Dieting Boils Down to One Thing: Calories

It seems that most people sweat the details when they try to lose weight. While there are a few things you need to consider (like exercise), when it comes to eating, researchers have found that dieting is much simpler than you may think. That is, no matter which diet you choose, it all comes down to one thing: calorie restriction.dieter

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at four low-calorie diets, and all of them yielded an average loss of 7% of body weight at six months and 6.4-7.9 pounds lost at two years.

“Weight loss is very simplistically just reducing the amount of calories that you take in, and any kind of healthy diet that allows you to do that is the best,” says Frank M. Sacks, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The researchers enrolled 811 overweight adults and randomly assigned them to one of four diets with fat, protein, and carbohydrates accounting for differing percentages of energy as follows:

  • A low-fat, average-protein diet with 20% fat, 15% protein, and 65% carbohydrates
  • A low-fat, high-protein diet with 20% fat, 25% protein, and 55% carbohydrates
  • A high-fat, average-protein diet with 40% fat, 15% protein, and 45% carbohydrates
  • A high-fat, high-protein diet with 40% fat, 25% protein, and 35% carbohydrates

All the diets were individually measured to restrict calorie intake to a negative 750 kcal a day. After two years, the weight loss was similar whether the people’s diet aimed for high- or average-protein intake.

(via: Med Pages Today)

2 Responses to Dieting Boils Down to One Thing: Calories

Hi, Jason. I read the 15-page study carefully, and had a few comments:

Losing excess weight is hard!

If you want to lose excess weight, reducing caloric intake is important. The researchers judged a food diary to be an important tool, and I agree.

Although average amounts of weight lost over two years is not much, some individuals do much better than average. 14-15% of subjects lost 10% or more of initial body weight, as measured at two years. That’s a fair amount. Some lost more.

In case you’re wondering, the Mediterranean diet is closest to dietary pattern #3 above. The Mediterranean diet is considered moderate or middle-of-the-road in terms of the three macronutients. Pattern #1 is a standard low-fat diet. Pattern #4 is reminiscent of the Atkins diet, which is low-carb.

Only one dietary pattern has been shown to prolong life and reduce rates of cancer (breast, colon, prostate, and uterus), cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), type 2 diabetes, dementia (both Alzheimers and vascular dementia, Parkinsons disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and melanoma. That’s the Mediterranean diet. Not low-fat. Not low-carb.

The authors surmise that unspecified “behavioral factors” rather than macronutrient metabolism are the main influences on weight loss. Allow me to name the major influential behavioral factors: commitment, discipline, and willpower. These seem to be verboten in some quarters of the obesity research community.

George Carlin had a famous comedy routine called “The Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Well these are The Three Dirty Words You Can’t Say in Obesity Research Reports:

Commitment Discipline Willpower


mary says:

Reducing calories is just a part of it – we have to get moving. Daily excerise is the key to weight loss.

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