Make your diet easier: An intro to low-carbing>

Posted Fri 8th Feb 2013 1:01 PM by Dan Britchford in Nutrition

Dieting is a horrible word. It conjures up images of plates filled with nothing but a single pea, and lush looking foods living out their days in a dustbin, instead of their true home – your stomach. The idea of dieting can represent weeks or months spent unsatisfied by not only what you eat, but also how much.
But what if I told you it didn’t have to be that way? What if I told you that a few simple food choices could make dieting not only easier, but naturally happen without you thinking about it? Science says that is the case…

The first thing you need to know is – your current diet probably sucks.
It’s most likely full of hunger-inducing foods that when eaten day after day make it almost impossible to keep to your diet and maintain a calorie deficit. Which if you’ve been reading along so far – is the vital ingredient to weight-loss.

The big issue with dieting, is satiety; that feeling of walking away from a meal and being completely satisfied.

There is usually a compromise that dieters have to make when attempting to lose weight; they trade a few weeks of taste and satisfaction in order to reach their goal – but being honest, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Now this isn’t a miracle diet – it’s not going to suit everyone’s tastes – but I can say with a completely straight face, that it will not only help you adhere to your diet better, but also make it a lot more satisfying.

side note: I think the studies here are genuinely interesting (spoiler alert: someone cuts off their fingers) – but if you really do just want to be told what to do.. go ahead and skip to the end section

The science

This time I want to start out with the science. Why? Because the studies in this case are actually fascinating reading (yes, again – someone cuts off their fingers). Maybe I should have said disturbing as well as fascinating. Anyway, like I was saying, the studies here deal (somewhat unintentionally) with that feeling of satiety that suffers so badly during most diets. So here they are:

Study 1: Ancel Keys

Way back in 1944 it became clear to a one Dr. Ancel Keys, that the Second World War was coming to a close. He knew that whichever side took victory, they would be left with the problem of masses of people starving in Europe – and so he began a study into the effects of starvation, so as to try come up with a solution.

He recruited 36 young men of good health and normal weight, and housed them in the area underneath the football stadium at the University of Minnesota. Keeping the participants locked up so that they couldn’t cheat the strict rules of the study.

For the first 12 weeks, the men were all fed an ‘average American diet’ composing of around 3,200 calories and three meals. These three meals included good cuts of meat, potatoes, gravy, and ice cream, and were whipped up by a chef. The men described the experience as the best they’d eaten in their lives.

After the 12 weeks were up, the starvation period begin.
Meals were cut down to only a small breakfast at 8.30 AM, and dinner at 5:00 PM. The amount of calories consumed was limited to 1570 per day, and the macro-nutrients distributed like so:

  • 1,570 calories
  • 100g protein / 25.5%
  • 225g carbohydrates / 57.3%
  • 30g fat / 17.2%

note: percentages are macro-nutrient contributions to total calorie intake

The men followed this diet for 24 weeks, and over the course of the study a number of things occurred.
Each participant lost a significant percentage of their body weight, which was to be expected. But participants also developed serious physical and psychological problems like blood disorders, depression, and swelling of the joints. They also thought about food constantly, and complained that they always felt cold.

One man endured such psychological stress from following this diet, that he cut off some of the fingers on his left hand (whether he ate them or not, is unknown)

This was during a period of less than 6 months of following such a diet.

this much pasta would be just under half the calories allowed in the starvation period

this much pasta would be just under half the calories allowed in the starvation period

Study 2: John Yudkin

A similar study was done around 25 years later, involving near-identical caloric restrictions – only the percentages of macro-nutrients comprised in the diet were much different. This time the reason for the study was to prove a point to Yudkin’s peers – that a low-carb diet would supply adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals for health.

11 subjects were recruited, aged between 21-51 years.
Yudkin and his fellow researchers examined the regular diets of these 11 subjects for two weeks, and then gave each one instructions in how to achieve a low carb, high fat diet. The subjects were instructed to drink between 300-600ml of milk daily, and then as much meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, margarine, cream and leafy vegetables as they wanted. The only other instruction was not to exceed 50g of carbohydrate combined in the other foods they ate (excluding the milk, meat, etc) in a 24hr period.

And these were the results:
During the study, not one participant complained of hunger or feeling any other negative effects of the diet.
On the contrary, participants told the researchers that they had higher energy levels, felt less tired, and that their overall feeling of well-being had increased.

The macro-nutrient and caloric intake of participants in this study?

  • 1,560 calories
  • 83g of protein / 21.3%
  • 67g of carbohydrate / 17.1%
  • 105g of fat / 60.6%

note (again): percentages are macro-nutrient contributions to total calorie intake

The important thing to realise here, is that the participants of this study were given free reign to eat as much as they wanted and yet they naturally chose to limit their caloric intake to the same levels of the starvation group in the Keys study! (1,570 calories vs 1,560)

So why did they do this?

Why did this group of people chosen to limit their calories to the same level as that of a starvation study 25 years earlier?
Why didn’t they experience the same ill-effects the earlier group did when living on the same amount of calories?
Why did one group have to be locked up to get them to follow the diet, and one adopt it naturally through choice?

The answers lie not in the year the studies took place, but in the macro-nutrient combinations within the diets.

The major difference between Keys’ participants’ diet (study 1) and Yudkin’s participants’ diet (study 2), is that fat and carbohydrate switched roles.
Study 1 had a diet comprised of 57.3% carbohydrate, and 17.2% fat – whereas Study 2 had 60.6% fat, and 17.1% carbohydrate.
Study 1 was high-carb (low-fat), and Study 2 was low-carb (high-fat).

It has been shown in multiple studies since, that when people adopt low-carb (high-fat) diets – they tend to spontaneously, and by choice, reduce their caloric intake.

In other words, when eating a low-carb diet, people are satiated at a much lower level of calories when compared with a high-carb diet.

The advice

an example of what you could eat on a low-carb diet

an example of what you could eat on a low-carb diet

Great news! what this shows is that there is a diet you can follow where you may actually find yourself feeling healthier, and more satisfied – while actually reducing your caloric intake (the amount you eat) naturally! (once again, essential to weight-loss).

You may have guessed by now that what I’m recommending, is that you follow a low-carb (high-fat) diet while dieting.

It’s entirely true that carbs make you hungrier than the same (in calories) amount of fat. Personally, I’d rather feel like I had more energy, than cut my fingers off from psychological stress! And while that is obviously an extreme case, the results are still crystal clear that when practicing caloric restriction (read: deficit), a low-carb diet not only improves/maintains mental and physical health, but is a lot more satisfying.

Putting it into practice

It’s going to seem weird at first if you’re used to a high-carb diet, and most people are. You’re going to have to go against a lot of what you will think naturally about foods, for example hunting out the fattier cuts of meat when in general people look for lean cuts.

The easiest way to follow this diet? Do what I do when I’m following low-carb; set a restriction of 50g-60g of carbs per day in your diet, and the rest you should make up from proteins and fats.

Usually this means eating more meat, fish, nuts, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and butter. Basically anything you can find that is high in fat but low in carbs. You don’t have to calorie count, just try and eat the right things to start with – take a look at the labels on packets.
You may think you’ll miss having things like cereal and bread, but your body just won’t want them, and cravings will become non-existent.

– Dan

Respond to 'Make your diet easier: An intro to low-carbing'

About the author

Dan Britchford

Dan is the Editor/Designer/Developer, and Main Author of liftingthebar.com. His knowledge is gained through forum haunting and an active intrigue into all things fitness and nutrition based with a scientific grounding. When he isn't working on passion projects, or in the gym - he's selling himself trying to make it as a freelance web developer.

Dan has posted 30 times since 2013-01-31 15:06:30

Recent Posts