One thing that you will probably notice about this blog is I hardly ever talk about counting calories, limiting portions, or eating in “moderation”. Personally, I find counting calories to be tedious, time-consuming, and unsustainable in the long-term.
But just because I hate counting calories does not mean that it can’t work. In fact, I will show you a few examples (hint: Twinkie diet) that prove that counting calories can work in a big way! But I also want to demonstrate to you that just because a calorie-restricted diet can produce results (especially in the short term), it usually requires too much discipline in order to make it effective and sustainable in the long term.
This is the impact that food quantity and food quality can have on fat loss…
The Importance of Limiting Food Quantity.
Professor Mark Haub may have proved the most extreme example by putting himself on a Twinkie diet where he ate a Twinkie every 3 waking hours for 10 weeks. Don’t worry, he also practiced moderation by adding in Little Debbie snacks, Doritos, and Oreos, along with a daily protein shake and some vegetables to make himself look good in front of his kids. Mark wasn’t very strict with WHAT he was eating, but he counted calories and managed to limit himself to 1800 calories on a daily basis. The result…Haub lost 27 lbs and improved his cholesterol and BMI numbers over a 2-month time frame. Not bad!
Another example is the documentary FatHead. Creator and star Tom Naughton decides to go on a 30 day all fast food diet. Just like our Twinkie guy Haub, Naughton’s main goal was to keep calories around 2000 per day despite his less than optimal choices. His results were just as impressive with 12 lbs of weight loss, improved health markers, and a noticeably younger looking complexion in just 1 month! Maybe fast food isn’t the source of our obesity epidemic.
These are just two examples where calorie restriction works, but there are millions of people that have had success with programs like Weight Watchers, SlimFast, and Jenny Craig, which are built around calorie restriction as their principle goal. If you want to lose weight and don’t mind counting calories, you may find success on a low-calorie diet.
The Importance of Increasing Food Quality.
Everyone seems to have a different definition of what foods are considered “quality” foods, so let’s look at a few scientific examples to help us out.
The first study we are going to look at is one that compared several popular diets including Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN. The participants in the study were not given any specific instructions on reducing calories, they were just told to follow the guidelines of the diet they were assigned to. After 1 year, the high-fat and high-protein approach of Atkins nearly doubled the weight loss of the next closest competitor! So much for fat making us fat.
Here’s another study that pitted a Paleo diet up against the Mediterranean diet. It’s kind of funny how the Mediterranean diet was listed as the “consensus” diet in the study. I guess that just shows how ingrained the belief is that whole grains and low-fat dairy are necessary for optimal health. Well the results of this study again proved that absent of restricting food quantity, changing the quality of the food you eat can have favorable effects on weight loss. But despite popular notion, the Mediterranean-focused diet of grains and dairy fell short of the meat and vegetables approach of the Paleo group. The Paleo group lost nearly twice as many centimeters off their waist circumference over 12 weeks. A difference of -5.6 cm for the Paleo group vs -2.9 cm for the Medieterranean/“consensus” group.
But my favorite study was one that compared 3 popular diet approaches: high-carbohydrate, high-fat, and high-protein. It was concluded that the high-protein and high-fat diets were significantly better for weight loss, reducing waist circumference, and a bunch of other health parameters. The high-protein diet was even given special consideration for its ability to reduce risks of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.
The most interesting part of this study is it seems that the researchers designed the study with the effort to prove that high-protein and high-fat diets were bad. They singled them out as the “popular” diets and the high-carbohydrate diet as the “standard” and “conventional” way. They appeared to be so biased that even after the high-fat group showed greater decreases in body fat, insulin, and tryglicerides compared to the high-carb group, they concluded that “the deleterious effects of the (high-fat) diet in the long term remain a concern.”
DESPITE THEIR OWN RESEARCH TELLING THEM THAT HIGH-PROTEIN AND HIGH-FAT DIETS ARE BETTER FOR HEALTH AND WEIGHT LOSS, THEY WERE STILL RELUCTANT TO ADMIT IT AT THE END. Sounds eerily similar to the nutritional guidelines we are given year after year from the US government and the USDA.
And last but not least, this final study showed that eating a low-carbohydrate diet was actually more effective than a calorie-restricted low-fat diet. Maybe our attention should be more focused on limiting carbohydrates, and not total calories.
The Missing Link: Food Quality Can Determine Food Quantity.
While these two approaches appear to be separate, they are actually dependent on each other. Eating certain foods can actually make you feel hungrier, so the quality of the foods you choose usually determines the quantity that you eat. This is not about avoiding foods that taste good, but limiting foods that have addictive properties to them.
I mentioned earlier that the Paleo diet outperformed the Mediterranean diet for overall weight loss. The one thing I didn’t mention was that the Paleo diet had the unique side effect of having participants feeling less hungry. The study found that on a per calories basis, the Paleo diet was more satiating than the Mediterranean diet.
If I had to guess, I would say this is due to the inclusion of wheat products on the Mediterranean diet. Wheat Belly points out the addictive nature of wheat products, describing how the polypeptides in wheat products adhere to the same receptors in the brain as heroin does. The addictive nature of wheat tricks us into thinking we are hungrier than we actually are!
Sugar appears to have the same effect. Im not just talking about candy and soda either. Breads, pastas, cereals, granola bars, milk, yogurt, and even fruit tend to be loaded with sugar. Even the complex carbohydrates that are boasted about in those foods still have to break down into sugars in order to be utilized by the body. Limit your intake of grains, sugars, and carbohydrates, and maintaining your diet should become a lot easier.
Putting It All Together: How to Reduce Food Quantity without Counting Calories.
I already mentioned how much I hate counting calories. So even though I understand that limiting calories can work, you definitely won’t see me doing it anytime soon. But how do we take advantage of limiting our food quantity if were not counting calories on a daily basis? Here are 4 great ways to do it:
- Focus your diet on high-protein and high-fat, real foods. This means eating lots of meat, seafood, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats like ghee, olive oil, and coconut. These foods should allow you to eat to satiety and take away most of the discipline required in order to restrict calories.
- Practice intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting via a once a week 24 hour fast or a daily 12-20 hour fast can actually allow you to eat more while still limiting your calories in the long run. In my opinion, it is the easiest way to expedite weight loss and get more accomplished in other areas of your life. For a more in-depth discussion on intermittent fasting, check out this post.
- Reduce your meal frequency. Eating less total food by eating more often is a backwards way of thinking. Not to mention it will probably make you paranoid about food. If you only eat 2 or 3 times in a given day, and you’re eating quality foods, it is extremely difficult to overeat. Cut out the mindless eating, and make every meal a special occasion. It worked well for these people who got better results from eating 3 times a day, instead of 6.
- Eliminate stress. Can having stress really cause us to eat more? Of course. I can think of plenty of times in my own life where a tough week of work or a difficult time in a relationship caused me to reach for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (to go with my pint of Sam Adams). This study even hints that beyond all other factors, stress can be the key determining reason that causes us to eat more than we want. Some simple ways to reduce stress include exercising on a regular basis, meditation, or by simply focusing on all the good things you have going in your life and being grateful for them.
What methods have you found best to lose weight? Do you prefer to count calories or do you have other ways of reducing your food intake?