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Lifestyle Changes for Maintained Body Fat Loss

by Gary F. Zeolla



My first thought in hearing such ads is SO WHAT! Losing weight is easy, very easy as compared to keeping it off. 95% of people who lose weight regain it. The success of a diet is not measured by how many pounds you lose but by how long you keep them off.

Furthermore, it is not body weight that is important but body fat. Hence this chapter will talk about losing body fat, not weight or pounds.

Don't "Go on a diet"

Personally, I do not like the phrase, "going on a diet." If you go on something, it implies that sometime in the future you will go off it. This is when dieters will go back to their old eating habits-the ones that got them overweight in the first place.

What is needed is to make permanent lifestyle changes. If you decide you want to lose body fat, what you need to accept is that you can never go back to eating the way you are now. Also, exercise should become a permanent part of your lifestyle.

Let's begin with a very simple and important fact. To lose body fat you must consume fewer calories than you expend. There is no other way. To lose body fat, you need to reduce caloric intake and/ or increase caloric expenditure.

Dr. Ted Mitchell, director of the Cooper Wellness program in Dallas, Texas summarizes these points nicely:

To lose weight, do three simple things:

1) Eat less.
2) Exercise more.
3) Most important: Do it forever!

It's that last one that gets everyone (p.4).

But that last point need not "get" you if you change your lifestyle rather than "going on a diet." And that is the important point: develop a dietary program that you can follow for a lifetime.

That said, let's look at the first two points in more depth.

Reduced Intake

Using the equation: reduced intake plus increased expenditure equals body fat loss, we'll start with the first half-reduced intake.

Reduced intake can be accomplished in numerous ways. You could lose weight on the Big Mac diet. After a week or two of eating nothing but Big Macs, I would suspect that you wouldn't even be able to look at the greasy thing let alone eat it. Thus, caloric intake would fall and you would lose weight. However, this would be a very unhealthy way of doing things. (Incidentally, a McDonalds's Big Mac contains the same number of calories-541-as a Dairy Queen Banana Split).

In other words, any diet that restricts you to eating one or two foods or classes of food will reduce intake. Unfortunately, nutritionally this would be unwise, as the body requires nutrients from a wide variety of foods to be adequately nourished. Also, such diets are so restrictive that they cannot be used for extended periods of time. Such problems with restrictive diets were discussed previously.

In addition, the dieter never learns new eating habits. Thus when the dieter tires of these programs a return to the old fattening eating habits is the only way known. What is needed is to make necessary dietary changes that can be continued indefinitely while ensuring adequate nutrient intake.

The best way to accomplish this would be to follow some of the suggestions already discussed in this book. First, limit consumption of "empty calories"-foods high in caloric density while low in nutrient density i.e. junk foods. Notice, I said limit, not eliminate. You can continue to eat limited amounts of your favorite junk foods occasionally. The key words here are limited and occasionally. Again, we're looking for a dietary program that can continue for a lifetime.

Moreover, just by limiting the consumption of junk foods, the caloric intake of the average person will drop significantly. To clarify what I mean by junk foods, examples include: potato chips and other greasy snack foods, cakes, pies, cookies, pudding, Jell-O, ice cream, sherbet, soda, chocolate, candy, fried foods, and most fast foods. In other words, foods listed previously in the "not God-given foods" category.

What most of these foods have in common is a high percentage of their calories come from saturated or trans fat and/ or added sugars. Protein and carbohydrates contain 4-calories/ gram. Fat contains 9-calories/ gram. So it should be obvious that to most effectively reduce caloric levels, it would be best to reduce saturated and trans fat levels. Also, refined sugar contains no nutrients except for calories; so restricting its intake will reduce calories without reducing nutrient intake.

Reducing saturated and trans fat and sugar intakes is sound nutritional advice for reasons other than just weight loss. Heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and hypoglycemia have been linked to diets high in these substances. Thus a low or moderate-fat and low-sugar diet can and should be followed for a lifetime.

Saturated and trans Fat levels can also be easily reduce by: eating leaner meats and trimming the visible fat off meats, substituting baked or broiled (not fried) chicken and fish for meats, drinking skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk, moistening sandwiches with tomato slices instead of mayonnaise, substituting plain, low-fat yogurt in part for mayonnaise in tuna, chicken or potato salads or simply by using less visible fat on foods or in cooking (butter, margarine, gravy, lard, cooking oils, mayonnaise, salad dressings etc.). Some of these points have already been discussed in this book.

Dr. Ted Mitchell has an important warning here though:
But be careful. When you hear experts discuss low-fat diets they're not saying it's OK to go crazy eating fat-free cookies, ice cream, cakes and other foods that have been reformulated to get some of the fat out. While these products have been altered to reduce their fat content, the fat often is replaced with sugar, making them calorie-rich (p.4).

In other words, just because a food is promoted as being low in fat, this doesn't mean it's low in calories, and calories are what count. Moreover, as Dr. Mitchell indicates, "fat-free" foods are often sugar-laden, but sugar is the other substance that needs restricting to lose body fat. But does eating excessive fat and sugar really cause increased body fat?

Consider the following:
An Indiana University study compared the diet composition of 40 lean and 38 obese men and women. Subjects were asked to fill out a detailed food questionnaire for three days. The result: There was virtually no difference in the number of calories consumed by lean versus obese participants. The researchers also believe there was no significant difference in the activity levels of the two groups.

What did differ was diet composition. The obese men got an average of 33 percent of their calories from fat, while the lean men took in 29 percent as fat. Obese women got 36 percent of their calories from fat, whereas lean women's intake was 29 percent. Further, obese men and women tended to get a higher percentage of their sugar from added and refined sugar. They also consumed less fiber than their lean counterparts (Burn, p.10).

So fat and sugar consumption are both linked to a higher body fat level. Sugar intake can easily be reduced by not adding it where it is not needed. One of the most ridiculous food items I ever saw is sugar-coated raisins. How anyone could even consider sugar-coating something that is already over 75% natural sugar is beyond me. The same goes for fruits canned in heavy sugar syrups and for people who add sugar to pre-sweetened cereals. A more logical thing to do is to buy unsweetened cereals and add fruits or raisins for sweetening.

Fruits contain a large percentage of natural sugar along with numerous vitamins, minerals and fiber. When your sweet tooth starts throbbing, reach for a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar. Fruit is just as sweet and is more filling. It would take three apples to equal the calories in one candy bar. And this leads to an important point-the satiety value of foods.

The Satiety Value of Foods

Two interesting studies have been done recently on the satiety value of foods. Satiety refers to how filling a food is, and how long it keeps a person full.

One such study was performed at my alma mater. It confirmed the value of eating foods high in water content for their satiety value. The study is titled, Reduce Calories, Stave Off Hunger With Water-Rich Foods-Not Water.

A report on Penn State's Web site about the study begins by stating, "Drinking water before or with your meals is a healthy habit, but Penn State research has shown that it won't satisfy your hunger or help you eat less to control your weight." So the old "trick" of drinking water to curb appetite doesn't really work. But the Penn State researchers found something that does work.

"[Dr. Barbara] Rolls and her research team have shown that eating foods with a high water content-pasta dishes with additional vegetables, smoothies, soup, fruits and vegetables-can offer a way to cut back on calories and still feel full and satisfied." So it is water in food, not in a glass, that can provide satiety value.

This difference was proven by the following experiment:
They [24 volunteers] were served a first course 17 minutes before lunch that consisted of either a chicken rice casserole, the same casserole with a glass of water, or a bowl of chicken rice soup. Even though the soup and the casserole-served-with-water contained exactly the same ingredients in the same amounts, the soup was more effective in curbing appetite and reducing the calories the women consumed during lunch.

The researchers further suggest:
... pasta salad bulked up with zucchini, carrots and other veggies, which have a high water content, can provide a portion double the size for the same calories as a salad made without the veggies. Chili augmented with lots of veggies and beans can expand the serving size of that dish while still maintaining a low calorie count. Sprouts, lettuce and tomato can round out the satisfaction that a sandwich provides without increasing calories.

What this research shows is it is the energy density of a food that matters in satiety, not fat content, as many people believe today. In other words, when eating the same number of calories, the more caloric dense a food is, the less satisfying it is. And conversely, the less caloric dense a food is, the more satisfying it is.

For instance, a 100-calorie serving of peanuts would be about two tablespoons. This would be a small handful. Meanwhile, a large baked potato would also only contain 100 calories. But eating a whole baked potato is more satisfying than eating a small handful of peanuts. This pattern is confirmed by the "Satiety Index."

On his Web site, Rick Mendosa discusses the Satiety Index:
Susanne Holt, PhD, has developed the Satiety Index, a system to measure different foods' ability to satisfy hunger. A fixed amount (240 calories) of different foods was fed to participants who then ranked their feelings of hunger every fifteen minutes and were allowed to eat freely for the next two hours. Of all the foods tested, potatoes were the most satisfying.

Mendosa explains the general trends of Holt's study:
The chemical components of a food is one of the factors that determines how it ranks on the index. "Beans and lentils, for example, contain anti-nutrients which delay their absorption so they make you feel full for longer," says Holt. "Roughly speaking, the more fiber, protein and water a food contains, the longer it will satisfy. But you have to look at each foodstuff individually-and that is why we think our index will be so useful." Another thing that makes a food satisfying is its sheer bulk. "You can eat an awful lot of popcorn without taking in a lot of calories," says Holt. "It may not weigh much, but it makes your stomach feel full just because it takes up so much space.... As a group, fruits ranked at the top with a satiety index 1.7 times more satisfying, on average, than white bread.

There are exceptions, but generally speaking "bulkier" foods will be more satisfying than more caloric-dense foods. This is an important point for dieters. It is not how much fat or carbohydrates in a food that matters as much as how much it will fill you up. And, not surprisingly, many God-given foods rank high on the satiety index.

Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are mostly ranked high on the index, and whole grains generally rank higher than their refined counter-parts. For a listing of all the foods that have been tested so far, see the following Web page: Mendosa.

Moreover, Runner’s World magazine reports about “… a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those who ate the most fiber weighed an average of 8 pounds less than those ate who ate the least amount of fiber. Try to consume at least 30 grams a day from whole grain cereals and breads, vegetables, and beans (Bauman, p.28).” Again, these are all foods ranked high on the satiety index, and all God-given foods.

Runner’s World also reports about another method to help reduce food intake:
Researchers [at Brazosport Memorial Hospital in Lake Jackson, TX] asked seven women to eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and push away their plates at every meal once their food no longer tasted delicious. Meanwhile, six other women were instructed to also eat and chew slowly, but received no hints on monitoring their taste buds. After a year, the first group of women lost an average of 9 pounds, and those in the control group gained about three pounds….

Once you’ve consumed enough food, your body sends a subtle “stop-eating signal” by dampening your taste sensations” (Bauman, p.26).

So it would seem paying attention to the taste of food can actually help one to eat less. It also should make eating more enjoyable as well.

Also, It can be helpful from time to time to analyze your diet to be sure you're getting the proper caloric distribution of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and saturated fat, along with sufficient vitamins and minerals. And nutrition software can make this analysis much easier. The best such program that I found and that I personally use is DietPower.

Increased Expenditure

Moving to the other half of the equation-increased expenditure-this, of course, means exercise. I know this is a four-letter word to some, but it need not be. There is such a wide variety of exercise modalities available that anyone can find something they enjoy doing.

Exercise is advantageous to a body fat loss program for two reasons. First is the calories burned during the activity itself. More important though, regular exercise, by increasing muscle mass, will increase the basic metabolic rate. This is the number of calories spent just living. By increasing the rate in which your body burns calories you will burn up more calories in a normal day.

To force this adaptive process, you must exercise at least 30 minutes three times/week, preferably longer. Although, going over six hours per week would be unnecessary. In other words, try to work up to, at the most, about one hour, six-times/ week. How important is it to include exercise in a body fat loss program?

Consider the following study done at Queen's University in Klingston, Ontario.
In what might be called the dieting equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the study showed 12 obese women each losing more than 20 pounds in 16 weeks. Unfortunately, lean tissue and skeletal muscle made up a significant part of those lost pounds.

Yet in the same study, 12 other obese women followed a similar diet and lost the same amount of weight, and virtually all of it was from fat. What was the difference? Simple. The second group exercised aerobically five times a week in addition to restricting their caloric intake (Burn, p.38).

So exercise protects lean tissue while encouraging body fat loss. That is why exercise is so important to include in a body fat loss program. And it is not just aerobic exercise; strength training as well is important to include in a body fat loss program.

Consider yet another study done at this writer's alma mater, Penn State, "There, 23 female collegiate tennis players weight trained two to three times per week.... Result: The athletes dropped from 23 percent to 18 percent body fat. A significant change, especially given that there was no dietary restrictions placed on the study subjects" (Burn, p.38).

Moreover, "[An] University of Maryland study looked at 15 sedentary post-menopausal women aged 50-69. The women worked out three times a week for 16 weeks.... By the end of the study, the women increased their resting metabolic rates.... The increase amounted to about 50 calories a day, enough to burn five pounds of fat if it were continued for a year" (Burn, pp.39-40).

So both aerobic exercise and strength training are important in a body fat loss program. And remember exercise should become a permanent part of your lifestyle, not just something you do for a couple of weeks or until you have lost your desired pounds.

Exercising several hours a week, every week is needed for the calories burned during exercise and to maintain the elevation of the basic metabolic weight. These factors will help to keep body fat from creeping back on. The same applies to maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar diet. Re-increasing fat and sugar levels can lead to a slow return of unwanted pounds.

Once you have reached your desired level of body fat, you will have to slightly increase your caloric levels to prevent further body fat loss. However, I would recommend adding these calories in the form of "healthy" foods.

Throw Your Scale Away!

Dr. Meinz has a very good suggestion for dieters, "Throw your scale away!" The reason for this is a scale tells you absolutely nothing of importance. This is especially the case if you take the above suggestion and include exercise as part of your body fat loss program.

Dr. Meinz explains:
If you lose ten pounds of fat, but because of physical activity, gain seven pounds of muscle, the liar scale will say you only lost three little pounds! The scale can't tell you what the weight loss is made up of. You're wearing smaller clothes, you're looking great in the mirror, and all your friends want to know your secret-but the scale says you're a failure. And if you believe the scale you will be a failure (pp., 53-54; emphases in original).

The reason you'll be "wearing smaller clothes" if you lose fat while gaining muscle is because muscle is more dense than fat. In other words, a pound of muscle is smaller than a pound of fat. So simply looking at how your clothes fit, or even yourself in the mirror, is a better "gauge" of how well your body fat loss program is going than weighing yourself on a scale.

But if you need to have a more objective way of recording your progress, there are ways to measure how much body fat you have. Body fat is expressed in percentages. “Normal" levels are as follows: men under thirty: 14-20%, men over thirty: 17-23%, women under thirty: 17-24%, women over thirty: 20-27% (Tanita, p.2).

A simple method to measure body fat percent is with skin-fold calipers. These measure the amount of "pinchable" flab on various parts of the body. The measurements are then compared to a chart that then gives the fat percent. Such calipers are readily available from fitness centers.

A more sophisticated method is the water tank. Since muscle is denser than fat, then the more muscle a person has the more they will sink. Conversely, the more body fat someone has, then the more they will float. Such measurements can be rather expensive though.

A newer, and less expensive way is to use a "body fat scale." Such a scale will not only give you your body weight, but also your body fat percent. I have such a scale, and it seems rather reliable.

Body fat scales work on the principle that fat and muscle hold different amounts of water, hence their electrical conductivity differs. You stand on sensors and they send a small, but unnoticeable electrical charge through your body, and the rate of conductivity is measured, then the fat percent given.

So noticing how your clothes fits, looking at yourself in the mirror, or measuring your body fat percent using calipers, a water tank, or a body fat scale, are all preferable methods to gauging your progress than using a traditional scale.


In sum, do not go on a diet-change your lifestyle. Reducing the fat and sugar levels of your diet and including exercise will allow for slow (1-2 pounds/ week), sustained, permanent body fat loss. Crash diets will give more rapid weight loss but with just as rapid weight re-gains. Also, they will send you on a roller coaster ride of weight-loss, weight-gain, with possible health damaging effects.

Bauman, Alisa, ed. “Health and Fitness.” Runners World. May 2000, pp.26-28.
Burn Fat Faster
. by Runner's World. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 1996.
Mendosa, Rick. What Really Satisfies? Eating the Right Foods Cuts Your Hunger.
Meinz, David L. Eating by the Book. Virginia Beach, VA: Gilbert Press, 1999.
Mitchell, Ted, MD. HealthSmart: How fat-free foods can make you fat. Weekend USA. February 11-13, 2000, p.4.
manual for the “TBF-551 Body Fat Monitor/ Scale.” Tanita Corp. Arlington Heights, IL.
Reduce Calories, Stave Off Hunger With Water-Rich Foods-Not Water
. September 23, 1999. University Park, PA, from Penn State's web site.

Starting an Exercise Program? Copyright 1999, 2003 by Gary F. Zeolla. The above article was excerpted from the book Creationist Diet by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this Web site July 17, 2003.

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