Weight Loss Glossary

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Glossary for Weight Loss

Here is some common terminology associated with weight loss:
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) - Body Mass Index (abbreviatied to BMI) is an attempt to measure in a single easy-to-calculate number whether a person is underweight, overweight, or within the healthy weight range. Body Mass Index is calculated using just two variables: a person's weight and their height. As can be imagined, a single number calculated using a very simple methodology and a minimum of data, does not necessarily give a fair and accurate summary for all individuals. BMI can give misleading results for some people - for example, elderly people, young children, pregnant women, people with very large or very small frames, people with unusual builds, highly conditioned athletes, etc. That said, BMI can provide useful information when used to measure averages across a population (the purpose for which it was originally devised), and often provides useful guidance in individual cases. See also BMI, BMI Calculator, and for arguments against using BMI, 7 Reasons Why I Hate the BMI Scale.

  • Calorie - A calorie is a unit of energy, and in the context of nutrition and weight loss is used as units when measuring the amount of energy contained in food. Rather confusingly, the term calorie is actually used for two different units:
    • The "small calorie" or "gram calorie" (symbol: cal) is the approximate amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one °C at a pressure of one atmosphere.
    • The "large calorie" or "kilogram calorie" (symbol: Cal or kcal) is approximate amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one °C at a pressure of one atmosphere - in other words it is equivalent to 1,000 small calories, or 4.2 kilojoules in International System of Units. When people refer to "calories" in the context of nutrition, they are almost always referring to large calories.

  • Calorie Controlled Diet - The energy content of foods can be measured (the units being "calories"). Calorie Controlled Diets are diets based on restricting the total energy content of foods consumed, based on the theory that if the energy content of foods consumed is less than the energy used by the body during the same period, a person will lose weight.

  • Carbohydrate - Carbohydrates are one of the main types of nutrients in our diet, and are primarily consumed to provide energy (carbohydrates generally provide 4 calories of energy per gram). Carbohydrates include sugar, starch, and cellulose (fiber). Carbohydrates are present in many different foods, however informatlly the term "carbohydrates" and "carbs" are often used to refer to foods which are particularly rich in carbohydrates.

  • Dietitian (also Dietician) - A person who is an expert in human nutrition and diet. In the United States, Dietitians who meet a required set of academic and professional requirements (including completing a Bachelor's Degree with an accredited nutrition curriculum, passing a registration examination, and having done an approved internship) are known as Registered Dietitians (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN).

  • Fad Diet - Is a perjorative term used by critics to describe diet programs which make promises of weight loss or other health advantages, but which contradict mainstream nutrition advice, and are usually not backed by solid scientific evidence. Many famous diet programs are considered by their critics (including in some cases famous diet programs devised by doctors) to be fad diets. See Fad Diets.

  • Fat - Fat is one of the main types of nutrient in our diet. Fat provides a rich source of energy - generally around 9 calories of energy per gram.

  • Glycemic Index (also Glycaemic Index) - Abbreviated to GI, is a numerical measure associated with a particular type of food. It measures the effect of that food on the body's blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) level - and is measured on a scale where 100 is equivalent to pure glucose. Low GI foods release glucose more slowly than Medium or High GI foods. Animals studies have shown that consumption of High GI foods is associated with an increased risk of obesity. See also Glycemic Index Table for a table of approximate GI values for various types of food, and see Sugar Busters! for an example of diet which places great emphasis on GI.

  • Glycemic Load - Abbreivated to GL is an estimate of how much a food will raise a person's bllod glucose (also known as blood sugar) level, when eaten. Glycemic Load accounts for both how much carbohydrate is in the food, and how much each gram of the carbohydrate will raise the person's blood glucose level. GL is calculated by multiplying the available grams of carbohydrate in the food, by the food's glycemic index (GI), and then dividing by 100.

  • Ketosis - Ketosis is the metabolic state during which the body's main source of energy is from ketone bodies in blood as opposed to its normal state, glycolysis, in which the energy comes from blood glucose. During glycolysis, insulin in the body promotes the storage of body fat and blocks the release of fat from adipose tissues, whereas during ketosis fat reserves are more readily released and used. Ketosis can be deliberately induced to treat certain medical conditions, but is also a goal of certain low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet. See also Ketosis Simplified: The Definition of Ketosis and How It Happens.

  • Low Carbohydrate Diet (Low Carb Diet) - A diet that is based on the idea of restricting the amount of carbohydrates consumed (typically by restricting the intake of sugars, starchy vegetables, and fruit), and emphasizing the consumption of foods rich in proteins and fat. There are many different such diets, but low carb diets for weight loss were first popularized by the Atkins Diet, a diet pioneered by a well-known cardiologist, Dr Atkins, who found that a low carb diet often helped his patients achieve weight loss even if they had previously failed to achieve weight loss on a calorie controlled diet.

  • Paleo Diet - A diet based on eating the types of foods that early humans are believed to have eaten prior to the advent of agriculture. Paleo diets are based on the consumption of meat, fish, vegetables and fruits, but generally exclude cereals and dairy products.

  • Protein - Protein is one of the main types of nutrient in our diet. Proteins are essential for building muscle, skin, and bones, but can also be used to provide the body energy. Protein provides about around 4 calories of energy per gram.

  • Vitamin - Vitamin are organic compounds that our bodies need (in relatively small quantities) but can not be synthesized by our bodies, and hence must be obtained from our diet.


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