Weight Loss and Understanding Nutrition Labels

if you’re like most people, this is how you deal with nutrition labels.

Let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you are looking at the label on a can of peaches. Usually after about 15 seconds you just put the can back without getting the information you’re looking for. This is because, to the general public the standard nutrition label is confusing , plus the deluge of misinformation, relating to sugars, carbohydrates, good fats, bad fats, proteins and calories that we see in the media  just adds to the confusion. Hopefully this blog will make things more clear.

The first two lines on a standard label refer to serving size and servings per container. These are relatively easy to understand in most cases. It usually requires just a little bit of math.

The next line refers to calories. If you’re trying to reduce body fat these first three lines are all you need to be concerned with. Let me explain.

 We all know what the worst or most unhealthy foods are. These include anything processed or fried, greasy, made primarily of white processed flour and in general any desserts and any sugary foods or liquids.

If you are on a healthy diet that includes mostly whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, berries, beans and seeds and is low-sodium and contains adequate fiber you do not need to be concerned with everything below the “calories” line on the label.

This is because you are not consuming unhealthy choices and everything below the calories line (the 2 bottom sections) relates to whether the food item is a healthy choice or not.

I’m trying to provide a way that you can look at a label and quickly get the information you need to determine whether or not you should eat it and if so in what amount.

One less thing to worry about because now, if you’re primary concern is reducing body fat, you need not be concerned with anything below these first three lines. Losing or adding body fat is purely a function of calories in and calories out as I discussed in earlier blogs.

I have included a visual to the right that demonstrates the information in this blog. Again, if you’re primary concern is losing or controlling body fat and you are currently consuming a healthy diet, then the bottom two sections are not important as they are X’ed out. This, as I said earlier will make getting the information you need from a nutrition label much quicker and easier.

Herbal Supplements

 Are you familiar with the term snake oil salesman? In case you’re not,  snake oil salesman is a term used for someone who sells a product or elixir touted to cure or resolve anything that’s wrong with you.

In the 17 and 1800’s this was usually a guy who traveled in a wagon from town to town. When he arrived in your town, he would park his wagon and set up shop selling some sort of potion that would cure all your ills, make you healthier, or help you lose weight, live longer, etc. etc.

Fast forward to today. The majority of supplements you see advertised in the media sort of fit the same category. That’s not to say that all supplements are fakes or forgeries because some have real value when it comes to your health. However, when it comes to weight loss I would say that the majority of products you see advertised really don’t do the job.

Back in the 1990’s ephedra was isolated and sold as a weight loss product. It really worked well, but it came with some health concerns, more specifically heart and nervous system problems. When ephedra was eventually banned from the market, supplement companies scrambled to find other ingredients to stimulate metabolism and weight loss.

Today, most all supplements that claim to create weight loss contain some form of caffeine, nitrous oxide and or some other herb that will stimulate metabolism.

Stimulating metabolism is what this is all about. Let me explain. The average 165 pound male has a resting metabolism of about 1000 calories/day. This means that if he lies on his back, awake for 24 hours with no movement, he would burn about 1000 calories (imagine a car motor at idle speed). Now let’s add the extra calories he burns in his typical day. Every movement he makes creates heat and requires energy (revving up the engine and burning more gas/calories). The average additional calories from movement for a person his size is about 800 to 1000 more for a total of about 2000 calories/day.

The truth Is, if he adds a good herbal weight-loss supplement as directed, his 2000 cal /day total would be increased by about 400 calories to about 2400 (resting metabolism-1000 plus the added “movement “calories-1000 plus herbal addition-400). The increase of 400 cal is caused by two things. The herbal stimulants and caffeine raise the resting metabolism, plus, our subject becomes more energized thereby moving more during the day burning more “movement” calories. So now is total caloric need is 2400 calories/day rather than 2000.

You should know from my earlier blogs that consuming your maintenance calories per day creates neither weight gain nor weight loss. In this case, if his is caloric need is 2400/day per day he can eat 2400 calories/day rather than 2000 without adding body fat. On the other hand, if he continues to eat 2000 calories/day he will lose body fat at the rate of 400 calories/day, or about 1 pound of fat every eight days.

If you really want to increase fat loss you have several tools at your disposal. you can Increase your activity which will raise your caloric need, if you like add a fat burning supplement and thirdly, increasing muscle mass over the long term raises your resting metabolism. If our subject has and uses all three of these tools he could potentially have a daily caloric need of over 3000 calories/day. Then he would really have control of his body composition.

Why am I not losing weight?

I am continually amazed by the human body’s intricate and efficient design. When it comes to nutrition the body has the amazing ability to store energy.  This energy is stored as fat and is actually a good thing. Let me explain. If we lived in a primitive society, it would be to our advantage to have some storage energy. You never know when a crop might fail, or there could be a drought or some otherwise extended period of time when food would not be available. Unfortunately, in today’s culture with our diets including fast and engineered foods we seem to be storing a lot  more than we need to last one season of drought or famine.

The body also is designed to protect body fat and use it as a last resort in time. There are two lines of defense; blood sugar and stored sugar in the muscles and liver. In order to get to your stored body fat you must burn through these primary and secondary defenses. This is typically why it takes about 5 to 7 days to begin to lose body fat (low-carb diets notwithstanding-rapid water loss). Once you begin to use your body’s fat stores for energy, you can process or burn about 2 pounds of fat per week. If you try to do it any faster you will lose muscle mass.

Now to answer your question. When you burn body fat the end products of the burning are carbon dioxide and water. Sometimes the  water released will be retained in your system for up to several days. This can cause you to not lose pounds on the scale even though you have less fat. After these several days pass you will typically lose 2 to 3 pounds in one day when the water is finally released. This is the primary reason you can go as long as seven days or so without losing anything and all of a sudden you lose three pounds.

Also, remember that water is the random element that can change your body weight, moment to moment. If you drink 16 ounces of water. You just drank on 1 pound of weight and until you either breathe it out, it is eliminated through waste products or sweated off, it’s inside you.

Here’s the best method for eliminating water as a variable factor. Take your body weight in the morning right after you wake. Go to the bathroom first and be sure to weigh with no clothes on. Pick a day, like Monday, weigh seven days in a row and then divide your total weight for the week by 7. This way you get a weekly average, which will almost always surely drop week to week in a predictable and consistent fashion.

This is a great question. Let’s look at exercise machines in general f


irst. Any machine whether it be a treadmill (or some version of a treadmill), an ab machine, a leg machine, a total body exerciser or any kind of device that promises to get you in shape or lose body fat is designed to do two things: burn calories and produce some level or type of strengthening or toning. To a great degree every machine I’ve seen advertised can accomplish these two goals.

The problem arises when they promise you a certain amount of loss or changes in a predetermined length of time, for example they may say “just by using this machine you can lose two dress sizes in 10 days” or “lose 10 pounds the first 10 days”. I’m sure you have seen these.

It is a fact that the average person in an exercise session where they’re working at 70 to 80% of their maximum heart rate for 30 to 40 min. will burn somewhere between 300 and 500 extra cal.

From one of my earlier blogs you will remember that in order to lose 1 pound of fat you must accumulate 3500 cal under your calorie maintenance level over some period of time.

In our earlier exaggerated claims example of losing 10 pounds in 10 days, in order to accomplish this you would have to burn 35,000 extra calories in those 10 days in order to lose 10 pounds of fat. If you’re only burning, say 400 a day exercising that would be a total of only 4000 extra calories burned in 10 days. According to my calculations you would have to exercise between eight and 10 hours per day nonstop to burn enough calories to lose 10 pounds in 10 days

So what does all this mean? I’ve made it sort of a study of mine to watch these TV infomercials on a regular basis and to analyze them.. I’ve stayed up many nights way way late to see some of these because as you know they usually show up late-night.

Here’s the reality of the situation. If you listen closely almost every single one of these devices they are trying to sell you comes with some sort of eating plan. They may call it a special bonus, an extra, or just a special added value. If you order one of these machines and you look at the diet plan included it will prescribe to you a low calorie diet of some sort. The diet is what creates the weight loss not the machine.

Don’t get me wrong, the machines do burn calories and can dramatically increase your fitness level. But you don’t lose the fat solely because you use the machine, you lose the fat because you follow the prescribed low calorie diet and burn some extra calories on the machine.

As a side note you ever wonder why the first day you see these ads they’ve already got testimonials of clients that lost tremendous amounts of weight. The question arises, if this machine or program just came on the market today, how do they already have these dramatic testimonials.

Here’s how that works. Usually the developers will take a number of clients for weeks or months before the product release date and help them in such a way as to guarantee weight loss. Many times they are sequestered, their eating habits and choices are monitored every day and their lifestyle is totally controlled by the developers so as to guarantee weight loss. This is not real life. Real life is a busy lifestyle fraught with  the societal temptations we are all faced with. In the real world it’s not that easy.

Okay, let’s and you start with listing some of the more popular diets on the market. There’s the Atkins diet, the Hallelujah diet, the South Beach diet, the Hollywood diet, low fat diets, carbohydrate free diets, sugar-free diets, protein diets and the list goes on and on. Here’s the real truth.

If you subscribe to or purchase any of these diet plans, in the process of beginning the program, the format that you are directed to follow by the maker of the plan is always designed around your specific demographics, meaning age, sex, body weight, activity level and so on. Somewhere in a questionnaire or form they get this information from you.

Now, the only reason any of these diets will work for you is, regardless of the colorful design, interesting packaging, super claims etc. the plan is  designed to restrict your calorie intake to a point where you are eating less calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight causing your body to use storage energy (body fat) to make up the difference.

Let’s look at a  specific example, Weight Watchers plan uses points instead of calories. Here’s how that works. A point represents between 60 and 70 cal. So if you are assigned 20 points a day that calculates roughly to 1300 cal. which Weight Watchers has determined is the CALORIC LEVEL you should be at to lose about 1.5 to 2 lbs of fat/week. Now let’s look at a low fat diet plan where you are assigned a maximum of 30 g of fat per day. The explanation here is a little more complicated. A gram of fat represents 9 cal. and If you’re limited to 30 g of fat per day, that’s 270 cal. Fat occurs as a natural macronutrient  in a large variety of foods. By limiting your fat grams you are also limiting the volume of food that you eat. If you cut back on fatty foods, you will just consume less calories.

Your next question might be, if it’s all about calories why do I see so many new and different weight loss plans on the market? Why don’t they say just reduce your calories and you lose weight?

Here’s the answer to that. Our brains are wired in such a way that we get excited about something new and different. People who promote these programs know that. If someone told you they would sell you a diet plan for let’s say $100 and when you bought it you got a piece of paper in the mail that said eat 1000 cal a day, you’d probably be upset.

Now look at this scenario. I’d like to sell you a weight loss plan for $100. Here’s what you get: A plan that is designed for your body type and through extensive research into “somatatyping”, I’ve developed this plan that’s designed especially for you. I’ll call it the “Soma” diet. When you get your package in the mail you get this combination of colorful cards. One card has a picture of your body shape on it. Also included are cards that have letters on them, one letter per card going from A through Z. The card with letter A on it has a picture of five different fruits, the Card with the letter B on it has a picture of five different vegetables on it. The rest of the cards have a selection of other food groups on them. You are instructed to select and eat one food from say every other letter in the alphabet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (A,C,E,G etc.). On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays you are instructed to select and eat one food from the cards with the other letters of alphabet on them (B,D,F,H etc.).

This plan obviously is more exciting and different but the truth is, again it boils down to the same thing. The plan is instructing you to consume less calories than you need to maintain your present weight, usually in an amount that will cause you to lose about 2 pounds per week.

Speed Up your Metabolism

Myth number 4 ….I can’t lose weight because I have a slow metabolism. The speed of human metabolism ranges about 20%. Some people have a  metabolism up to 10% faster than average. On the other hand some people have metabolisms up to 10% slower than average. In layman’s terms, the average female with a 10% slower metabolism than average would gain about 13 pounds a year more than a person with an average metabolism. If you think you have a slow metabolism, all you have to do it’s adjust your caloric intake down by about 10% and you’ll be the same as someone with an average metabolism.

High sugar diet will kill you

Myth number 3….Sugar in your diet will make you gain weight.  The truth is, sugar which comes in many forms is a necessary part of your daily diet.  In the average diet sugar is a portion of our consumption.  Along with fat, protein, fiber, water and essential nutrients, sugar is used for immediate and short term energy.  While ”processed” sugar (all the healthy components removed) can increase the chances of Diabetes and rot your teeth, it’s not the culprit responsible for fat gain or loss.  It is the number of calories consumed vs. the number burned that causes this loss or gain.

and remember

More later

Eating late at night will make you Fat

Myth number 2 in the series..Eating after 8pm makes you fat

The truth is, we usually eat our quota of calories (the number of calories needed to maintain our current weight) by 8pm, then we eat excess calories after 8pm. These calories don’t make us fatter BECAUSE we eat them then lay down and sleep but rather because these calories represent excess calories for the day. In addition, the foods we generally eat after 8pm are the sweeter, better tasting, higher calorie foods.  It does’t take much of these choices to add lots of calories to our day.

Myth number 1 in the series…You must eat breakfast to help you lose weight.  This “starts up” or boosts your metabolism.

The truth is, when you eat makes NO DIFFERENCE when it comes to losing weight. It is really the TOTAL CALORIES COMSUMED vs. total calories burned in a day (24 hr period) that determines fat gain or loss. Believe me. In my over 30 years experience I’ve trained hundreds of clients from bodybuilders to ladies that are over 100 lbs overweight and this truth ALWAYS works

and remember, before you believe anything you read or hear relating to diet and exercise, PLEASE!! CHECK OUT THE CREDENTIALS OF THE AUTHOR


More later

Hello and Welcome!

First, I’d like to introduce myself: My name is John Howie and I live in Monroe, North Carolina. You can check out all my credentials on my site.

I’m setting out on a mission to help you achieve your fitness and nutrition goals. I don’t subscribe to fads or the latest “fixes.” Rather my approach to fitness is science based and comes from over 40 years of experience with clients. There are certain truths in weight control that are absolute and non changing. I will be posting logs on a regular basis relating to fitness, weight control, and fat loss as well as weight training. Please feel free to comment on my logs at any time.


John Howie