It’s February, which means you’ve probably recently given up on your first 2018 diet attempt. Sometimes, no matter how many Sweetgreen calories you count, it feels like nothing will make your holiday belly go away. And a recent study is here with the explanation why—specifically, an explanation other than your 3am pizza binges. According to this study, restricting your calorie/fat/carb intake specifically (aka the cornerstones of every diet ever invented) is way less effective than previously thought. Instead, weight loss is as simple as swapping out “evil” foods (sugar, anything “refined” or “processed”) for their healthier counterparts. And the best part? If you follow that system, calories and portion size are much less important. Since this defies everything I thought I knew about how to lose weight, I decided to investigate how credible these claims really are. Here’s what I found out.
For what it’s worth, this study was fucking expensive ($8 million, to be exact). Over the course of a year, over 600 participants followed either a healthy low-carb or a healthy low-fat diet. Dietitians set these diets by advising participants on which foods to eat and which to avoid, as dietitians do. For example, the low-fat diet group was told to avoid “bad” low-fat foods (like soda, baked goods, or white rice, things that technically are low in fat but are also low in any real nutritional value). “Good” foods included brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, and other foods that are devoid of happiness. The low-carb group was advised to eat foods like olive oil, salmon, avocado, and nut butters. (So like, if you combined the two diets you could form a decent meal.)
Notably, they gave no numeric limits on calories, carbs, or fat for any test group. They also didn’t assign any kind of exercise requirements, beyond recommending they meet federal guidelines for physical activity. (The guidelines suggest a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” exercise per week, BTW. And no, running your mouth doesn’t count as exercise. Then again, they also recommend daily “bone-strengthening” exercises for adolescents, so they lost a little credibility for me there.)
As with every study ever conducted, results were not 100% consistent. On average, low-carb participants lost around 13 pounds, while low-fat participants lost a little under 12. On average, they also found smaller waist sizes, lower body fat, and better blood sugar and blood pressure levels across the board. Participants who lost the most weight (50-60 pounds) also announced changes like eating less in front of the TV. (This seems both like a negative change and unnecessarily braggy to me, but whatever.) Finally, researchers checked to see whether genotypes or insulin resistance affected participants’ results—they didn’t.
What This Means
Basically, these findings means we may have two major theories wrong when it comes to how to lose weight. First of all, the national obsession with calorie counting should maybe chill out, so tell that to your friend who won’t STFU about MyFitnessPal. It also means counting grams of carbs or fat isn’t essential to weight loss either, and that sound you heard in the distance might be the crumbling worldviews of keto dieters everywhere. The downside of these results is that you basically have no excuse not to diet, since you can no longer claim “being bad at math” as a legitimate reason to not watch what you’re eating.
Second, these findings combat the notion of “genotype-specific diets.” Earlier findings had suggested that individual metabolisms reacted differently to certain food groups, like carbs or fat. And in response, people were told to customize their diets to their metabolic properties. But this study tested for all genetic variants—and found no significant variation in results. One researcher even lamented this, saying “it would have been sweet” if a clinical test revealed how you should diet. (Follow up research was not done into what fraternity that researcher was in.) But no—according to this study, eating nutritious whole foods until satiated was the only consistent key to weight loss. In other words, you’re not going to gain weight from eating an unlimited number of vegetables, but you can’t just eat a million donuts because “my body wants donuts and I’m practicing intuitive eating.”
Of course, there are many reasons to take these findings with a grain of salt. While many participants lost weight, others gained it. And since the study is so recent, we don’t know whether participants who did lose weight will keep it off. So, you shouldn’t go full Whole 30 and dive into family-size portions just yet. But if these studies continue to be proven correct? You may finally be able to say goodbye to Googling nutrition info 800 times a day. If nothing else, your data plan will thank you.
Dieting is a tricky area for betches, since it requires hard work and patience, two decidedly awful things. On the other hand, FaceTuning yourself 20 pounds thinner every time you post an Instagram is equally difficult. So in the interest of maintaining a #nofilter bod, maybe take a step away from the juice cleanses and fad diets. You made it through 2017; you can eat fewer things with nutrition labels that read like science fiction.
Images: rawpixel / Pexels; Giphy