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Why “Eating Right”, “High Protein,” or “Exercise” Doesn’t Work for Weight Loss.

April 21st, 2015

Mark Rullo – MS, CSCS,MES
CEO My Fitness Kitchen

Whether on social media, in news clips, or on talk shows we always hear someone giving us advice…”Just Eat Right” or make sure it is “High in Protein” or just “Exercise”. Although in general these terms are correct, it is the lack of specificity that is also creating more confusion and failure when it comes to losing weight.

Let’s take a look at each of these statements and how they can be holding you back from seeing success with weight loss.


Sounds simple and straight-forward enough, right? So who would argue with that? Results can only be found in what exactly defines “eating right.”

Eating “right” can mean something different for everyone depending on their goal. For example, eating “right” for heart health or sports performance isn’t necessarily going to help someone lose weight. However, when people hear the phrase “eat right,” they will most likely think of healthier food options such as fruits and vegetables, organic, whole foods, and lean meats.

Although healthier food options are the preferred fuel for better overall health and performance, weight loss begins and ends with total calories consumed (what you eat) versus total calories expended (what you burn).

For example, if your daily metabolism (total calories burned) is 2200 and you eat “right” from a healthy perspective but your total calorie consumption is 2500, those extra 300 calories will store in your body as fat. Therefore, although you’ve made healthy food choices and you’re “eating right”, you are still contributing to weight gain by consuming more than your daily caloric expenditure.


Protein is an excellent macro nutrient that supports muscle growth, has an awesome thermogenic effect, and provides greater satiety than other nutrients. But what exactly is considered “high protein” when you’re trying to lose weight and reap the benefits? This can ONLY be determined on an individual basis relative to total caloric intake.

Weight loss is, again, achieved primarily by caloric management. After that, the macronutrient breakdown of those calories is the next area of focus when targeting weight loss through nutritional behaviors. Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates, and fats and are the primary source of the calories we consume.

From a percentage perspective of total calories for a weight loss program, “high protein” would be 20-35% of the total calories consumed with an acceptable range (not considered “high”) as low as 10%.

Using 1500 and 2200 total daily caloric intake diets to illustrate the breakdown, 20-35% of protein would be as follows:

Total Calories                    20% of Total Calories Protein                    35% of Total Calories Protein
1500                              300 Protein calories (75 grams)            525 Protein calories (131.25 grams)
2200                             440 Protein calories (110 grams)           770 Protein calories (192.5 grams)

One gram of protein yields 4 calories. Therefore, you can see that for a person on a 1500 calorie diet who is trying to lose weight, a high protein diet would have one consuming 75-131 grams of protein per day. If they are increasing their caloric intake to 2200 per day, then their protein intake would need to increase proportionally (110-192.5 grams/day) if they would still want to consume “high” amounts of protein.

Without knowledge of total calories it is impossible for anyone to know if their diet is high or low in protein. Ironically, for those who want to lose weight but resist mastering the behavior of counting calories will never truly know if they are eating high or low amounts of protein.

This is just another example in the value of the weight loss nutrition hierarchy in that caloric management trumps everything because any instruction on macronutrients (e.g., high protein, low carb, etc…) is irrelevant and impossible to label as “high protein”, “low carb” without knowing total calories first.

NOTE: Yes, there are guidelines for protein consumption based off the number of grams per body weight when weight management isn’t the primary focus. However, caloric management is first in any weight loss program and to minimize error in the caloric management it isn’t advisable to base your protein intake primarily off of your body weight.


There are two basic categories of exercises for weight loss – Resistance Training and Cardio (Aerobic) Training with Cardio sub-divided into interval/metabolic cardio training and steady-state cardio training.

Absolutely any and all exercise contributes to weight loss by creating greater caloric expenditure than what would be achieved while resting. However, not all exercises are equal in how they support the weight loss process from both a physiological and time-management perspective.

I have always stressed that the most effective form of exercise when it comes to weight loss is resistance training and NOT cardio training for many reasons.
Resistance training for weight loss requires less frequency per week (minimally 1x/wk) compared to cardio (minimally 4+x/wk). Resistance training for weight loss requires less time per workout (10-25 minutes) than cardio (30+ minutes). Resistance Training secures skeletal muscle better than cardio for greater “after burn” allowing for 12-36 hours of elevated metabolism while at rest. Resistance training actually magnifies any cardio exercise for weight loss thus why both are essential.

NOTE: the above bullet points are presented to emphasis the importance of having concern for muscle in any weight loss program and by no means to de-value or discourage aerobic activity.

The problem with telling people to exercise for weight loss without being specific about the type of workout is that the expected results are usually different from the actual results. Without incorporating resistance training into a weight-loss oriented exercise program, it is like taking a butter knife to a steak house. The butter knife (cardio) can cut the steak (to lose weight) but it is much less efficient than using a steak knife (resistance training).

If you are serious about wanting to lose weight, seek an experienced resource to make it personal. Lose the generalization of your nutrition and have a personalized program set up for based on your metabolism to eliminate the guesswork. As for exercise, a specific exercise program and accountability will save you time, money, and energy in pursuit of your weight-loss goal.

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