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Weight loss: was it Calorie restriction or Paleo?

by 3428 · June 12, 2013 2:33 AM

Over a four months period, after starting Paleo I lost some twenty pounds, and got to optimal weight that I have effortless kept since then. Last week I was talking to a friend of mine, who is a doctor and eats decently well (though not paleo) and he insisted that my weight loss should have come from caloric restriction: he claims that by adopting paleo I was eating much less calories, since I dropped wheat, pasta, pizza, bread, sugar, etc. My question (beyond this anecdote) is the following "do we have evidence that in fact paleo is better in terms of weight loss than a diet perhaps similar in calories (though not as healthy) " Please do not tell me that "paleo is much more healthy" since I know that, and I practice it, searching for optimal health, not just as a weight loss method! anyway I am curious to know how to answer my friend´s view: that my weight loss was the result of eating LESS calories not necessarily of eating Paleo.

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7709 · February 21, 2011 8:30 PM

It was both.

If you had weight to lose, and Paleo "worked", your body decided that you needed to lose weight, made you less hungry, and so you ate less. The entire point of Paleo is to present your body with foods it knows how to handle, and so allow your body to regulate weight/appetite appropriately.

You don't have to pick which one worked; they are not mutually exclusive. By eating the right foods, you let your endocrine system count calories for you. To put it in terms calorie-zealots would understand, Paleo is what caused your calorie restriction. If all went optimally, it was an effortless, hunger-less calorie restriction which you did not have to calculate, which is why Paleo is a great way to eat.

If you had eaten an equivalent calorie diet which sucked nutritionally, you would have seen similar weight loss. You may also have been hungry all the time and would have had to weigh and measure everything you ate; it's also possible that a nutritionally poor diet would have caused metabolic disruption that would manifest itself as less weight lost, but that sort of thing is so highly individual that it's hard to prove with studies. For weight loss, it may be equivalent, but for lifetime health maintenance it would have been terrible relative to Paleo.

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39204 · February 21, 2011 8:36 PM

I've come to really agree with Taubes with regard to a particular carb intake corresponding to a particular hormonal milieu, if you will, that determines adiposity in humans. The idea is that X carbs equal Y insulin which upregulates Z lipoprotein lipase. Maybe the biochemistry isn't fully understood and maybe Taubes doesn't have it completely correct, but my experimentation is completely in line with it. Assuming activity is kept constant, I have a particular BF% at 150g, 100g, 50g and so on.

One thing I will say is that while Taubes is right that activity is almost useless (for weight loss) for someone on the SAD, it's highly effective for accelerating fat loss on a paleo diet. On the SAD, you increase activity which increases appetite, which either results in self-imposed starvation, or refueling with carbs, and even worse, fructose. On a paleo diet, that increase in appetite doesn't necessarily swell carbs in general since we tightly control it no matter how much activity usually. If I am in a 30g a day phase, I'm going to be there whether I workout or hike or sit around (I usually adjust it depending on activity, but my point is that I control it either way, instead of letting my diet control it). So we meet the increase in appetite with fat and protein and we get full, we feel great and we are perfectly well nourished but without the extra carbs, we don't redeposit our effort's worth of fat.

As I stated in that other thread, the critical point for human adiposity is the intersection between carb intake, activity level and BMR. You most easily restrict carbs (and hopefully fructose first and foremost), you next most easily increase activity (which in addition to burning fat, increases the size and number of mitochondria in your muscle cells, which increases your capacity for burning fat via the beta-oxidation pathway), and you lastly increase BMR through resistance training and eating a lot of food in general. The result of this 3-pronged approach is whatever BF% you want.

While it's true that low carb can result in low appetite which technically could lower calories, fat grams are more than twice as dense calorically, and we all eat a heck of a lot of fat, so I'm not sure that our calories are dropping significantly, and certainly not proportional to our fat loss. The big difference is that cutting calories on SAD leads to a prolonged starvation, muscle loss and eventual regain of fat whereas paleo leads to more muscle anabolism (which is a greater buffer against future fat gain), more satiety and lower fat. The choice is clear.

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60 · February 21, 2011 8:12 PM

Calories in/out (thermodynamics) vs. food quality is addressed in depth in Gary Taubes books Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat.

It boils down to this: 100 calories of beef is not equal to 100 calories of Twinkies in health, body composition, or performance terms.

Also it is nearly impossible to compute how many calories you are burning at any given time let alone over the course of 24 hours so the idea of setting a target to be above or below is guess work at best.

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502 · February 22, 2011 at 10:46 AM

At the risk of down votes, it's all calories-in-vs-out. Paleo is probably more satiating and healthy, and in the end it causes us to eat less. At best there might be a small metabolic advantage from food quality. One caveat is that protein has metabolic costs, and probably should be calculated at fewer calories than 4 kcal/gram. There's no magic. In fact, we often read about small, inactive women not losing weight on paleo. When they show their food logs, they tend to be simply eat too much food. Whereas, the same food energy would cause weight loss in someone more active or a large male. There is no evidence for some other mechanism at work.

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3576 · February 21, 2011 9:18 PM

I'm still working on my weight loss but here's my experience so far. I'm pretty sedentary at this point, and I'm over 200 pounds at 5'6". But I can lose weight at around 2900 calories a day. I don't get weight loss plans that have someone eating 1500 calories a day. I don't need to do that at all. And that's while sedentary. Imagine if I were Crossfitting.

I can't fathom that someone would put on weight if they were eating 5000 calories a day from fat, and nothing else. And that's if they could eat all 5000 calories. Most people peg fiber and protein for this role but the true satiety-inducing macronutrient is fat. It even causes the release of a satiety-inducing chemical from your small intestines. You might hit 2000 calories before you hit the wall, if you're lucky.

I wouldn't call it "calorie restriction" though. "Restriction" implies that you really wanted to do something but you were prevented from doing so. If you don't want to eat, how is that restriction?

And if you do want to eat, and your diet's generally healthy? I don't think it's a sign of discipline to keep yourself from eating when you are genuinely hungry. I think it's a sign of masochism. Especially if you've been working out, that's your body's way of telling you it needs more of something. For pity's sake, give it what it needs.

Food is not just fuel. We're organisms, not machines. Food for us is like fuel plus spare parts. One of the details the calorie theory buffs often miss is that the food we use for renewing or repairing tissues and organs is also "calories out." I have yet to see any calorie model that addresses this. Even BMR is only about energy use.

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500 · February 21, 2011 8:24 PM

If you're losing weight, it's always going to be either calorie restriction, or increased output. Paleo tends to be more successful than other diets because it reduces carbs and with it, appetite. Even if you aren't "low carb," you're low carb, and most of what you're eating is fat and protein - which is going to satisfy you quicker, for longer. Diets that are low in fat and protein, and emphasis low calorie and sugary foods like flavoured yogurts, unlimited fruits, grains, lean poultry and fish, etc.. work for weight loss... For a while. If you are reducing your calories and exercising you can certainly lose weight this way. It's just going to be a painful and long process, and you'll most likely quit and regain the weight you lost and then some. Paleo is ultimately more successful because it doesn't feel like you're struggling to lose weight.

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20469 · February 22, 2011 4:40 AM

I agree it has to be both. You can't really separate them. On paleo, healthy food naturally resets the weight your body wants to stay at to a more healthy level. For many, that means your body asks for less food and you feel full on less calories. Also, paleo eaters tend to feel better and more active, so they tend to burn more calories than previously. So calories go more toward activity and less towards flab. I think it's accurate to say that paleo often results in higher levels of satiation or lessening of hunger. Which is a big reason why it works so well, because you don't feel hungry even though many end up eating less food. Hunger and cravings are what make most other diets miserable. -Eva

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18619 · February 21, 2011 8:05 PM

Without knowing exactly what you were eating it's hard to say for sure.

It's possible it could be calorie restriction depending on how many you were eating plus your activity level. It's more likely that it was your fat/carb/protein ratios. I find that besides calories, that is the thing that affects my weight loss the most. Whenever I've been stuck I have been able to keep my calories the same, but adjusted my ratios for more weight loss.

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91 · February 21, 2011 8:24 PM

Even on a paleo diet a calorific intake of 5000 calories will cause anyone to store fat. The restriction of unhealthy carbohydrates has a major impact on the inhibition of fat storage as well as the mobilization of fat for energy. Therefore, there is a certain fat loss benefit of the paleo diet that enables fat loss even on a maintenance amount of calories. However, a substantial amount of fat loss would only occur (in most circumstances) through a calorie restriction.

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77338 · June 12, 2013 2:33 AM

BULLLLLSHITTTTTTTT... eat 5K calories of olive oil a day and nothing else. Then ask your doctor to explain the weight loss.

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