For decades, obesity experts declared calorie-counting the holy grail for weight loss, but scientists now say following low-carb, high-fat diets like the Paleo, ketogenic or Atkins diets may be a better approach, according to Time.
Dr. David Ludwig, a nutrition professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said low-fat diets that emphasize calorie quantity over quality have proven a dismal failure for long-term weight loss.
“By and large, we’ve been taking an accounting approach to weight loss [and this doesn't work]," said Ludwig. "Mediterranean or low-carb diets outperform a low-fat diet every time, and that wouldn’t be true if calories were the only measure that mattered. Your weight is regulated by a complex system of genetic factors, hormonal factors, and neurological input, and not all calories affect this system the same way."
Ludwig and his team at Harvard recently published a JAMA commentary slamming the myth that eating fat makes you fat, and restricting calories is the best way to fuel weight loss.
Low-Carb Diets Beat Low-Fat Diets For Weight Loss
Ludwig said the optimal approach for weight loss success is a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet because it suppresses appetite and prevents the blood-sugar spikes that fuel inflammation and weight gain.
“We have to forget the low-fat paradigm,” said Dr. Ludwig, author of Always Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently. “Some high-fat foods like avocado, nuts and olive oil are among the healthiest foods we could possibly eat.”
The longstanding low-fat diet dogma and the concomitant calorie myth have caused many frustrated obese people to blame overeating and sloth for their inability to lose weight, and this is wrong, said Ludwig.
According to Ludwig, the obesity epidemic is largely driven by our high-carb diet, which causes blood-sugar surges and insulin spikes. "Insulin is the granddaddy of anabolic hormones," he said.
By eating more unprocessed saturated fats and reducing carbs (which is what the Paleo, ketogenic and Atkins diets do), we can work with our body's chemistry to enhance the metabolic processes that accelerate weight loss.
“Some naturally high-fat foods are among the most healthful we can eat in terms of promoting weight loss and reducing risk for diabetes and heart disease,” said Ludwig.
Ludwig's JAMA commentary comes on the heels of new scientific research suggesting that unprocessed saturated fat is not the cause of weight gain, diabetes or heart disease. The true cause of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and diabetes is a high-carb diet, especially one high in sugar, say scientists.
Obesity Scientists: Eat Fat and Get Thin
A growing number of weight loss experts say the best way to lose weight and keep it off isn't to obsessively count calories, but to eat real, whole foods that are nutritionally dense.
Obesity scientist Emily Maguire said focusing on calorie quality is more important than calorie quantity. Like Harvard's David Ludwig, Maguire also advocates a low-carb, high-fat Paleo, Atkins or ketogenic-style diet for weight loss and optimal health.
"When you allow your body to stop burning and using carbohydrates as its predominant energy source, your body can effectively and efficiently burn saturated fat, rather than storing it," wrote Emily, who has a master's degree in obesity science and management.
Dr. Bill Lagakos, author of "The poor, misunderstood calorie," agrees. "Counting calories is an ineffective means to determine energy balance or lose weight," Lagakos, who has a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and physiology, wrote in his book.
"The calories in food are not the same as those expended by the body. Carb-rich foods are easily over-eaten, producing a positive energy balance. The accompanying elevations in insulin cause net fat storage. Maybe all calories are calories, but not all calories are equally obesogenic."