Calories vs. Carbs, which matters more?
6 years ago, the NY Times published an article titled,”In Dieting, Magic Isn’t a Substitute for Science.” I thought then it raised interesting points, and they are still just as relevant today as they were in 2012.
The article discusses a study which found low carbohydrate diets are superior for weight loss when compared to low fat or balanced diets. (The study actually looked at the amount of “calories burned” in the different diets but the implication is that a low carbohydrate diet will result in more weight loss than a low fat or balanced diet.) Dr. Jules Hirsch, an obesity researcher Rockefeller University in New York was featured in the second part of the article, citing his contrary research which supports the idea that weight changes are based solely on caloric consumption and percentages of protein contained in the diet while the amount of fats and carbs in the diet are irrelevant.
I found it fascinating, hearing both sides, but I believe everyone has missed the point here. Which theory is correct? It doesn’t matter!!!! Whether a certain intervention produces superior results in a controlled study doesn’t, in this case, predict whether that intervention will work in the real world. Even if the low carb group lost more weight than the low fat or balanced nutrient (the protein) group, if a person cannot maintain a low carb nutrition plan over the long run, it simply cannot be effective. A low carb “diet” (a word which I strongly dislike) is just not something that most people can adhere to. I agree that certain people do exceedingly well with a very low carbohydrate plan (note that I don’t use the word “diet,” as I believe nobody should ever be “on a diet,” which connotes an end point), they they care most definitely the exception.
The right way to think about this is to look at the nutrition plan in the context of a lifestyle. Because we are looking for not just weight loss but MAINTENANCE after the loss, the issue is not which plan results in quicker weight loss. Since both plans can work over the long run, no one “diet” should be recommended over any other “diet.” In fact, I don’t believe anyone should be following any diets ever, and nobody (not Dr. Oz, not Oprah’s trainer or the Biggest Loser) should be recommending any particular diet to anybody. It is like giving someone with bad eyesight a pair of a random person’s glasses and hoping they will see better. Maybe you’ll get lucky, but the odds are not in your favor.
“Paleo” proponents (that is those that emphasize the consumption of only foods that were available to our ancestors) will categorically disagree with regular consumption of dairy and grains, but again, we are talking about maintainability over the long run. Overweight people must, in order to be successful, figure out for themselves, with the proper guidance, the best way for them to get to their goal.
As we preach every day, THE LESS YOU CHANGE, THE MORE LIKELY YOU ARE TO SUCCEED. So, figure out where you are NOW, look at where you want to be, and change as little as possible from what you’re currently doing to get there.
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