Dieting for Weight Loss: 19 Frequently Asked Questions

There’s a common misconception that eating fat makes you store body fat.

The truth is that too many calories (consuming more calories than you’re burning each day) makes you fat. Those calories can come from dietary fat, protein or carbohydrates.

Does Eating Fat Make Me Fat?

It doesn’t matter- once you’re over your caloric limit, the body starts to store the excess calories as body fat.

So does eating fat add fat to your body?

Only when it’s part of a diet that exceeds its daily limit of calories. Don’t be afraid of eating fat. Especially the Omega – 3 fatty acids in fish oil. There are some very positive health benefits derived from these healthy fats. In fact, the body needs them to function.

Dietary fat can also be used in several ways as a tool to lose weight.

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CICO stands for “calories in, calories out.” In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. You can do this by exercising and eating healthy foods that are low in calories.

If You Could Eat One Thing to Lose Weight, What Would it Be?

I’m a big fan of adding fat burning fibrous vegetables to your daily intake for weight loss. Celery, carrots, broccoli, green beans, cucumbers, mushrooms, etc…

These are all negative calorie, fat burning foods that fill you up thanks to their fiber and water content.

Eat less calories= more fat burned. Not only are fibrous vegetables good for supporting weight loss, but they are extremely beneficial for overall health as well. Great for the portion control benefits as well!

Should I Take Multi-Vitamins?

There are people who believe that we will get all the nutrition we require from the foods that we eat but this may no longer be the case. Many of the foods we eat are processed and have all sorts of additives that can be detrimental to our health.

Even fresh foods don’t have the same minerals that they once had. In some growing areas most of the minerals that were once in the soil have long since been depleted and the food that is grown in that soil doesn’t have the same values as we have come to expect.

Additional stresses are placed on our health with pollution, work stress and so on, all making demands on our body and the nutrients that we need.

Everything from smoking to alcohol will deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals (I know these shouldn’t be a factor for you though… should they?).

Even fitness training, while good for our health, places additional demands on the body and this is best addressed with supplementation.

A good quality multivitamin taken daily can help to balance out any deficiencies that we might have. This will help us to train better and to stay fitter and healthier and not become as susceptible to illness.

The challenge is that even the best quality multivitamin has it’s shortcomings. The biggest one being that they often lack vital phytonutrients and antioxidants found in trace amounts in certain fruits and vegetables.

So, yes, if you are doing intensive fitness training, your requirements might be higher than normal and might necessitate some form of multi vitamin/ mineral/ nutrient complex.

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Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition

I know I should be having some protein and carbs after a weights workout, but what about after cardio? I’ve heard that you should wait 2 hours before eating.

Post- cardio nutrition is just as important as post- weights nutrition.

If you’re performing cardio as you should be- high intensity, your muscles will be broken down just like a weight training workout, and will be primed to soak up nutrients like a sponge afterward.

After a high intensity cardio workout, you want to replenish the nutrients that will help repair and speed recovery for the next workout. This includes protein and carbs.

Waiting 2 hours after performing cardio will only hinder recuperation- and will throw your hormonal system out of whack.

Don’t worry, having your protein and carbs after the workout will NOT slow down your metabolism that got kick started by the workout, nor will it stop you from burning belly fat. Quite the opposite actually.

Do I Need Supplements to Lose Weight?

No, you don’t need supplements to lose weight. People lose weight without supplements, no matter what the fitness magazines and supplement manufacturers tell you.

I’m not against all supplements, as some are actually very beneficial. However, you need to consider the return on your investment time- wise, money- wise, and side effects- wise.

Losing weight at it’s very core, comes down to creating a caloric deficit. (Even if you are taking supplements). A caloric deficit is where the number of calories you take in (food, drink, whatever) is less than what you’re expending in a day.

For example:

Calories burned on Monday = 3,000 calories

Caloric intake for Monday = 2,500 calories

If you do the math, you’ll see that you end Monday with a 500 calorie deficit. This means your intake was not enough to sustain you through the day, therefore your body had to dig into it’s reserves (stored body fat and some glycogen) to provide the rest of the energy.

When the body uses body fat as fuel, the fat stores get smaller. Think of losing fat from love handles or muffin top like a deflating balloon.

On Monday, you burnt 500 calories from your reserves. To give some reference, 1 pound of body fat is 3,500 calories.

So, if we do the math once again, you’ll see that if you were to create the caloric deficit all week, as you did on Monday, you’ll have lost 1 pound.

500 x 7 days= 3,500 calories (1 pound of fat)*

“Fat burners” don’t actually burn fat as much as they’d like you to believe. If you were to add thermogenic supplements to the mix, you’d burn perhaps 540 calories instead of 500. So you’re taking an extra 40 calories out of your stores each day.

* First of all, this is a small amount of “extra” calories you’re burning each day for the price of the supplement itself- usually priced in the $40- $80 range.

* Second of all, you can simply take a small piece of something out of your diet (for free) and create this deficit. Take the top slice of bread off of one sandwich, and mission complete. 40 calories gone.

* Third of all, many of the “fat burning” supplements are loaded with hefty doses of caffeine and other xanthines which can cause anxiety, jitters, difficulty to concentrate.

Coming off of these supplements with very high amounts of xanthines can cause mood swings and depression due to depleted resources.

Seems like a lot to put up with to simply burn an extra 40 calories.

Our Dirty Little Book of Dieting tells you what you need to do to create a proper caloric deficit.

I Recently Read That Cinnamon Helps You Lose Fat. Is This a Joke?

Here’s the deal…

Recent studies have shown that cinnamon can help improve insulin function. When you improve insulin function, you can manage blood sugar more efficiently, resulting in a better weight loss environment.

Adding cinnamon to a moderate- carbohydrate containing meal will prevent your blood sugar from skyrocketing, and lessen fat accumulation by shuttling the glucose to the muscles instead of your fat cells.

The key here is that it helps keep the blood sugar stable and in the healthy zone when you are eating otherwise healthfully. It does not help undo the damage of a crappy meal.

What is the Best Time to Eat a Cheat Meal?

A cheat meal will of course have a higher number of calories from fat and carbohydrate, so we may as well use this to our advantage. Post-workout is by far the best time to eat your cheat meal.

Specifically within the hour after a heavy workout, because EPOC is highest at this time.

EPOC stands for Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption.

Basically this means your metabolic furnace is firing on all cylinders at this time. The more intense your cardio is, the higher your EPOC will be.

In fact, I always schedule my cheat meals right after a tough workout. No better time to eat a large meal this this.

Not only will eating the cheat meal at this time reduce any damage of a large meal, but it will actually benefit the body in recovery.

The glycogen will be replenished and protein synthesis will be kicked into over drive. The body is like a sponge for nutrients at this time.

By the way, I suggest you read The Green Apple Mini Project for a sweet tip on blunting the damage of a cheat meal.

I Like to Have a Glass of Wine Two Once in a While. Should I Cut it Out Completely?

Having a glass of wine once in a while is fine if you’re staying within your body weight target. If you enjoy having a drink once in a while, I’m the last one to tell you to cut it out if you’re firing on all cylinders otherwise.

However, if you’re overweight, or trying to lose 15 pounds, alcohol would be the first thing I’d cut out. Especially when trying to eat out healthy.

In fact, when working with my personal clients, we cut alcohol immediately and create a list of alternatives they don’t mind ordering when out on business, or just lounging with friends.

Alcohol is basically empty calories– and it’s very easy to consume. For example, the average glass of red wine will run you 150 calories. Having 2 glasses adds up to 300 calories.

The killer is usually what happens after drinking the alcohol. Judgment on what to eat usually goes out the window, and you end up choosing awful foods.

Oh yeah, I didn’t even mention that alcohol can hinder your weight loss by inhibiting fat from being released into the bloodstream to be used as fuel!

Eating Before Going to Sleep?

Every night I wake up about 2 hours after I go to sleep and I’m starving. I eat 6 small meals per day and right before I go to sleep I have a whey protein shake and a banana. Should I eat more before going to sleep?

Here’s what’s going on. In that last meal you’re having a whey protein shake and a banana. This is fine after a workout, but it’s not what you want right before going to sleep.

Here’s why. Whey protein and banana’s are digested very quickly. This combination will cause a very quick, almost immediate rise in blood sugar and amino acids.

The rapid rise in blood sugar causes a large insulin release, followed by a drastic drop in blood sugar.

Even though you have enough calories to take you through the night, the low blood sugar will signal to your brain that you’re hungry. This is why you’re waking up “starving”.

So what can you do to eliminate the rapid rise and drop and blood sugar?

The first thing you could do is have a solid protein in place of the whey protein, and ditch the banana. A small piece of chicken, fish or lean beef would work wonders, as they take longer to break down.

The fat from the solid food will also serve to slow down digestion.

As the food breaks down, the nutrients are released into the blood stream slowly, avoiding the spike of insulin, while keeping you feeling full.

I say a “small piece” of chicken, fish or lean beef because eating too big of a meal before bed can interfere with your body’s rejuvenation and repair processes.

I like to have a bowl of cottage cheese sprinkled with walnuts. The cottage cheese is light enough so that it wont interfere with sleep, but is mostly comprised of casein- which is a very slowly digested protein.

It also contains a good dose of calcium, which has been known to give you a more relaxed sleep.

Skipping Meals to Offset a A Bad Meal

Sometimes on the weekends, I’ll go out for dinner and overdo it with crappy food. Would it be good to make up for it by skipping breakfast the next day and workout on an empty stomach?

No, you can’t “make up” for a crappy meal by skipping a meal or two. The body isn’t designed that way. You’ll actually be digging yourself in a deeper hole by throwing your body’s processes out of whack.

And as Eugene points out, you can’t use exercise to undo a crappy diet.

Here’s a better solution

If you know you’re going to go out for dinner, and you haven’t yet mastered the art of control at the dinner table, you can reduce the damage in other ways.

1) Before going out to dinner, eat a small meal consisting of a solid source of protein with some fibrous vegetables, such as grilled chicken and broccoli. This combination will fill you up and satiate you so you’re less likely to eat too much.

2) Snack on a green apple before going out. Green apples have a natural compound in the skin that tend to make you less likely to binge on unhealthy foods.

They also contain pectin, which is a fiber that expands in the stomach, making you feel full. A client of mine had great results with it, as you can read in the Green Apple (Mini) Project.

3) Perform your most challenging weight training workout of the week a few hours before going out for dinner. An intense cardio workout raises your metabolism for the next several hours, resulting in a lot of the calories you eat being burnt off instead of stored.

This phenomena is called EPOC. Another benefit of a hard workout before the meal is that you can take advantage of the hormone surges, where much of the protein and carbohydrate will go towards anabolism (repair) and glycogen stores.

Getting Hungry While Dieting?

When I start dieting and reducing my overall calorie intake, I get hungry. After a couple of weeks, I lose the battle of will, and I end up eating and gaining it all back again. What can I do to stop this?

The first thing I’d do is start a food journal.

This way you know EXACTLY what you are eating and can pinpoint any challenges you have on your diet. The next thing I’d do is check the amount of calories you’ve actually dropped from your diet.

It’s very possible that you’ve simply dropped too many calories too soon.

Your body will let you know if you’ve dropped too soon with hunger pangs, headaches and furious cravings for food and flavored drinks.

You may even crave strange things– I know a friend of mine who dropped calories too far too soon and would crave chewing gum!

Your body is conditioned to your regular patterns of eating. It’s used to and expects a certain amount of food and calories.

If you make radical changes all at once, your body will scramble to readjust to your new level of food intake. Unfortunately, this scrambling is usually uncomfortable.

The other thing I’d check on is the actual composition of the food your taking in. Check your carbohydrate, fat and protein consumption.

Protein and fat will satiate you way longer that carbs will. Taking in too much of the wrong type of carbs will also cause an insulin drop an hour later, which can contribute to your hunger.

Scan your food journal and eliminate any starchy carbs and replace them with solid protein sources, fibrous vegetables and quality fats such as walnuts, flax and fish oil.

They will not only help keep you “fuller” longer, but they also have potent weight loss properties (especially the Omega- 3 fatty acids in fish oil, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil).

What are Negative Calories?

“Negative calorie” as written about here, is a term used for foods that take more energy to digest and process than they provide the body.

Lets take a big bowl of fibrous vegetables for example. Let’s throw some spinach or romaine lettuce in a big bowl with some tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, sprouts, and some slices of fresh mushroom.

The calories contained in this bowl of vegetables may be around 150.

Since most of the contents have thick, fibrous bodies to break down and digest, your body will need a lot of energy to do the work. The energy (fuel) for the work of breaking down and digesting is the calories already stored in your body.

Eating the vegetables starts the process- chewing needs energy, swallowing needs energy, the processes of the stomach need energy. Lets say the sum total of the demand on the body is 250 calories.

This leaves you with negative 100 calories. Now, you have 100 calories less, stored in your body.

Can you see how this would help with weight loss?

We always recommend getting as many fibrous vegetables in your diet as possible. Not only do they provide negative calories, but they make you feel full, resulting in less total calories eaten.

They contain boatloads of nutrients (a pat of butter or a spoonful of olive oil actual help absorb these nutrients).

Of course, you can never count out the cancer protective properties!

What is the “Thermic Effect”, and How Does it Relate to Weight Loss?

The “thermic effect” refers to the energy that is required to break down and process ingested food.

Different macronutrients require different amounts of energy to be processed, or burned. Fat requires the least energy to be broken down and utilized by the body, whereas protein requires the most (with carbohydrate falling somewhere in between).

In most people, the thermic effect contributes about 10% to their daily energy expenditure; however, by changing one’s macronutrient ratio (the ratio of carbs-protein-fat consumed), that number can be increased.

The thermic effect can be used to one’s advantage in weight loss. By consuming a greater percentage of food calories from protein, one can literally increase the number of calories that their body burns in a given day.

This seems to support the efficacy of the traditional “bodybuilder’s diet”, which derives most of the calories from protein, some calories from carbohydrates, and very little from fat – a diet resembling this one would certainly produce the greatest thermic effect, but may not be sustainable for everyone.

Although it an important factor to consider in a weight loss program, it is merely “just another facet” of designing a successful, long-term fat loss program.

Is Diet Soda OK on a Diet?

Are you a big diet cola drinker and having problems losing weight?

I know some people who pound down 6- 8 cans of diet cola daily to get their caffeine rush during the day. Since it’s calorie free, this should be no problem, right?

Well, not according to recent findings. Although there has been no absolute confirmation that artificial sweeteners have inherently negative health effects (Mayo Clinic), some researchers believe that the body is tricked into releasing insulin due to it’s conditioning towards sweetness.

Basically, this means that your body thinks you’re ingesting sugar and releases insulin in response. As you know, insulin is released into the bloodstream to process glucose from the food you eat.

It is involved in some very crucial actions in the body. However, as anything else, too much is too much. And too much (chronically raised levels) insulin can cause some serious problems such as diabetes, high triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that insulin is a storage hormone and when it is chronically raised, it makes packing on weight easy and burning body fat as fuel damn near impossible.

So what do you do? Try gradually switching over to water or green tea (some good weight loss benefits). Or, go with my favorite which is seltzer with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

Is Sushi Good for Dieting?

I don’t recommend eating much sushi during a weight loss diet. Although sushi contains a decent amount of protein from the fish portion, the rice that it is rolled with or placed atop is pure starch.

Many sushi restaurants load up on the rice portion and give less fish because it’s much cheaper for them. Also, the rice that you get in sushi restaurants is essentially stripped of its fiber and nutrients, resulting in an insulin surge producing plate of definition- blurring mush.

This provides several problems for a dieter.

First off, keeping insulin levels low during your diet will allow the body to release the fat from your body into the bloodstream to be used as fuel. Eating the rice will assure that you’re burning the carbs from the rice instead of body fat.

Second, it’s is extremely easy to over eat this kind of starchy carbohydrate. You can go through 500 calorie bowlfuls without blinking. As you know, to lose weight you absolutely need to take in fewer calories than your body is burning each day.

Third, even if you were to each a smaller portion of the rice, its insulin surge and consequent crash would have you in “starvation mode” and search of more food within an hour.

Rice has a very low satiety level- especially the sushi style rice, which is devoid of fiber which would slow its digestion and nutrients which would fill needs in the body.

How about sashimi?

Sashimi, which is as a friend of mine says “sushi without the rice”, would be a much better choice all around. Because there’s no rice, it’s basically devoid of carbohydrate, and as such, results in less insulin release.

This positions your body in a better fat burning environment.

Sashimi is also a better choice because many of the choices contain decent amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for weight loss, and just about everything else you can think of.

The higher- fat content fish like salmon possess the added benefit of satiety, due to a longer digestion time, a nice dose of these omega-3’s to boot.

Is Fruit Fattening?

There’s a common misconception that fruit is fattening. Let me clear it up for you here.

Fruit, in itself does not “fatten you up”. Eating too much fruit, resulting in overstepping your caloric allowance for the day IS fattening. “Fattening” is simply eating too many calories, regardless of where they come from.

Where did this perception of fruit being fattening come from?

Well, fruit contains sugar (fructose). Eating a lot of sugar can keep your insulin raised, resulting in your body shutting off its fat burning mechanisms. It’s one of the 7 deadly sins of fat burning.

If you add dietary fat to the raised- insulin environment, not only is the burning of body fat stopped, but the calories you’re taking in get stored as body fat!

The lesson here is to avoid eating a bunch of high- sugar fruits at once, especially before fatty meal.

Is Fresh Fruit Juice for Breakfast Good for Weight Loss?

Fresh fruit juice is delicious and a nice treat to have once in a while- great as a refreshing beverage in place of alcohol at a summer cookout– if you’re at or close to your ideal weight.

Fruit juice would not be on my list of power breakfasts if I’m trying to lose weight.

It’s commonly mistaken that because something is fresh, it must be healthy, and because it’s healthy, it’s good for weight loss. This is far from the truth.

Although fresh fruit juices are usually packed with vitamins and minerals, they are loaded with high glycemic sugars, and provide no fiber.

These sugars will keep your body out of the fat burning zone by raising insulin levels.

Soon after having raised insulin levels, your blood sugar shoots back down making you hungry and putting you in a position of eating more, or dealing with headaches, fatigue and bloating and other consequences. Neither are good options for weight loss.

The absence of fiber in the juice also allows the juice to be digested and absorbed in a flash, which can get you into the position of low blood sugar, fast.

Had you kept the fruit intact, eating a little bit of the fruit would not be such a weight loss killer because the fiber would have slowed down digestion, and you’d have less overall sugar.

Keep your goal in mind when putting anything in your mouth, whether it is food or drink. Your goal here is weight loss. All liquids that pass your lips should be calorie- free. For optimal results, go with tea or water.

How Come I Get Tired Soon After Eating Cereal for Breakfast?

I’m not eating the sugary types, but the healthy ones, like Kashi or Grape Nuts.

First of all, eating breakfast is extremely important if you want to lose fat, maintain muscle (which consequently burns fat), or simply have energy through the rest of the day.

A good breakfast will refuel the body with the amino acids (protein) it needs to reverse the muscle wasting that goes on over night. It will also supply you with some healthy fats that will keep you satiate you and provide energy in the morning.

Cereal has none of these qualities, therefore eating it for breakfast simply sucks.

Even though you’re eating the “healthy” cereals, you’re experiencing first- hand the effects. Sleepiness is a common result of eating cereal for breakfast.

Why does this happen?

Well, cereal is refined. Although a lot of cereals claim they are made of wheat and all this other “good stuff”, it’s irrelevant. They’re a starch. They’re still broken down to the simple sugars.

Simple sugars, as you know raise your insulin sky- high then crash back down to earth, leaving you hungrier and more irritable than before.


  • Mike Collins CPT- ISSA. Specialist in Performance Nutrition. Expert Fat Loss Consultant. Founder of MCNewsletters- Weight loss for Women, and co author of the Black Book of Secrets, Dirty Little Book of Dieting, and Man on a Mission. Has held the World Championship Title of Fitness Professional for 23 years. Got hooked on turning ordinary bodies into extraordinary bodies in the gym at night, while working his way through school. Now he observes the nuance and distinctions that generate success and slings insight straight to you from his laptop while eating pizza in Brooklyn or fish tacos in Sausalito. Easily Bribed w/ Tickets: U2. Baseball. Football. Basketball. Tennis. ✈ NYC ✈ Nor Cal ✈