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Dieting 101 - The Basics

As a physical therapist, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is related to dieting and/or weight loss and primarily how to lose body fat.  Let’s begin with a few important facts.  

  1. Lean body mass (muscle) consumes more calories at rest and with activity than body fat. 
  2. Calorie expenditure MUST exceed calorie consumption.  
  3. Stored tissue (body fat), simply, is caused by excess calories.  Some calories are stored more easily, however ANY calories consumed in excess, will be stored as body fat. 
  4. It is incredibly difficult to lose weight/body fat, without altering your diet.  Simply adding exercise, for most people, is not enough.    
  5. Dieting MUST be performed in small lifestyle changes over time.  Drastic dieting ultimately results in failure.  
  6. All body tissues hold water.  Body fat contains a great amount of water.   Muscle tissue also holds water, however, sedentary muscle (untrained) holds far less muscle than trained muscle.

Number six is important and part of the reason diets seem to fail.  By simply adding exercise (especially weight training) to your routine, your body will naturally hold more water in the muscle which may appear as a weight gain (the opposite of your goals).  This is FINE and should be expected as you are priming your body for activity and exercise forces water and nutrients into the muscle for recovery.  Once you reduce calorie intake, your body will start to shed water weight that is excessive in fatty tissue and you can notice a rapid weight loss.  Great!  However, this will eventually taper off and plateau (typically about 1-2 weeks).  This is discouraging and often causes the dieter to assume the diet is no longer working.  DON’T GIVE UP because once that timeframe passes most weight lost is body mass (fat and some muscle depending on the extent of the diet).  

Let’s talk timing. 

  1. Sugar (carbohydrates) are turned into blood sugar which is the most easily utilized energy source, but is also most easily stored as body fat when in excess.  In the absence of high blood sugar, fatty tissue can be utilized for energy, especially while sleeping.  Therefore utilize COMPLEX carbohydrate sources.
  2. Calories consumed at night are typically not burned and are therefore stored.  Proteins are stored less easily so a late night snack should NEVER consist of something carbohydrate based or sugars - choose a lean protein instead.  
  3. Your body will ‘fast’ while sleeping reducing blood sugar and hopefully burning fatty calories for necessary body functions.  You need to replace your blood sugar sources in the AM hours (fruit, yogurt, breads).  Avoid simple carbohydrates later in the day.  
  4. EAT COMPLETE! Steady energy sources are necessary for continuous fat burning.  Random consumption is not helpful.  Create a schedule.   

Body weight can and should fluctuate between 3-4 lbs in any given day.  DO NOT WEIGH YOURSELF DAILY but weekly.  This will eliminate daily fluctuation and give feedback as to the efficacy of your dieting routine.  

Simple changes create lasting results.  Start small and work into your diet. 

Stephen DiGiambattista is a physical therapist is North Pocono ProCare Physical Therapy is Moscow.  Please contact Steve with questions or concerns at

Diet and Exercise, General Health, Cardiac Direction


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