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Q&A: Working Out But Not Getting Rid of Body Fat

We receive several comments and questions on our nutrition blog regarding working out and reducing body fat.  There is nothing more frustrating than working out, but not seeing the results you deserve.  

Since this seems to be such a common concern, we’d like to share our answer to this frequently asked question. You may also want to check out our previous post – Getting Rid of the Jiggle Around Your Middle

If you have any additional questions, please post them below or sign up for a free nutrition session.


I have been working out two times a week in karate, one day a week with football, and some of my time I spend lifting weights and doing sit-up excercises used by navy seals.

Nothing is getting rid of my body fat, I have been nearly starving myself, drinking only water, and only eating breakfast and dinner. Along with the fact I haven’t lost any weight I have gained weight, mostly muscle. The weight I’ve gained totaled 20 pounds, 55% of which is fat.

I’m getting angry. Nothing is working!


 By Cindy MarasiganSkinny Gene dietetic intern, nutrition counselor, fitness instructor, and culinary chef 

I can see your frustration on losing body fat. It sounds like you are very active and you do a variety of sports and exercises. 

There are plenty of ways to quickly drop pounds, but to keep it off for the long term — plan to lose weight slowly. If you have struggled with losing weight and keeping it off, it’s probably time you revisit weight-loss basics.


Make smart food choices from every group

  • Your body needs the right fuel to stay energized and strong. The best way to get the nutrients you need is to enjoy a wide-variety of foods from all of the food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.

Get the most nutrition from your calories

  • You can make a big difference in your calorie intake by eating and drinking smaller portions and limiting foods that are high in sodium, solid fats and added sugars.

Balance food and physical activity

  • To reach a healthy weight, make sure to include physical activity in your day. The minimum for good health is 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, but some need to be physically active for longer to reach a healthy weight.

Eating Right for a Healthy Weight

Achieving and maintaining a healthier weight will contribute to your overall health and wellbeing.

The following tips are for adults who want to make changes in their lifestyle and move toward a healthier weight.

Start with a Plan

  • Develop a plan for lifelong health, not just short-term weight loss. Don’t lose sight of the big picture: achieving overall good health. By putting more emphasis on your health, experts agree that you can raise your overall self-esteem, resulting in healthy eating, weight loss and improved health. Set healthy, realistic goals.
  • When you make changes step-by-step and set realistic goals, you are more likely to succeed in reaching them. Start with two or three specific, small changes at a time. Track your progress by keeping a food and activity log. When you’ve turned a healthy change into a habit, reward yourself with a fun activity.
  • Get a personalized eating plan at Your MyPyramid Plan will give you the amounts of each food group you need daily. If you have special dietary needs, consult your healthcare provider or contact us for a customized plan.

Healthy Eating Tips

  • Eat at least three meals a day and plan your meals ahead of time. Whether you’re eating at home, packing a lunch or eating out, an overall eating plan for the day will help keep you on track.
  • Balance your plate with the right portions of a variety of foods. Half your plate should be filled with vegetables, one fourth with lean meat, poultry or fish and one fourth with grains. To round out your meal, add a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk and a serving of fruit for dessert. Try changing from a large dinner plate to a smaller one. It may help you feel satisfied with reduced portions.
  • Start your meal with low calorie foods like fruits, vegetables and salads. Then move on to the main course and side dishes.


Muscle vs. Fat:

  • If you only have a small amount of weight to lose, then you may feel like the weight training is not helping you move down on the scale. In fact, the number may even go up, but you will look thinner. This is due to an increase in lean body mass (muscle, bone, blood volume) and a decrease in body fat. In other words, even if the scale doesn’t change much, you will probably see a difference in how your clothes fit.
  • On the other hand, if you have a lot of weight to lose, you will also experience an increase in lean body mass and loss of body fat. But the results on the scale will probably be more dramatic.


Exercise Basics:

  • At its most basic, losing weight is about burning more calories than you eat.
  • To lose one pound of fat, you must burn approximately 3500 calories over and above what you already burn doing daily activities. That sounds like a lot of calories and you certainly wouldn’t want to try to burn 3500 calories in one day. However, by taking it step-by-step, you can determine just what you need to do each day to burn or cut out those extra calories. Below is a step by step process for getting started.

Important Steps:

  •  Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Your BMR is the amount of calories your body needs to maintain basic bodily functions like breathing and digestion. This is the minimum number of calories you need to eat each day. Keep in mind that no calculator will be 100% accurate, so you may need to adjust these numbers as you learn more about your own metabolism.


  • My BMR is 1400 calories and I burn about 900 calories with regular exercise, walking around and doing household chores. To maintain my weight, I should be eating 2300 calories (1400 + 900= 2300). However, after keeping a food journal, I find that I was eating 2550 calories every day. By eating 250 more calories than my body needs, I will gain about a pound every 2-3 weeks.
  • This example shows how easy it is to gain weight without even knowing it. However, it’s also easy to lose weight, even if the process itself can be slow. You can start by making small changes in your diet and activity levels and immediately start burning more calories than you’re eating. If you can find a way to burn an extra 200 to 500 calories each day with both exercise and diet, you’re on the right track.
  • Calculate your activity level. For a week or so, keep an activity journal and use a calorie calculator to figure out how many calories you burn while sitting, standing, exercising, lifting weights, etc. throughout the day. Another, easier option is to wear a heart rate monitor that calculates calories burned. After a week, add your totals for each day and average them out to get a general idea of how many calories you burn each day.
  • Keep track of how many calories you eat. For at least a week, enter and track your calories online (e.g., with Calorie Count) or use a food journal to write down what you eat and drink each day. Be as accurate as possible, measuring when you need to or looking up nutritional information for restaurants, if you eat out. After a week, add your totals for each day and average them out to get a general idea of how many calories you eat each day.
  • Add it up. Take your BMR number and add your activity calories. Then subtract your food calories from that total. If you’re eating more than you’re BMR + your activity calories, you’re at risk for gaining weight.


Hope this helps. Good luck on your weight loss goals!

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