Desperate to Lose Weight? Then Read This Article.

If you're desperate to lose weight, you have company. America's obesity epidemic has bloomed at a frightening rate. Something like a third of the population is obese and/or overweight.

The cornerstone of most obesity treatment is calorie restriction. Our public health authorities assure us that 'calories count' and that, if you are desperate to lose weight, you should just consume fewer calories, and you will be leaner and healthier for it.

Again, the theory behind this idea is known as the Caloric Balance Hypothesis.

The alterative hypothesis, Lipophilia, tells us that carbohydrate restriction is far more important than calorie restriction if you are desperate to lose weight, since insulin drives fat accumulation and carbohydrate intake drives insulin secretion.

So can evidence tell us whether calorie restriction leads to weight loss over the long term? If it does, that would support Caloric Balance. If it doesn't, that would support Lipophilia.

So here we go. The articles presented have been picked at random from some Google searches. Ideally, an essay like this would be more careful in the evidence it selects. But if simple web searches can turn up so much suggestive information (telling us that calories don't actually "count"), just imagine what deeper research might uncover!

1. 'Treatment of obesity by moderate and severe caloric restriction: results of clinical research trials.'[1]

Here's a quote from the abstract:

"recent studies of the treatment of obesity by moderate and severe caloric restriction showed that patients treated in randomized trials using a conventional 1200 Kcal per day reducing diet, combined with behavior modification, lose approximately 8.5 kilograms in 20 weeks..."

The authors also discuss how patients on a very low calorie diet (400 to 800 calories a day) can lose up to 20 kilograms within about 3 to 4 months. However:

"both dietary interventions are associated with increasing weight regain over time."

In other words, even though these patients are desperate to lose weight, and they stay on these ultra low or super low calorie diets, they nevertheless regain the weight lost, without adding cal

ories to their diets. How can this be?

These results would seem to support the Lipophilia Hypothesis, which tells us that short term weight loss can be achieved by calorie restriction -- just as you can prevent a child from growing by not feeding him. But over the long term, the diet will collapse as the body's compensatory homeostatic mechanisms kick in and slow down metabolism, even if you are desperate to lose weight.

2. 'Long term maintenance of weight loss after a very low calorie diet: a randomized blinded trial of the efficacy and tolerability of sibutramine."[2]

Don't get caught up in the discussion on sibutramine. Instead, pay attention to this quote from the abstract:

"very low calorie diets are a well established method to achieve substantial short term weight loss in obese patients, but long term maintenance of the weight loss is very disappointing."

3. This study 'advice on low fat diets for obesity' echoes this idea.[3]

"Calorie restriction can achieve short term weight loss but the weight loss has not been shown to be sustainable in the long term... fat restricted diets are no better than calorie restricted diets in achieving long term weight loss in overweight or obese people."

The authors also note that "participants lost slightly more weight on the control diets" than did the participants who severely restricted their calories and fat.

Wait a second. The controls lost more weight than the people on severely calorie restricted diets? How is that possible?

A better question is, if researchers get results like these, then why do they keep insisting that calories "count"?

4. 'Lipogenesis from carbohydrate in the negative caloric balanced state induced by exposure to cold.'[4]

These researchers concluded:

"in the state of negative caloric balance, lipogenesis is one of the obligatory pathways of carbohydrate metabolism."

To translate that from "science speak" into English, what this is telling us is that carbohydrates will make us fat even when we're desperate to lose weight and eating fewer calories and exercising more. (Okay, so the study was done on rats. So perhaps it's not applicable to humans... or is it?)

5. For more info on studies that demonstrate time and again that low calorie diets and very low calorie diets fail to lead to weight loss -- and indeed can actually lead to weight gain in subjects who are desperate to lose weight, check out Gary Taubes' Good Calories Bad Calories, chapter 15, pages 252 to 257.[5] You will get to read about:

  • Ancel Keys' starvation experiments on conscientious objectors.
  • Experiments done by researchers like Frank Evans, George Bray, Jules Hirsch, and Albert Stunkard, which all demonstrate convincingly that calorie restriction doesn't make you thinner; it just makes you hungry.
  • Experiments that show that calorie-unrestricted low carbohydrate diets appear to lead to weight loss and satiation -- and may well reduce risk for an array of diseases as well!

The evidence just keeps piling up. People who are desperate to lose weight need to research whether calorie restriction really works. And the public backers of the Caloric Balance perspective need to reevaluate their theory in light of all this evidence that appears to contradict it.

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Return to page on the debate over what to do if you are desperate to lose weight


1. Thomas A. Wadden, PhD Treatment of Obesity by Moderate and Severe Caloric Restriction: Results of Clinical Research Trials Annals of Internal Medicine October 1, 1993 vol. 119 no. 7 Part 2 688-693.

2. Apfelbaum M, Vague P, Ziegler O, Hanotin C, Thomas F, Leutenegger E. Long-term maintenance of weight loss after a very-low-calorie diet: a randomized blinded trial of the efficacy and tolerability of sibutramine. Am J Med. 1999 Feb;106(2):179-84.

3. Pirozzo S, Summerbell C, Cameron C, Glasziou P. Advice on low-fat diets for obesity. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(3):CD003640.

4. E. J. Masoro, Carmen L. Asuncion, Richard K. Brown, and David Rapport Lipogenesis From Carbohydrate in the Negative Caloric Balance State Induced by Exposure to Cold Am J Physiol 190: 177-179, 1957;0002-9513/57.

5. Taubes, Gary. "Good Calories, Bad Calories." pp 252-257 New York: Knopf (2007).

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