There are millions of diets in existence, with new fad approaches to weight loss popping up each month. From the ever popular South Beach Diet, a high-protein, low-carbohydrate approach, to the very entertaining Cayenne Pepper and Water diet, essentially a starvation diet, it’s hard to sort through the myriad of approaches to weight loss. Additionally, there is little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of any of these plans. Why punish yourself with cayenne pepper water three times a day if it doesn’t even help you lose weight?
This month, the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most reputable journals in medicine, published the study, “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates,” to help dieters decode the plethora of diets peppering society. The study examined 811 overweight adults (people with a Body Mass Index between 25 and 40) who were assigned to 4 different diets. The participants received regular, personalized diet training during the entire study encouraging diets with less saturated fat, at least 20 g of dietary fiber per day, and low cholesterol. The four diets studied were classified by the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that each diet consisted of:
1. Low-Fat, Average Protein: 20% Fat, 15% Protein, 65% Carbohydrates
2. Low-Fat, High Protein: 20% Fat, 25% Protein, and 55% Carbohydrates
3. High Fat, Average Protein: 40% Fat, 15% Protein, and 45% Carbohydrates
4. High-Fat, High Protein: 40% Fat, 25% Protein, and 35% Carbohydrates
The target number of calories consumed per person was calculated as a 750 calorie deficit per day (meaning that if your body consumes 3000 calories per diet, which we call your Basal Metabolic Rate, your target diet would consist of 2250 calories per day). You’re saying to yourself, “How on earth am I supposed to know what my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is?” There are a series of formulas that calculate this value for you based on age, height, weight, and amount of exercise you complete each day. Follow this link to a convenient BMR Calculator (Click on BMR & RMR Calculator…and don’t forget to adjust your caloric need based on your daily physical activity).
After 2 years of monitoring participants weight loss, the study concluded that “reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.” Essentially, it doesn’t matter which diet you choose. The most important factor in creating a diet is calculating the number of calories your body needs to consume, making sure that the diet you design consists of 750 calories less than your BMR per day. The study found that the majority of weight loss occurred in the first 6 months of the diet (i.e. if you haven’t lost any weight after 6 months, you aren’t on the right diet). Additionally, all of the diets reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes (a definite bonus).
The Take Home Message: The amount of food you consume is just as important, if not more so, than the types of food your diet consists of. Whichever diet you choose, be sure to calculate your individual caloric needs based on your age, height, weight, and physical activity and are eating the appropriate number of calories per day based on that number.