SOME ASSIGN POINTS to their meals. Others sprint past the bagel shop in their quest to avoid carbs like the plague. As a society, depending on the decade, we have taken turns swearing by the grapefruit diet, the juice fast, intermittent calorie restriction, grazing, the fat-free, the carb-free, the protein only, the let’s-only-eat-orange-foods-until-Thursday-at-midnight… the list goes on.
If instant gratification wasn’t a fad, fad diets wouldn’t be either. But as bikini season creeps stealthily into the periphery of the near future, the mystical weight loss promises tempt even the skeptics. It is, after all a multibillion dollar industry beckoning, each consumer a fresh well of wishful thinking just waiting to be tapped.
The bottom line though is that successful weight loss is kind of like everything else – 99% perspiration.
Internally we know this. Science tells us this.
In this study published in the New England Journal of Medicine researchers randomly assigned overweight adults to one of four diets.
1. high carb, low fat, low protein
2. moderate carb and protein, low fat
3. moderate carb and fat, low protein
4. low carb, moderate fat, high protein
They then subtracted 750 calories from each participant’s requirement, based on the metabolic rate and activity level.
To put this into perspective, the resting metabolic rate for a 40 year old 5 foot 3 inch woman who weighs 160 pounds and is in a coma for example, is 1690 calories per day.
If that same woman burns 500 calories working, walking, talking, the number of calories needed for her to maintain her weight goes up to 2190.
If she adds a 2-3 mile walk on the treadmill to that, that number climbs to 2490 calories. That’s a substantial calorie intake. Eating that number daily, will keep her at 160 lb. Eating less, promotes weight loss.
Using the calorie prescription, the goal for all groups in the study was a focus on nutrition and education. Empty calories were eliminated. Fats included in the diet plans consisted of less than 8% saturated fat. Carbohydrate-rich foods included ones with a low glycemic index (low on white sugar), like whole wheat bread. Participants ate at least 20 grams of dietary fiber per day and cholesterol intake was monitored.
Participants went to group meetings, kept track of food in journals, and exercised about 2 hours per week. Individual support sessions were provided.
After two years of monitored intervention, the comparison of weight lost among all 4 groups was on average THE SAME indicating that it is not necessarily the food group that matters, but the choices within that food group.
In the case of carbs, cake will leave you craving, but a portion controlled plate of whole wheat pasta may hit the spot and prevent consumption of added calories.
The caveat here is that all roads lead to Rome. Whether it’s through intermittent restriction, or craving less food when on a no carb diet, the goal is the same…maintaining a calorie deficit. And you don’t need to spend a fortune (in fact, it’s right below for free); good old fashioned self discipline is key and priceless.
Now, for that self-discipline … is there an app for that?
Ref: Sacks et. al. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates; NEJM