Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight

The big diet news of the week surely has to be the publication of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing the effect of different types of diet on weight regain [1]. In this study, 938 ‘obese’ (average body mass index – 34) adults (average age – 41) were put on an 800 calorie-a-day diet. Participants lost an average of about 11 kg (24 lbs) on this quite unsustainable regime.

However, the truly interesting part of this study concerned what happened next. Each of the study participants was randomised to eat one of five diets. These were:

1.     a relatively high-protein, low-glycaemic index (GI) diet

2.     a relatively high-protein, high-GI diet

3.     a relatively low-protein, low-GI diet

4.     a relatively low-protein, high-GI diet

5.     a ‘control’ diet

For each of the diet, individuals could eat as much as they like.  This phase of the study lasted 6months.

Here’s a summary of what they found:

In terms of weight regain: individuals who ate the high-protein, low-GI diet did the best, and those who ate the low-protein, high-GI diet did the worst.

The message? If you want to manage your weight without starving yourself, a relatively protein-rich diet is a good starting point, and so is one that avoids blood sugar disruptive (high-GI) foods.

I am gratified to say that this study has had a lot of press. And that’s a good thing, because it has led to people thinking less about calorific intakes, and much more about the macronutrient content of the diet as a means to healthy weight management.

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I’d also like to add that the results of this study were quite predictable on the basis that previous research has found higher protein intakes are more satisfying, while diets of high-GI tend to be less satisfying, even for a given number of calories.

This helps to explain why individuals who adopt lower-carbohydrate approaches (generally low-GI and usually quite-rich in protein) find they’re less hungry, and eat less as a result. Never mind that – having worked with literally thousands of real people over 20 years I have become convinced that this way of eating really does, overall, trump others (e.g. low-calorie, low-fat) in terms of sustainable weight loss. And this is why it forms the basis of the advice I offered in my latest book Waist Disposal.

I have seen countless individuals get on and off ‘diets’ and therefore suffer cycles of weight loss and weight gain. What is it that causes individuals to default back to their original diet? Lots of things, but one factor that almost always plays a part is hunger. It’s a plain and simple fact that unless forced, individuals tend not to tolerate hunger at all well in the long term. And that’s particularly the case where food is often tempting, visible and readily available.

One of the keys to successful weight loss and then maintenance of that loss is not to allow oneself to get too hungry. You see, once someone gets very hungry, it becomes difficult to eat healthily. Hunger tends to cause individuals to want to eat, say, starchy carbohydrates (like bread) that can be fat-forming through their effect on hormones (principally insulin), and are not particularly satisfying anyway.

Not being very hungry makes it generally easy for individuals to eat nutritious, satisfying foods that assist weight loss through moderation of the hormone insulin. Read the reviews of Waist Disposal here and you’ll see a common theme is hugely significant weight loss without hunger or portion control. It is this fundamental feature of any regime that makes it truly sustainable. Here’s an example in the form of a review from 12th November:

This isn’t a diet it’s a lifestyle!!,

Nine years ago I bought a dress which was the perfect dress. There was just one thing wrong with it — it didn’t fit! But I always said that I would get into it one day and that day came last week thanks to the Waist Disposal regime and I’m thrilled. This is the easiest diet I have ever been on — I don’t feel hungry, I know exactly what I can eat and it works. And there’s no guilt so if I find myself at a dinner party or an event where it would impolite to be picky it’s not the end of the world if I have the odd potato or piece of bread cause I know it’s not going to be a permanent situation. So thank you John — I just wish you had written this book sooner!!

A couple of weeks ago I had an email from someone who has lost more than 50 kg (yes, kilograms, not pounds) over several months eating more-or-less as advised in Waist Disposal. I replied offering my congratulations but adding that that I hoped he was not starving himself and doing things sustainably. His reply was that he thought he was probably eating more than before.

I have a bit of refrain when advising individuals about weight loss which is designed to be an antidote to the calorie principle-driven advice that is commonly invoked (and rarely works). It is this: “In the long term, the less hungry you are, the more weight you’ll lose.”

Regular meals and the odd healthy snack is a good starting point here. But, in terms of what to eat, I’d go with what science and experience tells us works: a diet relatively rich in protein and low in carb.

After a few weeks on such a diet I might have occasion to ask an individual this question: “Can you imagine eating like this for the rest of your life?” Almost always, the answer is an unhesitant ‘yes’. This response is, in my opinion, a pretty sure sign that sustained healthy eating is not going to be problem for this individual in the long term.

References:

1. Meinert Larsen T, et al. Diets with High or Low Protein Content and Glycemic Index for Weight-Loss Maintenance. N Engl J Med 2010; 363:2102-2113

20 Responses to Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight

  1. John Shead 26 November 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    I started your ‘Waist Management’ diet three weeks ago, have not felt hungry, but have lost 8lbs. Certainly I shall keep up this diet which seems to work so well.

  2. Lori 26 November 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    Yesterday, I saw a headline flashing across the marquee on the Denver Post building–something like, “To lose weight, eat more turkey, less carbohydrate.” Hurray!

    Yesterday, my big Thanksgiving feed was my usual protein shake for breakfast, a few handfuls of nuts, then a piece of red snapper, some green beans, a piece of low-carb pumpkin pie and a dish of low-carb ice cream. That evening, I had another piece of the pie, two candies, and some celery with Cheese Whiz. That was it. Self-control had nothing to do with it; I was full. Wonderful food with no bloating, lethergy or weight gain.

    So yes, the study results are a bit of a no-brainer for us low-carbers.

  3. Reader in Sweden 27 November 2010 at 9:03 am #

    But dr Briffa ; you are not mentioning
    FAT.
    Where does the fat come in in the diet and what inpact did that have?

  4. Robbo 28 November 2010 at 1:15 am #

    Yes, a good if entirely predictable result. But I do wish they had also tested a full-on low-carb diet, not just low-GI. I’m thinking c 20 g carb /day, and I would expect that to be better still.

    My personal experience is 6 years low carb, never hungry, never counted a calorie, lost 3 stone in year 1, ever since stable at a healthy weight. I sometimes have a higher carb day but I never worry about it because my normal eating undoes any harm from the odd day off the rails.

  5. Wendy Keys 29 November 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    Totally agree with this article. I am currently on a low GI diet and hunger is not a problem, despite the fact that I have a very persistent sweet tooth! High protein foods keep you fuller for longer. I have lost one stone in three weeks on this diet and I feel much better as well. Exercise of course has played a part but only a walk for one hour each day – nothing too strenuous.

  6. Chris 1 December 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    I got around to borrowing and reading ‘Waist Disposal’. So amazed with the content I read it one sitting. It is a gargantuan accomplishment to cover so many bases so authoritatively within the confines of the volume. I am inspired, truly.

    However, it is a sad indictment of our times that so much effort has to go in to deconstructing so much propagandist myth that prevails around something so basic and essential as a healthy way of eating. It is as if the world has been turned upside down without awareness. ‘Waist Disposal’ goes some way to right-siding affairs. There’s plenty of scope in other areas, mind you.

  7. Glenice 6 December 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    Dr Briffa, have you seen this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1323758/Can-cutting-Carbohydrates-diet-make-live-longer.html#ixzz13gNGKwzoIt

    Little by Little, the truth is getting air-time.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight … | Low-GI | if you do the low-gi diet you need supplementing - 26 November 2010

    [...] Original post by John Briffa [...]

  2. Fat Loss Muscle Gain - What Simple Foods Can You Eat After A Small Sit-up Workout To Gain Abs? - Lose Weight - Bodybuilding Techniques - 26 November 2010

    [...] Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight | Dr Briffa's Blog [...]

  3. Tweets that mention Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight | Dr Briffa's Blog -- Topsy.com - 26 November 2010

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Smarinha, Beth Mazur. Beth Mazur said: Dr. John Briffa: “In the long term, the less hungry you are, the more weight you’ll lose.” http://ow.ly/3fOlj [...]

  4. Low Carb Age » Knockout: Low Carb vs. Low Fat - 27 November 2010

    [...] so, and Dr. John Briffa notes the reason: This helps to explain why individuals who adopt lower-carbohydrate approaches (generally low-GI [...]

  5. Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight … Eating - 27 November 2010

    [...] the rest here:  Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight … By admin | category: protein | tags: basis, body-craves, early-lung, extensive, [...]

  6. Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight … | Weight Loss Meals - 27 November 2010

    [...] [...]

  7. How to lose weight being a vegetarian and a teen? | Info in Net - 27 November 2010

    [...] Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate food program strategies acquire in the w… [...]

  8. What are the safest and most proven to work weight gain supplements? | Romartfest - Bodybuilding and Fitness Workouts - 27 November 2010

    [...] Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight | Dr Briffa's Blog [...]

  9. Stop Failing Diets with Sensible Weight Loss | Yoga For Beginners - 27 November 2010

    [...] Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in a fight upon weight … [...]

  10. High protein, low glycemic load diet, secret for permanent weight loss | Julianne's Paleo & Zone Nutrition Blog - 29 November 2010

    [...] For a further analysis on this study see this article by Dr John Briffa. Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight [...]

  11. Primal diet found to be more satisfying than a Mediterranean one | Dr Briffa's Blog - 13 December 2010

    [...] diet, and lower GI foods are more sating than those of higher GI. I wrote about this most recently here, where I reported on a study which suggests that higher-protein, lower-GI diets are best for those [...]

  12. High protein, low glycemic load diet, secret for permanent weight loss | paleozonenutrition.com - 23 February 2012

    [...] For a further analysis on this study see this article by Dr John Briffa. Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight [...]

  13. Higher protein diets are better for fat loss and muscle preservation during weight loss | Dr Briffa's Blog - A Good Look at Good Health - 30 August 2013

    [...] other research has found higher-protein diets to be better for weight loss maintenance [2]. See here for more about [...]

Leave a Reply