If you’re a regular reader, you’ve already seen these pictures. But take another look.
When people send me before-and-after pictures like these, they also usually tell me about their struggles losing weight – often covering many frustrating years — before Fat Head inspired them to try a LCHF diet. Then they finally lost weight.
If weight loss is mostly about character, then here’s what happened to these people: After years of being too weak-willed to simply eat less and move more, they finally developed the necessary discipline. The fact that Fat Head convinced them to start eating bacon and eggs and dump the hearthealthywholegrains just before they became disciplined was pure coincidence.
If weight loss is mostly about chemistry, then here’s what happened: Something about switching to a LCFH diet caused biochemical changes that allowed these people to consume fewer calories than they burned without feeling hungry and miserable. They may have even felt more energetic instead of less while reducing their energy intake.
I of course vote for the second explanation, and the research backs me up. Let’s look at just a couple of clinical studies of low-carb diets.
In this one, 10 obese subjects with type 2 diabetes followed a low-carb diet for 14 days and lost an average of 3.6 pounds. The researchers noted that the subjects consumed fewer calories than before, which completely accounted for the weight loss. Fair enough. We’re not claiming that low-carb diets make calories magically disappear. The money shot in the study’s conclusion is this:
… a low-carbohydrate diet followed for 2 weeks resulted in spontaneous reduction in energy intake to a level appropriate to their height.
Spontaneous reduction in energy intake. If people aren’t told to eat less but end up eating less anyway, what does that tell us? It tells us they aren’t hungry. That’s chemistry, not character. Character is (according to the calorie freaks) being hungry and not eating anyway.
Well, perhaps everyone enrolled in a diet study decides to eat less and lose weight to impress the investigators, eh? Perhaps we’d see the same results with any diet.
Nope … at least not in this study (and there have been several like it), which compared a calorie-restricted low-fat diet to a low-carb diet. This time the subjects were obese women who followed the diets for six months. Keep in mind that the women in the low-carb group weren’t told to restrict calories. They could eat as much as they wanted as long as they stayed within their carb limit. And yet look what happened:
Women on both diets reduced calorie consumption by comparable amounts at 3 and 6 months.
The low-carb women weren’t told to eat less, but they did. Now let’s compare the weight loss:
The very low carbohydrate diet group lost more weight (18.7 lbs vs. 8.6 lbs) and more body fat (10.6 lbs vs. 4.4 lbs) than the low fat diet group.
Now, you could argue that if the low-carb group lost more weight and more body-fat than the calorie-restricted group, they must have ended up eating less. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe their metabolisms stayed higher. But let’s suppose they did eat less, and that eating less completely accounts for the extra weight loss. So what? The point is that they weren’t told to eat less, but they did so spontaneously. Either they just happened to develop more character than the calorie-restricted group, or they weren’t as hungry.
Studies like this one say it’s because they weren’t as hungry:
Symptoms of negative affect and hunger improved to a greater degree in patients following a low-carb ketogenic (LCKD) diet compared with those following an low-fat diet. Whether these symptom changes explain the greater short-term weight loss generally experienced by LCKD followers deserves further research.
I’ve lost count of how many people have told me in emails, in comments, in Facebook posts and in person that their appetites have totally changed. They don’t crave desserts and other sweets anymore. They aren’t thinking about lunch two hours after breakfast. They sometimes skip meals because they’re not hungry. They say “no thank you” when co-workers pass around donuts or pieces of birthday cake — not because they refuse to give in to temptation, but because the temptation simply isn’t there. A piece of cake is no more appealing than a bowl of dirt. They are eating as much as they want, but they want less.
When people change the composition of their diets and suddenly find they can eat less without feeling hungry for the first time in their lives, that’s chemistry. If feeling full and happy on smaller portions then leads to a spontaneous reduction in energy intake to a level appropriate to their height, that’s chemistry.
By the same token, when people try living on 1,200 calories’ worth of low-fat Weight Watchers meals and end up ravenously hungry, that’s also chemistry. Of course, people who are on diets that leave them hungry are supposed to rely on character at that point and voluntarily suffer the hunger pangs.
Bad idea. Hunger isn’t some annoying sensation created by Mother Nature to torpedo your weight-loss efforts. Hunger is your body’s way of saying I need something … protein, nutrients, fuel — something that food could provide. If your body needs fuel and you refuse to supply it, you may end up with a slower metabolism. Or your body may cannibalize your muscles to make glucose. Or you may wind up feeling lethargic and depressed – emotions your body produces to discourage you from wasting precious fuel by being active. That’s chemistry, chemistry, and chemistry in action. But once again, people made miserable by chemistry are supposed to suck it up, stick with the diet, and use the strength of their character to overpower the urge to eat — then go to the gym to spend an hour on the treadmill despite feeling lethargic, too.
That approach rarely works. Humans aren’t supposed to voluntarily suffer. We’re not geared for it. The diet you can live with is the diet that works with your body’s chemistry, not against it. You can’t go through life in a constant state of war against your body and your appetite, not if you want to be healthy and happy.
The people whose pictures grace the top of this post all tried to lose weight by going on other diets that made them miserable. They probably stuck with those diets for a good long while even when the diets clearly weren’t working. Then they probably felt like failures when they couldn’t stand it anymore and gave up on those diets.
Then they found a diet that worked because it didn’t require them to suffer – in fact, they got to enjoy delicious, fatty foods they’d been told were bad for them. They felt full sooner. They ate less spontaneously. They lost weight – lots of it. And it happened because of a change in chemistry, not because they finally developed superior character.
Does that mean character doesn’t play into it all? Nope. It does. But I’ll deal with that topic next time.