The easy answer is that if you eat something that has fewer calories than something else, you can eat more of it.
Like I said, that’s the easy answer.
Are All Calories Equal?
The real question is- are all calories equal? Do they all behave the same way in our body? Does it matter if you eat a hundred calories of cake or a hundred calories of carrots? Is a calorie just a calorie?
And the answer is a resounding “no.”
The quality or source of those calories is more important than the actual number of calories. On the surface a calorie is just a calorie in the sense that they all equal the same amount of energy. But, as those calories course through our body they have different effects on our hormones that store fats, the reward centers in our brains which make certain foods addictive like sugar and flour, our feeling of hunger or fullness, the amount of energy needed to digest and absorb the nutrients in the calorie, our blood sugar, and our metabolic rate.
Calories In- Calories Out
The old way of thinking was that if you wanted to lose weight, all you’d have to do is just eat fewer calories than you burn off.
Less in, more out. Sounds sensible–-from an accounting standpoint.
But if it was really that simple, then all anyone would have to do is go on a low fat diet, because each gram of fat is more than twice the amount of calories than each gram of protein or carbohydrate. 9 calories to each gram of fat vs. 4 calories for each gram of protein or each gram of carbohydrate.
Now, scientists are finding out that this isn’t the case. In study after study, they’re finding that low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets out perform low-fat diets in terms of weight loss every time. Now, I’m talking about healthy fats like nuts, avocado, yogurt, and certain fish, not bacon (unfortunately).
Low-Carbohydrate Diets Win
In 2012, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study which took place over 3 months. The participants ate a low-carbohydrate diet for one month, Then they ate a low-fat diet for one month. And finally they ate a low-glycemic diet for one month. They ate the same number of calories per day throughout the 3 months.
The end result with state-of-the-art testing equipment was that the participants burned about 300 calories more per day on the low-carbohydrate diet compared to the low fat diet, and burned about 150 more calories per day on the low-carbohydrate diet compared to the low-glycemic diet. They did find however, that levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, were higher during the low carb phase of the study.
But, do you get what this means? Without any exercise or any additional activity, without even reducing the total amount of calories eaten, those who ate the low carbohydrate diet burned an additional 300 calories a day. That’s equivalent to 1 lb. lost about every 12 days. That’s amazing.
The Thermogenic Or After-Burn Effect
The reason is what’s known as TEF, the thermogenic effect of food, also known as the after-burn effect. Calories from certain types of food require more energy from your body to be digested and have their nutrients absorbed.
One of the doctors who conducted the study above, David Ludwig, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, has shown that high carbohydrate diets slow our metabolic rate when compared to diets higher in fat and protein.
In another study, described in the Journal of The American College of Nutrition, it was stated and I quote,” There is convincing evidence that a higher protein intake increases thermogenesis and satiety compared to diets of lower protein content. The weight of evidence also suggests that high protein meals lead to a reduced subsequent energy intake.”
What this means in plain English is that when you eat more protein, your body burns more calories digesting and absorbing that protein and you’re left with more of a feeling of fullness which means you probably won’t eat as much.
Eating More Without Gaining Weight
What does all this mean in real world terms of being able to eat more and still lose weight?
You need to add more lean protein to your diet- fish, skinless poultry, beef, pork, eggs, dairy, unsalted nuts, and beans (remember that not all proteins are created equally).
You should do add more protein to your diet for two reasons:
- Protein has a higher thermogenic effect than other foods, which means your body burns more calories digesting and absorbing the nutrients from the protein calories; and
- You need protein to build muscle. And as we learned before, the more muscle you have, the more calories are burned maintaining that muscle.
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