Eating to Lose Weight

You need to eat to burn body fat. This is a fact: The first nutritional demand of your body is energy. Without adequate energy, your body will convert muscle protein into energy to feed your brain, nervous system and red blood cells.
Couple cooking food and juggling tomatoes at home.Eating right gives you the nutrients you need to make that muscle.These particular tissues do not possess the metabolic machinery to burn fat. They only burn carbohydrates. When your intake of carbohydrate falls below these tissues demand, the body begins to convert tissue protein into carbohydrate to meet their need. The net result is a loss of muscle tissue.

Yes, the scale may say you have lost "weight", but you have lost the very tissue that burns fat. Muscle tissue burns 70% of the fat in your body; so losing muscle sacrifices your ability to burn body fat.

In fact, the "weight" you lose on a diet can represent up to 10 to 20% of those pounds in muscle loss. This poor dieter will not only regain this weight, but then some. All because they have compromised their ability to burn body fat.

This is also why people gain weight as they age.
Aging causes muscle loss. So does inactivity. Have you heard of the saying"Use it or lose it"? This is true of your muscle.

Inactivity leads to muscle loss and muscle loss causes a lowered capacity to burn fat, so you wear more of it.

The bottom line is this: At any time, or for whatever reason, you lose your muscle; you lose your capacity to burn fat. Diets, aging and inactivity all lead to a decreased amount of muscle weight and an increased amount of fat tissue.

Never fear. You can, at any time in your life, rebuild your muscle and teach it to burn fat.

Aerobic exercise rebuilds your muscle and teaches it to burn more fat. Eating right gives you the nutrients you need to make that muscle. The food pyramid outlines how to eat to get the nutrients you need, so let us deal more specifically with energy needs and where that energy needs to come from.

In order to burn just the fat and not the other lean tissue in your body, you need to meet your minimal energy requirement.

If you want to maintain your current weight, this level is found by multiplying your weight by 15.

If you want to lose weight, multiply your ideal weight by ten. For example, if your ideal weight is 140 pounds, your minimal energy requirement is 1400 calories.

Next, you need to factor in the calories needed for exercise and activity. Very active people (those who exercise 3 hours or more a week) need to multiply their minimal requirement by 1.5. Moderately active individuals (those who exercise 1 to 3 hours per week) need to multiply their requirement by 1.2.

Slugs need not factor in additional calories.
For those of us who move, let's cite an example: if you take 4 hours of aerobics classes per week and your ideal weight is 140 pounds, you need 2100 calories a day to keep your muscle and burn the fat.

Now, where does that energy need to come from? It makes sense that if you want to burn the fat on your body; you do not want to be eating it in your food.

Let's be perfectly clear about this. There are only two fates of fat in your diet: Fat is either burned by your muscle or it is deposited in your fat cells. If you are wanting to lose body fat, the solution is simple: Eat less and burn more.

Which leads to the debate: "WHAT IS LESS?"
Less is 30% of your calorie intake. To find this amount of fat in grams; multiply your caloric requirement by .3 and divide the calories by nine. For example, 2100 calories times .3 is 630 calories, divided by nine leaves 70 grams of fat.

When you consider a "Double Western Cheeseburger Supreme" has 70 grams of fat, you can appreciate the etiology of obesity in America. In fact, statistics show that one out of every three of us can qualify as overweight, so we have some work cut out for us in terms of the amount of fat in our diets.

Take a look at the foods below and see where you can substitute one food for another to lower your fat intake:

 Food Fat Grams  Food Fat Grams
 Ice Cream  34 Frozen Yogurt  0
 3 oz. Salami  30 3 oz. Ham  3
 1 Croissant  25 1 Bagel  1
 1 Tablespoon Butter  11 1 Tablespoon Sour Cream  3

Remember, small substitutions can add up to big losses over a years time. Cutting out 25 grams of fat a day translates into a 25 pound body fat loss in a year. The best part is, you are still eating. Only this time, you won't be "wearing" your groceries!

Tips For Eating to Lose Weight
Those who are successful at losing weight make evolutionary changes with their diets, not revolutionary changes. Start by choosing those changes you can live with on a permanent basis. Then move on to change other habits. One habit at a time, you'll get there!

  • Eat slowly. It take twenty minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you are full.
  • Pick out foods you need to chew on. Try bagels, apples, french rolls and raw vegetables. These foods will slow your rate of eating.
  • Try a warm beverage as or with a snack. This helps to feel full.
  • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. This helps fill you up and keeps you busy with other activities besides swinging on the refrigerator door!
  • An eight ounce glass of orange juice is really three oranges! Eating oranges is much more satisfying than drinking juice.
  • Eat an afternoon snack before you leave work. This helps overeating while getting dinner ready.
  • Here are some healthy snacks: Popcorn, bread sticks, oyster crackers, pretzels, fruit, yogurt, gingersnaps, graham crackers, biscotti cookies, vanilla wafers or amaretto cookies.
  • Frozen yogurt, angel food cake and sherbet are all low fat!
  • Every time you use your muscles, you are burning fat. Try climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  • Small steps add up in reducing fat. Use jam on toast instead of butter and knock off 30 calories and 5 grams of fat.


  1. Did you cut back on added fat in your diet?
  2. Did you substitute lower fat foods for your regular ones?
  3. Did you chose leaner cuts of meat?
  4. Did you have a low fat snack before leaving work?
  5. What three factors contribute to muscle loss?

Used by Permission. © San Francisco Spine Center.

Updated on: 01/09/18
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