Winning at Losing




If you plan to eat less, would you do better to eat less carbohydrate or less fat? A Stanford University study evaluated health and weight-loss benefits of these styles of eating over one year.

The study began with 311 women randomly divided into groups to follow one of four diets that varied in proportions of fat and carbohydrate:

  • Atkins: very low carbohydrate, high fat, with no calorie restriction – based on New Diet Revolution by Dr Robert Atkins.
  • Traditional: based on the US Food Pyramid, 500 calories per day – developed at Yale University as part of a programme they called LEARN.
  • Ornish: high carbohydrate and low fat, with no calorie restriction – based on Eat More, Weigh Less by Dr Dean Ornish.
  • Zone: moderately low carbohydrate, with calorie restriction – based on The Zone by Dr Barry Sears.

Around 20% dropped out over the year, so the groups ended up with between 58 and 68 women in each. To begin, these women came into the University study centre for 8 weeks to learn about the diet they were going to follow. Apart from understanding all the recommendations, the women were given no other support or advice. They were given a copy of the book for their diet, and were asked to keep a food diary of what they actually ate for one year.

You may not be surprised to hear that very few of these women actually followed their diets. Even though two of the diets were calorie-restricted and the other two unlimited, all four groups showed a remarkably similar calorie intake over the whole year. They all ate less for the first two months, and then their calorie intake rose in a similar way across all groups for the rest of the year.

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  1. AJ

    Hi Gillian,
    There is no doubt that more and more evidence is being uncovered that is proving that limiting carbs and increasing natural fats is much more healthier for us than the current dietary guidelines (low fat/high carb as shown in the food pyramid), particularly for type 2 diabetics and those with heart disease, as well as dementia.

    I have been following a LCHF way of eating (WOE) since earlier this year, very successfully. For the first time, despite eating a lot of fat daily, I am actually eating less food (and losing weight/body fat%)! How can this be?

    Fat satiates like nothing else. It keeps me full for hours and hours. This means I no longer need snacks between meals. I don’t need breakfast (I only eat if hungry now). I only need a small lunch and have my main meal in the evening. I spend so much less on food but do a lot more home cooking from scratch, even making my own mayonnaise and coleslaw, and creamy sauces. I regularly use offal (heart/liver/kidney) in my cooking as it is very nutritious plus salmon, steak, bacon, eggs. There are many delicious LCHF recipes online and indeed a lot of excellent websites (for example which offer advice and support for people looking into LCHF.

    I’m just home from a second cruise successfully doing LCHF and have put no weight on! What’s my motivation to kick the carbs to the kerb? There is currently a number of studies looking at the LCHF way of eating and the reduction in dementia symptoms. It has already been cited as a way to reduce Type 2 diabetes and in some cases patients have reversed the symptoms completely. LCHF has long been officially used for children with epilepsy as it helps reduce (or sometimes eliminate) the number of fits they suffer (in some cases the amount of fat can be as high as 90% of daily calories but it does vary).

    In fact, before medication was developed for people with diabetes, they followed a LCHF way of eating to keep them stable. Since medication was developed, bizarrely, people were told to eat carbs and take more medication to compensate. That is crazy, surely?

    Finally, since following this way of eating I am finally at peace with food and eating, I no longer fear food and of overeating and of being hungry or deprived. Do I miss the carbs? I miss how they made me feel, yes. But, I DO NOT MISS the effect they had on me.

    No way do I want to be a slave to carbs ever again.


    p.s. currently a size 16 from a 24. 60+lbs lost since Jan. 50% body fat reduced to 37% so far. No aching knees. No snoring (according to husband). No breathlessness walking up stairs. No tiredness during day.

    • Well done, AJ and Ursula (comment below). Your success stories can certainly inspire others; I too have been low-carb for some years, so understand what you’re talking about.

      I do want to say, though, that many of those I speak to do feel hopeless about their own ability to make these changes.

      I see so much on the internet and in the media where this difficulty is not recognised; it’s ignored, played down, assumed not to exist. We are all in very different places with this; it’s much more challenging for some than others, for many reasons, especially in terms of maintaining changes.

      As one example, just a few days ago in The Times, Dr Mark Porter wrote a column “Looking after your liver” in which he said, “… a low-carbohydrate approach… is favoured. Not only is it easy to follow, but a low-carb approach also involves cutting back on sugary foods and drinks high in glucose…”

      NO, Dr Porter, it is not necessarily easy to follow. That is an ignorant and extremely unhelpful idea to promote.

      So, while I appreciate AJ and Ursula singing the praises of their improved health, my heart goes out to every one of you who have yet to find your own way there. I hope my work can play some part in that.

  2. Ursula

    Well done AJ, on getting healthier! The biggest thing for me has been learning not to “self-medicate” with sugary, fatty “treats” like chocolate or cake/cookies. I still eat chocolate (dark chocolate I’ll eat daily in small amounts, much more satisfying and health benefits too) and the *occasional* cookie, or slice of carrot cake with a cappuccino in a cafe. But I’ve also adopted a more “low-carb” approach, as it gives me far less bloating, acid reflux, and erratic moods. Eat better = feel better. 🙂

  3. AJ

    Hi Gillian, I agree that deciding to make the radical change to limit carbs to veggies is NOT an easy decision to make and it took me months of careful research and procrastination to finally decide to give it a try. I gave myself one month and was worried about how I would cope without my carbs. What did I have to lose? It was just for one month after all, then I could choose to go back to my carby lifestyle. I personally felt so much benefit from low carbing that I decided to stick with it. Other people may not, but if anyone is reading this, do lots of research, think about committing fir one month (a minimum of one month will show you benefits, don’t just do a week).

  4. Ursula

    I understand the struggle! Especially at this time of year. Mince pies, chocolates, yummy “festive treats”…. oh, and let’s not forget mulled wine! Actually, as an ex-smoker, (quit smoking 7 and a half years ago) I’ve been experiencing major cravings for sugar recently that are almost indistinguishable from cravings for nicotine – aaaaaaaaagh!!!

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