Q: When trying to lose weight, is it more important to count calories or carbohydrates?
A: If you had to pick one, I’d pick reducing and controlling carbohydrates. Focusing on carbohydrates instead of calories is preferred because when you restrict carbohydrates in your diet, you will eat fewer calories overall.
Back in 2006, a group of researcher sat down to answer the ubiquitous question—what works better: a low-carbohydrate diet or a traditional calorie-restricted, low-fat diet? They found five tightly-controlled studies that met their criteria for comparing low carbohydrate to low fat. The collective findings from these studies brought two very interesting things to light.
1. After 6 months, people placed on low-carbohydrate diets lose a lot more weight. And I’m not just talking about a couple pounds. On average, low-carb dieters lost 7 (and as much as 11) more pounds over the course of 6 months than those on a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet.
2. After being on the diets for 1 year, low-carbohydrate dietd and calorie-restricted, low-fat diets yield about the same amount of weight loss. How can that be?
Did the low-carbohydrate diets just stop working? I don’t think so. Instead, I think that the people simply stopped following the diet. Which is another valuable lesson in itself—if you want to lose weight, choose an approach that fits you and your lifestyle, as once you go back to ‘regular eating’ the weight will come right back on.
You may now be sold on the fact that low-carbohydrate diets are far superior to calorie-restricted, low-fat diets; but what about total calories consumed on a low-carb diet? Does it matter? This is where it gets interesting. In low-carbohydrate diet studies, the participants are rarely instructed to restrict calories. Instead, they are given instructions to restrict the types and amounts of carbohydrates they eat. They are told to eat until they feel satisfied, not hungry anymore, but not stuffed. When you eat fewer carbohydrates, you are automatically going to be eating more protein and fat, two nutrients that signal your body that you are full and satisfied. This ultimately results in you eating fewer calories.
As you can see, focusing on eating fewer carbohydrates (which a have 4 calories per gram) causes you to eat fewer total calories. You’ll be eating more foods that signal your body that you are full and satisfied. This two-pronged approach to eating less will yield more weight loss every time.
Meet the Diet Doctor: Mike Roussell, PhD
Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD holds a bachelor degree in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University. Mike is the founder of Naked Nutrition, LLC, a multimedia nutrition company that provides health and nutrition solutions directly to consumers and industry professionals via DVDs, books, ebooks, audio programs, monthly newsletters, live events, and white papers. To learn more, check out Dr. Roussell's popular diet and nutrition blog, MikeRoussell.com.