New Study Reveals Possible Way to Lose Weight for Good


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  18 comments   :  38,974 Views

A small study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed the clinical responses of three popular diet regimens in people that had already achieved weight loss. The goal of the study was to not only look at energy expenditure or the amount of calories burned but also evaluating other health markers such as hormone levels, enzymes, blood fats, and insulin sensitivities.
Study participants were obese or overweight adults between the ages of 18 and 40. Participants all followed the same initial diet for three months then moved to a one-month random rotation through three test diets that each mimicked popular eating plans. The initial three-month diet plan contained 45% of total calories from carbohydrates, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. This macronutrient composition is consistent with generally accepted ranges that promote adequate intake of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. A month later, each participant began a one-month rotation with one of these popular eating plans.

Low fat diet - This plan consisted of 60% of total calories from carbohydrates, only 20% from fat, and 20% from protein. The meal plans focused on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while limiting fatty meats, oils, and nuts.
Very low carbohydrate diet – This eating plan modeled the popular Atkins diet and limited carbohydrates to 10% of total calories with 60% from fats and 30% from proteins. Carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, baked goods, and starchy vegetables were restricted with increases of beef, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, and only small amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Low glycemic index diet: This meal plan was similar to a Mediterranean diet and included 40% of total calories from carbohydrates, 40% from fat, and 20% from protein. Brown rice, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, olive oil, and nuts were staples while highly processed sugary carbs and snack foods were avoided.
The Results
At the end of the initial three-month introductory diet phase, participants lost 10%-15% of their baseline body weight.  Although body weight did not see significant differences among the three test diets, all three eating plans supported weight stability following weight loss in the short term. Participants following the very low carbohydrate plan burned more calories each day compared to those that were following the low fat eating plan but also experienced responses in several metabolic syndrome components. However, they also saw increases in the stress hormone cortisol, which have been found to promote adiposity, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease according to various epidemiological studies.  The inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP) was also found to be higher in those following the very low carbohydrate eating plan. Another unrelated study published last month also found long-term consequences for women consistently following a low carbohydrate high-protein eating plan to be at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to those that do not.  
People following the low-glycemic eating plan burned slightly more each day compared to those following the low fat approach but also saw changes to leptin that suggest likelihood for weight regain as well as unfavorable effects on components of metabolic syndrome. Those following a low fat eating plan saw the least energy benefit while also experiencing increases in triglyceride levels and reductions in good cholesterol. On the other hand, the low-glycemic index meal plan provided similar metabolic benefits without the negative physiological stress and inflammation responses, which suggest this approach to be advantageous for weight maintenance and cardiovascular disease prevention.
The Bottom Line
Successful long-term weight maintenance after weight loss requires behavior modification that supports individual goals. While there are various meal plans and recommendations, it is important to remember that we are each an experiment of one. When deciding which macronutrient composition is best for YOUR meal plan, it is important to think about other physiological considerations besides just energy expenditure. Not all calories may be created equally especially if other medical conditions are involved.
For weight loss success as well as heart disease prevention, it is best to avoid eating plans that severely restrict macronutrients such as fat or carbohydrate. A balanced macronutrient-eating plan with a low-glycemic index similar to a Mediterranean diet appears to represent a plan that provides high quality nutrients from a variety of foods. For people that have no medical conditions such as a high blood pressure, thyroid disease or diabetes, simply eating less by following any type of macronutrient diet may be fine. However, for the millions of us for whom this is not the case, paying attention to more than just the number of calories consumed also seems to be important for long-term weight success and health.
Here are some additional resources to help you meet and maintain your weight goals.
The SparkDiet: Mediterranean Style!
Choose Olive Oil as a Healthy Alternative
Time for Some Nuts - The Tasty and Surprisingly Healthy Snack
Mediterranean Chicken with Orzo (Chef Meg's Makeover)
Mediterranean Baked Fish
Do you believe medical conditions influence whether all calories are created equal? Have you found the macronutrient composition of your diet influences your weight loss success?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   The 10 Commandments of Healthy Eating for Parents


  • 18
    This post has a lot of out of context and partial information. This is the kind of misinformation and lack of nuance I expect on other sites, not this one. I'm disappointed. - 12/18/2014   8:08:05 PM
  • 17
    Thanks for this interesting info. It seems I (and I'm sure many people) naturally gravitate to this moderate type of eating, with some days higher in carbs others high in fat. Overall though, I think I have a pretty good balance of macronutrients. It is interesting to know some of the possible physiological effects of diets that are off this normal pattern of eating. - 6/13/2014   10:45:14 AM
  • BUB001
    Sounds good, but a study that doesn't indicate the number or types of participants isn't very helpful. - 2/14/2014   10:59:43 PM
    I found this article very poorly written and hard to follow. I would like to see its organization changed. I would have written the results of each diet under the description of that diet. As written I had to go back and forth between the diet descriptions and the results, trying to distinguish which results belonged to which diet. - 8/1/2012   12:03:48 PM
  • 14
    I agree with Lolamom that a control group staying on the original balanced plan would have made even this small study more robust. However, my main takeaway is that we are each an experiment of one. I found what worked for ME for weight loss and am now experimenting with ME to find what works best for ME to maintain. - 7/24/2012   11:31:15 AM
  • 13
    I found the original study easier to read than this condensed version. Confusing run-on sentences like, "Although body weight did not see significant differences among the three test diets, all three eating plans supported weight stability following weight loss in the short term" and "People following the low-glycemic eating plan burned slightly more each day compared to those following the low fat approach but also saw changes to leptin that suggest likelihood for weight regain as well as unfavorable effects on components of metabolic syndrome" just confused the results.

    Overall the study was not significant unless considered along with many others. Would prefer articles here broke down the studies and offered conclusions rather than (or in addition to) asking other sparkers what we think. - 7/24/2012   10:27:15 AM
  • 12
    My doctor suggested to me that I may want to try a gluten-free diet for a month to see if it may help my vertiginous migraines. So much of these diets support my efforts. - 7/24/2012   10:14:01 AM
  • 11
    Interesting study findings. But then, we all know that a good diet is one that is balanced... - 7/24/2012   8:01:25 AM
  • 10
    It seems to me that this was a faulty research design. It should also have a fourth control group that stayed on the initial balanced diet plan (45/30/25), in order to make the results of the three more radical test groups meaningful. I personally would have liked to see how the people who stayed all four months on the original balanced plan would have fared compared to the three groups on the more restricted test diets. - 7/23/2012   8:33:54 PM
  • 9
    Interesting blog - 7/23/2012   2:04:45 PM
  • JULIA1154
    This was, indeed, a very small study - 21 participants. While the information is interesting this is hardly sufficient data on which to base major decisions. Additionally, the participants were all teenagers or young people, so the population sample wasn't broad, either.

    I'm not going to change anything I do based on this small study. - 7/23/2012   1:32:28 PM
  • 7
    Honestly, I'm not interested in ANY "diet" plan. And, yes, I understand the usage here is more aligned with the style in which a person eats rather than deprivation. That doesn't change the fact that ALL of these are sets of rules around food and take it from being fuel and simply important to get enough of all basic nutrients to being some sort of obsessed percentages game.

    I didn't get fat because I ate the wrong proportion of fat to carbs to protein. I'm not getting slimmer because I'm eating the right proportion.

    I ate TOO MUCH. Period. Way way too much, in fact. (My Saturday splurge was nothing compared to my day-to-day eating in the past ... which just gives an idea of how bad it was.) It wouldn't have made enough of a difference if I was eating 40-20-40 or 50-20-30 or 60-20-20 or any other concocted proportions. It was too much food.

    Ditto for losing. I pay no attention to the pie chart at the bottom of the page. I try to make sure I meet the minimum necessary nutrient level, make sure I don't exceed the maximum recommended, and let the chips fall where they may. And my weight loss has been comfortably consistent - even proving this past week that eating TOO MUCH stalls me. (Duh. =P ) - 7/23/2012   1:24:30 PM
  • 6
    I have always found that I lost weight steadily if I eat in this particular ratio 45%carbs:25%fat:30%proteins though spark people suggests 50%carbs. I somehow cannot follow this ratio everyday, so the weight loss also fluctuates! I will never ever try any kind of "diet", just adjusting my everyday food within the recommended calorie range and ratio. I don't eat much junk food anyways. It really works! Slow and steady wins! - 7/23/2012   12:56:39 PM
    To me, the best diet in the world is eat everything in moderation and step up the exercise. (Reduce processed flours and sugars to little to none) Logging and tracking is key. You have to know what's going in and control it. It's too easy to graze all day and lose sight of how many calories you are really takinig in. - 7/23/2012   12:55:44 PM
  • 4
    Common sense is not common. - 7/23/2012   12:25:58 PM
  • 3
    I've been "dieting" since 1985, most overseen by a well-known weight-loss program. No matter what style I try, if I'm not careful, I try to "beat the system":

    Nuts are healthy? I'll eat 1C a day (far too much!). High fiber & low fat foods are okay? I'll eat toaster pastries in place of a meal.

    Eating 0% processed foods, 100% real food that can spoil HELPS. I still have to watch what I choose, making sure my carbs come from freggies & moderate amounts of healthy fats or I'll dose on them, too! - 7/23/2012   11:57:20 AM
  • 2
    it's always interesting when a study confirms what common sense--and experience--suggest might be true.

    This study is useful, because it goes beyond the more obvious effects of weight loss into the more subtle, but probably long-term as significant, changes within a body. - 7/23/2012   11:15:43 AM
    I had tried a high-protien, low-carb, diet in the past and lost all the weight I had wanted to. However, I found it very difficult to follow after the weight was gone and gained the weight I had lost back and then some. From my own experience, I have found that the tools and guidlines that SP have provided are the most successful for me to lose the weight sensibly and to keep it off. I lost 25 pounds and have kept it off for ten months now. Thank you SP! - 7/23/2012   10:41:21 AM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›