Is a low carb diet better than low fat?

For many arthritis warriors losing weight can help to reduce pain.  Naturally by carrying less weight, there is less stress put on the joints and bones.  Losing weight (if one is obese or overweight) also has a ton of other advantages, which typically everyone knows, i.e. better sleep, less stress, less depression, better health etc.

However when it is painful to move in the first place, sometimes it can be hard to regularly exercise.  In that case eating healthy can help you to reduce weight so that you can get to the point where regular exercise is possible.  Did you notice there that I didn’t use the word “diet”?  That was on purpose!  So much research now shows that actually losing weight isn’t difficult, but keeping it off is extremely difficult!

I’ve found that the key to permanent weight loss is choosing an eating lifestyle that you will be able to maintain for the rest of your life.  That is, the key is eating healthy.

My main “go-to” man Will Brink again says it much better than me.  He also has all the links to the research reports for those of you who wish to check out the references.  I have “cherry picked” some of his comments that really hit the heart of the matter:

“If your goal is to lose some weight quickly, then pick one (diet) and follow it. I guarantee you will lose some weight. Studies generally find any of the commercial weight loss diets will get approximately the same amount of weight off after 6 months to a year. For example, a recent study found the Atkins’ Diet, Slim-Fast plan, Weight Watchers Pure Points program, and Rosemary Conley’s Eat Yourself Slim diet, were all equally effective.

Other studies comparing other popular diets have come to essentially the same conclusions. For example, a study that compared the Atkins diet, the Ornish diet, Weight Watchers, and The Zone Diet, found them to be essentially the same in their ability to take weight off after one year.

Recall what I said about the number one reason diets fail, which is a lack of compliance. The lead researcher of this recent study stated:

“Our trial found that adherence level rather than diet type was the primary predictor of weight loss””

Now that we see that the critical factor is compliance (i.e. adherence level), the key success factor then is choosing an eating plan which is either very close to what you are eating now (the theory being if you are eating that way now, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to maintain it), or something that you’d like to eat more of (the theory being that if you enjoy it then it shouldn’t be too difficult to maintain it).  I know some of you will say “but I love eating cake, ice-cream and deep fried things”, implying that you’d choose a diet heavy with that kind of stuff.  However my experience is that although we like to eat cake and ice-cream etc., if one has to only eat that kind of thing for the majority of the time then you become bored very quickly and actually your body starts craving other things.  The body needs variety (and healthy food), and being the smart piece of hardware/software that it is, it will produce hormones to drive you to eat the things it needs.

However there is some good news. Although as Will points out all the diets will achieve the goal of weight loss (if you stick to them), there is evidence that a low carb diet is healthier than a low fat diet.  Studies have shown that those people who reduce carbs instead of reducing fat, end up with much better cholesterol levels.  You can read about it here and here.  Why is this good news?  Well in my experience an eating plan with lower carbs is easier to maintain long term than an eating plan with low fat, as lots of the “yummy things” we like to eat usually has some fat in it.

Now I should explain that when I say low carb, I don’t mean the extremes such as the Atkins diet.  You may choose to follow the Atkins diet in order to kick-start your weight loss, and that is fine (since any diet will help you to lose weight), however long term you won’t be able to continue on the Atkins.  Why?  Because it isn’t natural to be on such low carbs all the time.  Your body will rebel by producing hormones which will result in you craving carbs to the point that it will be so intense that you’ll collapse and go on a “carb binge”.  Instead what I recommend is going on a reduced carb diet, but one that is much closer to normal eating.   That way it is much easier to maintain long term.

For me, each day I typically try to get 30% of my calories from carbs, 30% from fat and 40% from protein.  I say “try” as I do find it difficult to get more than 20% of my calories from fat!  So often my stats will look like 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fat.  I have maintained this “diet” now for over 18 months.  Actually, I don’t see it as a diet, but rather as “healthy eating”.  I eat a lot of tuna, chicken, brown rice, wholewheat bread etc.  I avoid what I call “empty carbs” or “white carbs”.  That is white rice, white bread and white pasta.  If you need more information on eating healthy, check out Will’s website.By the way, if you have never ever kept a food diary before I suggest that you do it at least once in your life, so you can see exactly what you are putting in.  Just do it for a couple of weeks.  Tom Venuto discusses here about how this can help to avoid going on a binge.

Take control!  You can do it!

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