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Why Low-Calorie Diets Don’t Work

March 24, 2014

The leading cause of obesity in America is low-calorie weight-loss programs. Americans will spend more than $60 billion this year on weight-loss programs and diet products, according to a consumer research firm. Ironically, obesity in America is more prevalent today than ever before. The fact is that for 98% of the people coming off such programs, the weight loss was due to a loss of muscle, not necessarily loss of fat.

It is a huge misconception that “weight-loss” means losing fat. The diet industry would like us to believe that all weight loss is fat loss. In most calorie restricted diets, the body will use the muscle for energy and hold on to the fat for survival. The body must be fed a certain number of nutrients in order to maintain its muscle and use its fat stores for energy.

Storing Fat

Once a body starts to run on its muscle tissue, even the slightest elevation in calories will be stored as fat. This is why people who lose weight can’t keep it off. Their bodies become extremely efficient at storing fat.

Generally, when people lose weight, they do not look like they imagined. I am often asked what weight-training exercises help people to firm up. There are no exercises that will help them tone simply because weight training works with muscle, and muscle is already toned. If the weight lost would have been fat, people would be left largely with toned muscle. Instead, they become a smaller person with a high percentage of body fat.

An understanding of how the human body works is the first step to a successful fat-loss program. Since our earliest beginnings, the human body has fought to stay alive by making the necessary adjustments for survival. Diets are perceived by the body as starvation. When a dieter further restricts calories in an effort to lose weight, the body will fight that much harder to store fat and conserve energy. The human body is an efficient fat storing machine.


Understanding one’s set-point is an important fat-loss concept. A set point is where your body is comfortable. It doesn’t mean that is an ideal weight. In other words, one may lose some weight or gain some weight, but the body always seems to revert to its original weight.

The problem is that set points tend to go up as we get older, simply because we become less active. To lower a set point, one must lose fat. If it is lost, a new set point can be created to a lower fat level.

All weight loss programs should be geared towards the individual. We are all individuals–height, weight, sex, age, activity levels, food preferences, body composition, lifestyle and specific goals determine the type and amount of exercise, as well as, the type and amount of food needed to reach our goals.

Five Steps for Achieving the “Ultimate” Body

1) Eat the right food at the right time so the body does not perceive it is starving. This will ensure your metabolism doesn’t slow down.

2) Proper aerobic/cardiovascular prescription. Aerobic/cardiovascular activity is needed to mobilize the stored fat in order to help supply the missing below maintenance calories. However, this creates the need for more nutrients to perform the added exercise. These nutrients must come without the calories so as not to hinder or halt fat loss.

3) Proper food supplementation will supply the above maintenance level of nutrients now needed (because of additional exercise) without calories. This allows the body to use its own stored calories (body fat).

4) Proper weight training prescription will create the need to preserve or increase lean muscle tissue and will be accomplished, if all nutrients (food and supplements) and calories (food and body fat) are made available.

5) Systematic application. As the body changes and adapts, the prescription must also change. When all variables are properly controlled for the individual, genetic predisposition will determine the rate of change and amount of work needed to make this favorable change.

Here is the bottom line: Be concerned about fat loss only! The scale is strictly a measurement to be combined with body fat percentage to determine a net figure of fat loss and muscle retention. Never gauge progress by the scale alone. Remember, it’s not how much is lost, but what is lost. Feed muscle to burn more fat and obtain an ideal body by eating properly with a regular exercise regimen.


Mike Foley has Masters Degree in Nutrition Counseling. Mike has been working in the fitness field designing nutrition and exercise programs since 1989. He owns Foley’s Fitness and works out of World Gym in Portland, where he routinely sees 150 clients a week. You can contact Mike at 207-828-9900 or

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