Since it is the new year and the traditional food-laden holidays have peaked and everyone is trying to lose some weight, this is a good topic to write about. So… let’s answer the title first. Is weight loss as simple as being in a caloric deficit? Yes. The short answer is yes. If you eat less calories than your body burns, you will lose weight, but I want to go beyond those simplicities.
Now, let’s get to what I really want to talk about: This infographic that’s been around the Internet town:
It basically lumps all the diets into one category: That they help you lose weight by creating a caloric deficit. While this is true, there’s A LOT more to these diets than meets the eye and I’d like to talk about some of them beyond just their use as weight loss.
Review the above pyramid from an older blog post about when a calorie is not a calorie… By looking at this, you’d think that “meal timing/frequency” is very unimportant compared to calories, macros and micros… so let’s explore this concept.
Does Intermittent Fasting (IF) work only due to the caloric deficit the time restriction creates?
I’ve written about intermittent fasting in length so I’d like to tackle this concept first. Let’s suppose you do “16/8 IF” where you basically skip breakfast and don’t eat anything late at night, so you have an 8-hour feeding window and you’re not eating for 16 hours (including sleep) out of your 24 hours.
Will you lose weight by implementing this? You probably will because you’re restricting the time you allow yourself to eat. But is it guaranteed? No, not at all. It’s still quite easy to over-eat within those 8 hours.
The more interesting quality this restriction provides is something Dr. Rhonda Patrick said on the Joe Rogan show: Researchers did an experiment with mice that were fed the SAME number of calories and did the same amount of exercise. The only difference between the groups was that one got all their nutrition throughout the day, while other group got the same number of calories in a single meal. Researchers found that the mice that were restricted to eating in one meal had much better body composition in terms of greater muscle mass and less fat AND they lived longer with less metabolic disorders. This is quite astonishing because it shows that simply that little change of time restricted eating (not necessarily calorie restriction) is a powerful change for the better in and of itself without any change in calories.
Now… Are we mice? No. We aren’t. But we aren’t entirely different either and we can glean some insights into this. The fact is that we know when you restrict the amount of time you spend eating and less resources are spent digesting food, your body can spend more time performing autophagy (cleaning up dead cells, repair and recovery). So is it any wonder that one may be in better shape overall? (The other excellent benefit that often goes unmentioned is that you have A LOT more free time when you have one less meal to eat per day and don’t snack as much.)
Moving on… How does a Low Carb or the very low carb Ketogenic Diet help with weight loss beyond just calories?
I’ve also written in depth about the keto diet and what I actually eat on that diet but here’s the gist of it: The ketogenic diet is a very low carb diet where the carbs are to be replaced with fat and protein. After a few days of this, your body will have depleted the glycogen (carbs) stored in your muscles and liver and will break down fat for energy by creating ketones. Ketones are molecules your body created from fat for energy when there isn’t any glycogen. Keto refers to ketone and genic refers to genesis (the creation of), hence the name ketogenic diet.
Does that mean that you’re guaranteed to lose fat on the keto diet? No. Not at all. Your body can use fat for fuel and you can still very easily overeat and be in a caloric surplus since foods high in fats are more than double the caloric density relative to carbs or protein. (That’s why a tablespoon of olive oil is a whopping 120 calories.)
Is it more likely you’re losing weight because your food selection is so far limited and you’re eating more meat and veggies (which are quite filling) and avoiding sugar/grains/pasta/bread and so forth? Yes, that’s very likely.
But does the keto diet work cause carbs make you crave more carbs and eliminating them normalizes appetite… or is there more to this story?
When you eliminate carbs… and then go back to them, you will likely notice something many people have noticed: that carbs make you crave more carbs.
But then how is it that countries like France, who are very proud of their croissants and crepes have very low obesity rates? 🤔
To finally answer this, I will summarize this massive and fascinating write up by Richard Nikoley that elucidated me on the mysterious matter. Grains are well known to be quite low in their nutritional density (relative to vegetables and meats) and many texts from the 19th century (before our breads and pasta were “enriched” with vitamins), noted that humans and animals become less hungry when fed deficient and nutrionless food as a protective mechanism to prevent cravings of those foods. In other words, unadulterated carbs are NOT supposed to stimulate the appetite at all but in fact… reduce it!
So then why is it that carbs make us crave more carbs? Well because in the US, Canada and the UK, the flour and grains are mandatorily fortified with vitamins which are typically responsible for increasing appetite and promoting weight gain! Turns out that the mandatory fortification/enrichment of refined grains with B vitamins & niacin is a causal reason for the carbs to be stimulating our appetites beyond the norm and thus, contributing to obesity!
The interesting thing is this was ignored by researchers thinking it’s a correlation rather than causation because they too have an inherent bias and urge to want to blame the carbs themselves!
So for those of us who went keto or low carb and removed these processed carbs from our diet and we felt better and lost weight and controlled our appetite better, we demonized the carbs, but really, the problem seems to be far more complex than that. What politicians thought was an honorable addition (vitamins!) to our food actually shot ourselves in the foot!
And why did this mandatory fortification happen? Because the American Bakers Association (ABA) was well aware of the fact that people will eat more of their foods when the foods had these vitamins that opened up their appetite and so they lobbied for the FDA to increase their guidelines under the guise of enrichment. Shady stuff. This goes to show how complex some things really are. (I’d also like to point out that the French have gone the other way and prohibited enrichment.)
In conclusion, things are not as simple as some infographics make it seem
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that “Calories in versus Calories out” is KING. Caloric deficits are why most people will lose weight on any diet whether it’s the celery diet or any diet. That is for damn sure. But I just wanted to show you some subtle nuances that were note worthy. How you go about achieving that deficit is where the complexity has no bounds and intrigues me. We just have a few hundred more pieces to fill in the puzzle to truly get the full picture of what matters and what doesn’t matter and I’m excited to be alive when we do complete that puzzle because the jury is still out on what is considered “healthy.”
I posted a YouTube video explaining the last section here while I was still invigorated and passionate about the story: