Why low-calorie diets may not be helping you lose weight

Neha Jain

July 9, 2019

If you thought cutting calories would help you lose weight, think again.

A new book – Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry? – challenges the notion that decreasing your calorie content can help you melt layers of fat. He writes that the type of foods you eat — not just their calorie content – ultimately affects your calorie burn.

Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Centre at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a recent interview: “Our mantra is ‘Forget calories. Focus on the quality of what you eat, and let your body do the rest’.”

In Always Hungry?, Ludwig writes that the problem isn’t that overeating makes you gain weight but the fact that the process of gaining weight actually leads you to overeat.

To explain, Ludwig speaks about what happens when you eat highly processed carbohydrates. “First, there is a spike in the hormone insulin. That insulin causes fat cells to suck up calories and hold onto them. In an optimal metabolic environment, those calories would be released from the fat cells the next time the body needed energy, but in an overweight person, the fat cells are stuck in storage mode, and they don’t ever release those calories. So, when the body needs energy, the brain signals hunger, he said, and thus, the person overeats,” he told LiveScience.

shutterstock_376802287 (Copy)

How can you change insulin levels? Decrease the number of processed carbohydrates in your diet, and replace them with fat and protein. This leads to a drop in the insulin levels and fat cells can release excess calories back into the body. This ultimately leads to a decrease in hunger and boost in metabolism, translating into easier weight loss.

The premise of Always Hungry? is that the body’s weight set point – the weight that your body always seems to hover around – can be reset by correcting underlying mechanisms over time.

But there are other factors at play when it comes to weight gain and retention.

Research has shown that gaining weight may damage critical nerves located in the hypothalamus that regulate metabolism. Leptin, the hormone that signals satiety, also has a role to play. People with high body fat have higher amounts of leptin but tend to develop resistance to the hormone and don’t get the signal that they’ve eaten enough. That’s why leptin therapy is being explored for weight loss.

shutterstock_226734562 (Copy)

But ultimately, it all comes down to calories.

When it comes to weight loss, the question isn’t whether low-carb diets are better than high-carb ones, low-fat diets are better higher-fat ones, or if low-fat diets beat low-carb diets. The thing that matters is low quality versus high quality.

All calories are not created equal and certain foods may be better at aiding weight loss.

Diets that include potatoes, white bread, sugar-sweetened beverages and meats are associated with weight gain. So what should you put on your plate if you’re on a weight loss diet? Try quinoa, whole grains, Greek yogurt, broccoli, paneer/tofu, whole eggs, beans and legumes. Don’t forget to spice everything up – the capsaicin in chillies can prevent overeating!

About the Author

She may have multiple degrees to back her expertise, but Neha Jain believes there’s nothing too complex about nutrition. Neha completed her MSc in Food and Nutrition from Delhi University and also did a Diploma in Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences. Neha is also a Certified Diabetes Educator with extensive experience in endocrinological disorders and weight reduction, having worked with renowned endocrinologist Dr Ambrish Mithal in Delhi. Neha’s goal has always been to help people make healthy choices, and while at HealthifyMe, she always felt that her task was simplified with its technology.

Related Articles


One response to “Why low-calorie diets may not be helping you lose weight”

Your health is our priority. Talk to one of our experts and get the best plan for you today.
Chat With Us