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Scientists uncover weight loss benefits of protein-rich Paleo and Whole30 diets

Get the skinny on new diet options.
Get the skinny on new diet options.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For dieters stressing to take off the last five pounds (or the first 50), the search for the "perfect" weight loss plan can seem never-ending. Both the Paleo and the Whole30 diets have positioned themselves as ideal because they model our hunter-gatherer ancestors. And now a new study offers some intriguing insights on what works to suppress appetite and boost weight loss, reported Time magazine on Wednesday.

Scientists tested different diets to see which suppressed the appetite most successfully. What they found shows that in reality, the modern version of the Paleo diet, on which the Whole30 diet is based, works best. The reason: It combines protein and fat, which suppresses hunger, with soluble fiber. You'll stay full longer and thus find it easier to stick to your plan.

So which diet is better for you: Paleo or Whole30? They're similar, but the Whole30's requirement to stay away from the scale for the first month have some dieters worrying about missing their weigh-ins. However, by obsessing about a number on the scale rather than focusing on the benefits of re-setting their bodies' reactions to food, you miss the benefits, explained Melissa Hartwig, co-author of the book that details the plan: "It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways."

"So many people are so obsessed with that number on the scale," she noted in an interview with ABC News. "The scale will blind you to all the amazing progress that you're seeing in your medical condition." And because of that, Melissa hopes that dieters will focus on overall health rather than constantly seeing themselves as a reflection of their weight.

Melissa and her husband Dallas are both certified sports nutritionists, but you don't have to be an athlete to benefit from their protocol. The concept is similar to the Paleo diet in that it bans post-agricultural foods. What that means: No grains, beans, soy, dairy, alcohol or sugar. What can you eat? Protein, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Those rules are enforced during the "whole 30" days of the program.

It's after the first 30 days that the Whole30 diet diverges from the low carb diet approach prescribed by the Paleo plan. Whereas caveman dieters continue to avoid that list of banned foods, Whole30 dieters learn to gradually introduce the forbidden substances. That difference means that if no problems arise, a Whole30 dieter can gradually include dairy back in the diet.

"We're not asking you to eat like this for the rest of your life 100 percent," said Hartwig. "We're saying, take 30 days, learn about yourself, how you interact with food and then create a plan that works for you based on what you've learned for the rest of your life." It's the opportunity to learn to customize your diet so that it works for your unique needs, from losing weight to reducing your cholesterol.

The concept of doing an initial jump-start or detox cleanse prior to settling into a healthier diet plan has become increasingly popular among both experts and dieters. Both say that the pride that dieters experience through the elimination of foods such as sugar keeps them motivated, and the more rapid weight loss that usually results during this period also helps them stay on track. And the Whole30 diet isn't the only option for those who think they might benefit from a jump-start.

For example, Dr. Mark Hyman designed a diet recently that both jump-starts weight loss and detoxifies the body of sugar, gluten and other foods that he considers addictive. It's detailed in his new book "The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet: Activate Your Body's Natural Ability to Burn Fat and Lose Weight Fast." While the Whole30 creators feel that 30 days is the ideal time period to re-set and cleanse your body, Dr. Hyman feels that 10 days suffices.

On average, Americans eat 152 pounds of sugar and 146 pounds of flour annually. Both Dr. Hyman and the Hartwigs view these substances as addictive. And although the time periods for the first phases of their diets differ, they feel that giving up sugar and flour can reset your hormones and brain chemistry while reducing inflammation. Result: A boost in weight loss and health, they say.

However, although the Paleo diet doesn't use a phased approach, studies show that it offers similar benefits that range from weight loss to lower cholesterol to reduced risk of diabetes, according to Fox News. What makes it so healthy? "The elimination of sugar and starch alone is a win for so many aspects of human health," says Dr. Jennifer Landa.

"Increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables while relying on your hunger cues to determine when and how much to eat – those are principles that fit well with a generally healthy lifestyle," explained Dr. Landa. And although some argue with the idea that the low carb Paleo diet mimics that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, Dr. Landa defends it because of the benefits. She credits Dr. Loren Cordain for initiating the movement with his book "The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat." The diet is designed to help you lose up to 75 pounds in six months.

What's particularly intriguing about the fact that the Paleo diet and Whole30 diet have proved so beneficial for weight loss is that both plans prohibit the consumption of grains while still supplying generous amounts of appetite-suppressing fiber and protein. A key benefit: Avoiding processed food, nutritional therapy practitioner Liz Wolfe told USA today in a recent interview. She's the author of "Eat the Yolks," a Paleo guide to high fat, low carb dieting.

The Paleo diet "means getting back to basics, the raw materials for life," said Liz. "We are not living in the past, but we're learning from the wisdom of our ancestors and honoring the way our bodies developed over thousands of years. I trust that vast, millennia-long historical record."