If you’re aiming to lose weight, most likely the number one thing that you’re trying to do is cut back on calories. Not surprising, given that this approach to weight loss has long been promoted by public health officials and medical professionals alike.
Cutting back on calories may initially help with weight loss but as the body learns to adapt to this lower set-point, fewer calories are required to maintain your new weight. Then, as yo-yo dieters know all too well, the real struggle – to keep the weight off – begins.
But a new study challenges this conventional wisdom. Instead, the research suggests that focusing on diet quality, not quantity (not all calories are created equal), is a far more effective strategy for losing weight and keeping it off.
“Groundbreaking studies show that fat cells play a key role in determining how much weight you gain or lose.” Dr. David Ludwig
The research published in the British Medical Journal, found that in overweight adults who cut carbohydrates from their diets and replaced them with fat, their metabolism sharply increased. After five months on the diet, these participants burned 250 more calories a day compared with those who ate a high-carb, low-fat diet.
The study was divided into two phases. In the first phase, 164 overweight adults were put on a strict diet with all their meals provided by the study. After 20 weeks, participants who lost more than 10% of their body weight were enrolled in the weight maintenance phase of the study.
During the second 20-week phase, participants were assigned to follow one of three diets that varied in carbohydrate content (High: 60%; Moderate: 40% or Low 20%) while keeping protein constant at 20 percent. The remaining fat content varied depending on carbohydrate levels (20%, 40% and 60%, respectively).
The results showed that those who followed the low-carb diet burned over 200 additional calories each day compared to participants on a high-carb diet, while avoiding the typical decrease in calorie burning that follows significant weight loss. The extra calorie burn, the researchers noted, would be likely to help the dieters maintain their weight loss.
The study authors also added that a low-carb diet could help people slim down more than other eating plans. The conclusion the experts reached is that low-carb dieters could lose approximately 10 percent of their body weight over three years just by reducing their consumption of carbohydrates, even if their overall calorie intake didn’t change.
The Bottom Line
Dr. David Ludwig, who was part of the research team, says that refined carbs, or simple carbs, tend to spike insulin and blood sugar which promotes fat storage and can increase appetite.
Dr. Ludwig is a renowned endocrinologist who for over two decades has been at the forefront of research into weight control. His groundbreaking studies show that overeating doesn’t make you fat; the process of getting fat makes you overeat. That’s because fat cells play a key role in determining how much weight you gain or lose.
Low-fat diets work against you by triggering fat cells to hoard more calories for themselves, leaving too few for the rest of the body. This “hungry fat” sets off a dangerous chain reaction that leaves you feeling ravenous as your metabolism slows down. Cutting calories only makes the situation worse.
Instead, Dr. Ludwig recommends cutting out simple carbohydrates and replacing them with complex carbs and fat. This helps to decrease insulin levels and helps to calm chronic inflammation. When this happens, hunger diminishes, cravings subside, metabolism speeds up and weight loss comes more naturally.
Dr. David H. Rahm, medical director of VitaMedica, said the findings were not surprising given his clinical experience and research. He noted, “It’s time to shift priorities away from calories and low-fat, and toward a higher quality diet.”
This study turns dieting on its head by emphasizing that it’s not how much you eat, but what you eat that will influence your body weight. And, that a low glycemic load (i.e. from complex carbs as found in fruits and vegetables) accompanied with a high-fat diet might facilitate weight loss maintenance beyond the conventional focus on restricting energy intake and encouraging physical activity.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.