There are lots of people out there trying to tell you that “calories don’t matter if you just ___________” (insert various dieting/exercise gimmick here).
Then they devise some way to basically trick you into lowering your calorie intake:
*”don’t eat after 6pm”
*”eat low carb”
*”eat low fat”
*”don’t combine fats with carbohydrates or carbohydrates with protein”
There are a thousand different ways that people can use to get people to unknowingly lower their calorie intake without necessarily having to count calories and forcibly restrict calories. The simple fact is that what these people are doing is telling you that calories don’t matter, and then tricking you into eating less calories without you realizing it.
The most common and popular way that people do this over the last decade or so is to “eat low carb.” Scientists have confirmed that when people start restricting carbohydrates in their diet, they end up eating significantly less calories overall.
Simple: when people eliminate an entire macronutrient from their diet—especially one they typically get the most calories from—they end up eating less calories overall! Then when they lose weight, they think “wow, this low carb thing is amazing, all you have to do is get rid of carbs and you’ll get leaner!”
*Only, the same exact thing happens when someone eats a low-fat diet—when you get rid of the fat in your diet, many people end up eating less calories overall and lose weight.
*The same thing happens when someone eats a high protein diet—intentionally eating more protein drives down consumption of total calories.
*The same thing also happens when someone makes the shift from eating a standard American diet with processed food to eating only whole, unrefined foods (i.e. Paleo)—this too causes the person to unknowingly reduce calorie intake by a huge amount.
What is critical to understand is that any fat loss that happens on these diets has absolutely nothing to do with the magic of low-carb, or the magic of low-fat, or the magic of not combining protein and carbohydrate or the magic of not eating after 6pm, or the magic of Paleo! This has nothing to do with carbs and insulin somehow transcending basic laws of thermodynamics–i.e. “if you don’t spike insulin, then calories don’t matter.” Beware of anyone who tells you such things, because there is no doubt they are a charlatan (or perhaps just ignorant). The fat loss effects of these diets has nothing to do with hormones or anything of that nature transcending simple thermodynamics and calories. Nothing whatsoever! It is simply because all of these things end up causing people to LOWER THEIR CALORIE INTAKE without realizing it.
If you lost weight from eating low-carb or low-fat, it wasn’t because the carbs or the fat you were eating was “making you fat”—it was because you ate more calories than you do now.
Despite popular belief today where people think there is some magic weight loss effect to avoiding carbs or fat, every study done on the subject for the last 100 years has proven without a doubt that when matched for calories, low-carb and low-fat diets cause equal amounts of fat loss. In other words, calories are what matters, not the ratio of carbs to fat.
A recent study has proven that any fat loss effects a person gets on a LOW CARB diet is NOT actually due to the carbohydrate restriction aspect of low carb diets! It’s due to the HIGH PROTEIN intake, and how that affects total calorie consumption!
It literally has NOTHING to do with the act of not eating those blood sugar and insulin spiking carbohydrates! What’s really going on is that the HIGH PROTEIN intake that typically happens of low carb Paleo diets works to drive DOWN TOTAL calorie consumption–and THAT decreased total calories is what causes fat loss.
The SAME EXACT effect can be achieved on a high carbohydrate diet with the same amount of protein.
(see below in comments section for this study)
Now, this situation where certain diet changes (eating low carb, eating low fat, not eating after 6pm etc) can cause people to unconsciously lower their total calorie intake isn’t all bad though. In fact, I don’t really have a problem with it at all—except for two things:
1) It can cause people to fail in the long run because people often become extremely confused about what nutritional factor actually lead to the fat loss, and think that their low-carb diet or low-fat diet or raw vegan diet caused some magical fat loss effect, and in the process, they fail to realize that all that really happened was that they simply ate less calories as a result of eating that way.
When people started to figure out how to make low-carb jelly beans, low-carb ice cream, and low-carb pizza, then being low-carb was not very helpful for fat loss. And there are countless low carbers (including many notable low-carb gurus) who are overweight despite a decade of extreme “low-carb” eating. Why? Because they are eating the amount of calories they are burning. They are forcibly restricting carbohydrates (and feeling fatigued and low energy as a result of depriving themselves of carbohydrates) but failing to see any fat loss benefits from their carb deprivation. Because they don’t understand basic physiology.
2) It can cause people to fail in the long run because typically these diets (low-carb, low-fat, vegan, etc) eventually result in serious micronutrient and macronutrient deficiencies that decrease the metabolism, and cause various unpleasant symptoms that lead people to slowly move away from them. (i.e. They slowly start eating carbs again, or fat, or animal foods, etc. and their calorie intake goes back up—and so does their bodyfat).
The END RESULT:
People spin their wheels going nowhere for years, jumping from one fad diet to the next–Atkins, then low-fat, The Zone, and now Low Carb diets.
So basically we have two diet traps that can cause people to spin their wheels: The forced calorie restriction diet trap, and the “calories don’t matter as long as you follow my fad diet” trap.
________WHAT’S THE REAL SOLUTION?_______________
The real solution for how to eat for fat loss is this: Adopt simple habits that lower calorie intake without relying on forced calorie deprivation or the psychological tricks of fad diets that work only because they unknowingly cause you to consume less total calories.
This strategy allows you to avoid the trap of #2 by realizing that the strategies in #2 only worked because they caused you to eat less calories. And by not screwing up your health with chronic low-carb, low-fat, and vegetarian dieting. You are going to realize that calories do matter, and you’re not going to make the mistake of thinking that once you adopt some low carb fad diet, that it makes you immune to calories and you can magically eat however much you want without getting fat. This strategy also allows you to avoid the trap of #1 (forcibly restricting calories) because you won’t actually feel that you are forcibly eating less—you won’t have to count calories and you won’t have to deprive yourself of food even when you’re hungry. Thus you will avoid the reason that strategy #1 fails in the long term—because virtually no one is actually capable of forcibly restricting calories in the long term, and if they do consistently take in less than their body craves, their metabolism slows down and as a result, they regain any fat they lost in the initial period.
This isn’t so much about restricting calories, it’s about eating in a way that ensures that you NEVER eat beyond your body’s actual need for fuel. And working to enhance metabolic rate. The combination of those two things works to drive effortless fat loss.
There are a couple ways that I recommend to accomplish this:
1) The first thing that is the foundation for all successful lasting fat loss is this: Eating only WHOLE unrefined foods. This transition in itself is proven to do the exact same thing as low carb and low fat diets–it drives down total calorie consumption. And the best part? You don’t need to be on a restrictive diet where you’re restricting carb foods or fat foods, or counting calories. You CAN eat–but only whole unrefined foods! Crave fat? Have some raw cheese! Crave sugar? Have some fruit!
In addition, a whole foods diet not only by driving down total calorie consumption, but also works by correcting micronutrient deficiencies and helping to increase the metabolism. (I.e. it not only causes less calories in, but also helps drive up calories out).
2) HIGH PROTEIN INTAKE. As I stated above, this is major reason why low carb works for some people–it has nothing to do with carbs, it’s because they are eating less total calories as a result of high protein intake driving down total calories. This is a good strategy and I recommend it. (Though the types of protein you eat are very important).
Whole foods plus a high protein intake itself are the two simple reasons that explain the success of pretty much everyone who has achieved lasting fat loss. (Even though they may swear it’s the miracle of their low carb diet, or low fat diet, or vegan diet–the reality is, if they achieved lasting fat loss, it’s almost always because they got rid of processed foods, ate more whole foods, and/or increased protein intake).
That’s the foundation for all lasting fat loss. Decreased calorie consumption without having to fight against your biology and suffer through hunger pangs. That is the key! Any time you are trying to get fat loss by fighting against your biology, you are destined for failure. To achieve lasting fat loss, you need to work WITH your biology, not against it. Whole food nutrition, plus a high protein intake is the way to do that.
So save yourself years of jumping from one fad diet to another and just stick to these two principles: Eat ONLY whole single-ingredient foods, and increase your protein intake.
This alone will take you extremely far without having to count calories or go on some unnecessarily restrictive low carb diet.
A whole food diet with ample fruits and vegetables, and high protein intake is the foundation for successful fat loss without the health problems that occur from low carb or vegan diets, and without the metabolic slowdown that happens with forced calorie restriction.
If you’re already doing these two things (whole foods only, plus high protein) there are several more ways to dramatically ramp up fat loss–mainly by speeding up the metabolism and ramping up youth hormones, which can amplify the fat loss effects by 5-10 fold, which is what I do with my personal clients.