Which Weight Loss Diet Is Best?

Lessons from the Twinkie Diet and the latest science.

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Weight Loss Principle Number One

While I wouldn’t recommend the Twinkie diet, I am not surprised that it worked (at least once). Despite all the hype, how much you eat is a much stronger weight loss driver than when you eat, or what you eat.

There is no magic diet. To lose weight, we must shift the energy equation. Exercise aside, you won’t lose weight unless you cut calories.

Weight Loss Tip: The other side of CAKAQ is that you can gain weight on any diet, regardless of how healthy your choices are. For those on a tight calorie budget, it can be helpful to set out a portion of calorie dense snacks (like nuts or hummus) before digging in, rather than munching endlessly.

Are All Calories Equal?

Aside from taste and pleasure, diets differ dramatically in their nutritional upsides and downsides which, in turn, impact our physiological, mental, and emotional responses. This list scratches the surface of why our choices of what, and when, to eat also matter.

  • Sense of satisfaction (satiety, appetite, cravings). Some foods promote greater fullness and satisfaction (e.g. fiber-rich foods) while others tend to trigger cravings (e.g sugary foods). These aspects are intimately linked to the physiological responses that nutrients elicit, such as our insulin response and hunger hormones.

Making It Real

What happens when we move beyond tightly controlled, isocaloric human studies, and into the real world? Trials that attempt to mimic the real world teach us several important lessons.

Most Diets Work — At Least In the Short Term

This large 2014 review and meta-analysis of named diets and this 2019 review of low fat versus low carb diets, demonstrate that most diets work — and reinforce the fact that there is no one “best diet”. Presumably, most studies find weight loss because those who enroll in diet studies have committed to changing the way they eat. In other words, simply making weight loss a priority can be helpful.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The average weight loss reported in scientific studies does not tell the full story. Beneath this number, there is often a huge amount of variation in how subjects responded to the same diet. Thus, we shouldn’t expect our results to align with the study average.

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Range of weight loss over 12 months from two diets. HLF = (48% carbs / 29% fat / 21% protein). HLC = (30% carbs, 45% fat, 23% protein). Source (Supplement)

Find Your Fit

Here are some factors to consider as you craft your weight loss strategy:

The Bottom Line

Any diet will promote short-term weight loss as long as it shifts energy balance. Your best bet is a diet that:

  1. Is simple, and requires minimal effort (mental, emotional, and otherwise).
  2. Accounts for your personal triggers and temptations.
  3. Feels good, or at least not tolerable (let’s be realistic…your body may not enjoy a calorie deficit).
  4. Meets your nutritional needs. Note: Even water fasting can be a viable option in the short term, provided proper medical supervision and supplementation.

The Long View

The elephant in the room is that most people regain much, or all, of the weight they lose. For lasting weight loss, and lasting health benefits, we need a sustainable diet that fuels our bodies, wards off disease, and helps to fight the uphill battle against weight creep. Stay tuned for more on the science weight maintenance — why it’s so hard and what the victors have in common.

The Twinkie Diet

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  1. Multiply your calorie needs by 0.7 to get your daily calorie budget at a 30% deficit. For Dr. Haub, this was 1800 calories.
  2. Divide your calorie budget by 150 (approximate calories per Twinkie) to get your daily Twinkie quota. Dr. Haub can eat 12 Twinkies per day.

About Me

I am formally trained in human genetics (PhD) and spent the first decade of my career working in cancer research, drug development, and personalized medicine.

Written by

Scientist (PhD Genetics @Stanford) * Mother * Passionate about science-based healthy choices * Lifelong learner * Founder: Fueled by Science

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