and other ketogenic diets (low Carb) can be safe and effective in causing weight loss. However, I recommend keeping ketosis to a minimum and keep your carbohydrate intake above 50 grams a day. Don't follow the suggestions for reaching an "induction" phase. It's not necessary to turn "on" the alternative pathways described above and burn fat.

Remember, healthy weight loss is to burn fat and fat only. But it also involves keeping your rate of weight loss around 2-3 pounds/week. The induction phase promoted by the Atkins Diet can result in a rate of weight loss far greater than 2-3 pounds/week. It may sound good to you now, but how does gaining it all back as fat sound? Because that will happen if you lose weight too fast.

For more information on ways to experience healthy weight loss, visit

Diet Basics.

To Healthy Living!

Dr. Michael A. Smith
Chief Medical Consultant
Diet Basics Website

Dr. Smith is the Chief Medical Consultant to Diet Basics, a content rich weight loss site dedicated to all dieters fighting to lose weight. Please visit his site at...Diet Basics

One visit and you'll be convinced that Dr. Smith and Diet Basics is your on-line resource for healthy weight loss!

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