by Marion Nestle
Feb 27 2009

Calories count (duh?)

Researchers, bless them, have done the obvious at last and published it in the February 26 New England Journal of Medicine (and here’s how USA Today explains the study).  They put some intrepid volunteers on 1400-calorie diets varying in content of protein (15-25%), fat (20-40%), and carbohydrate (35-65%) and waited to see how much weight they would lose by the end of two years.  Ta-da!  The participants all lost a lot of weight in 6 months, but slowly gained it back.  By the end of 2 years, they lost about the same amount of weight regardless of the mix.  Conclusion: when it comes to weight loss, how much you eat matters more than what you eat.  Or, as I am fond of saying, if you want to lose weight, eat less!

  • Schlake

    I’m reading an advanced copy of The End Of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD. He cited that study as well. His book is a fascinating glimpse into the marketing and production of “food”.

  • BenJ

    I would’ve liked to see the researches use an *actual* low carb diet in their lineup. 35% of calories isn’t close to an Atkins (or other “real” low carb) type diet.

    It seems like this is another study where the researches just set out to prove their own hypothesis.

  • When I occasionally eat out at a restaurant, I find that the food portions are WAY TOO BIG for any one person (unless I am at my fave health food cafe). As a general rule, I cut all items in half, and only eat 1/2 of the food delivered to me. Then, I BACK AWAY FROM THE PLATE. Or, I share one order with my child or spouse so neither of us has to waste 1/2 a plate of food. I don’t know the calorie count, but it doesn’t take a “diet” to maintain or lose weight. It takes a healthy daily intake of a moderate amount of food (that does not include junkfood).

  • Wait a minute; let me see if I understand this correctly. Eating less overall helps weight loss? Sounds radical. I’m not sure the public is ready for this. Perhaps it be packaged and presented into some sort of gimmicky program with a celebrity endorsement, otherwise, I don’t think it’ll catch on.

  • Ivan Road1

    Althought this ‘eat fewer calories’ idea was spectacularly unsuccessful.

    Look at Figure 2 in the actual paper. Virtually all participants steadily gained weight from month six to month 24. Net loss, very little.

    This is with medical supervision, intensive support, and strict follow-up.

    So either these people were weak-willed cheaters, or there is something inherently unproductive about ‘eat less.’

    Eating less didn’t particularly work, as far as I can see.

    Eating fewer calories — or at least telling people to do so — did NOT turn obese people into lean people.

    Data like this — if it were provided in support of some ‘pill’ or some ‘fad diet’ would be laughed off as ludicrously ineffective an non-supportive.

    Curiously, Ancel Keys’s famous Minnesota Starvation Study kept participants on a regimen of 1750 calories a day. They ended the 24 week (NOT 24-months) experiment emaciated, ill, and obsessed about food.

    This NJEM ‘eat less’ experiement was based on 1400 calories a day.

    Somebody is missing something here.

  • RT Adlis

    I agree with Ivan.

    The net finding here is no matter what the composition of the diet, you won’t lose much weight at all.

  • Kim

    I agree. The conclusion has to be that “eating less” simply doesn’t seem to actually work in most cases, despite motivated dieters and intense interventions. Yes, “logically” it should work. But it doesn’t. So there must be some other strong factors at work.