All Diets Work: Qualification

In An Introduction to the Psychology and Physiology of Dieting, I made a statement that I imagine many will take some issue with; that statement was, in effect, that all diets work. At least to some degree.

I want to qualify that a little bit.

Fundamentally, any diet that is restricted in calories will cause weight loss. Of course, dieters, ideally, shouldn’t only be concerned with the scale. The composition of what is lost is important too and, generally speaking, dieters want to lose fat not muscle (or just shift water around).

I want to point out that for the extremely overweight, lean body mass (LBM) loss isn’t considered as huge of an issue among dieting researchers. When becoming obese, roughly 25% of the total weight gained is lean body mass. Some of this is actual muscle tissue (check out the calves and thighs on fat people) but some of it is just connective tissue to support the extra fat mass.

Some researchers are now delineating between essential lean body mass (skeletal muscle, organs) and inessential lean body mass (connective tissue). Losing the second may be required for an individual to get even close to an ‘ideal’ body weight, whatever that is.

However, when you’re talking about relatively lean individuals, where there isn’t a lot of inessential LBM to lose, the focus does tend to shift on avoiding any LBM loss. I’d note here that glycogen, water and minerals show up as LBM loss.

Depending on the measurement method used, even visceral fat loss can show up as LBM loss. Lean folks often panic when various body composition measurements show that they are losing LBM but they are just dehydrated, glycogen depleted, etc.

And there’s little doubt that here, all diets are not equivalent in terms of how well they spare LBM.

So my statement that ‘all diets work’ isn’t entirely true once you start concerning yourself with the composition of the weight that is lost.

Without going into massive detail (which is sort of a tangent from what I want this series of articles to be about), the primary determinants of LBM loss on a diet tend to be protein intake (which must be sufficient) and proper resistance training (which sends a ‘signal’ to maintain muscle). Other issues such as essential fatty acid intake, etc. are also relevant but protein and training are the big ones.

But assuming that a diet sets protein at sufficient levels, provides essential fatty acids and includes the proper kind of training, frankly, they all diets work assuming that the person actually follows the diet.

There is, however, one other major requirement for that statement to be true and that’s the existence of a caloric deficit (e.g. caloric intake must be less than caloric expenditure).

But, you say, so many diet books comment that caloric restriction doesn’t work or that calories don’t count or some other silly shit like that. That’s the topic for the next post to stay tuned.



5 thoughts on “All Diets Work: Qualification

  1. Looking forward to the next post on this topic. it’s so hard to get people to realize that, for the average “overweight” person, any diet that had adequate protein and results in a caloric deficit will induce weight loss. it’s thermodynamics people. sure there is some degree of “biochemical individuality” and it’s obvious to any trainer who has even a modicum of real word experience that people fare better on certain (calorically equivalent) ratios of macronutrients. However, to be fair, I’ve often found that when someone says “I can’t do carbs” because they think that higher protein intakes are better for them for fat loss, that when i collect their journals, they are consuming way more total calories on their “high carb” “diets” then on their high protein diets, which accounts for the discrepancy. Other times, the difference is water weight, glycogen, etc. But sometimes, even in significantly overweight individuals who truly eat a fixed caloric intake (what an amazing notion, right?) that some do lose fat faster on higher protein intakes but this is by no means standard. While higher protein intakes at equivalent calories are usually more satiating for people who are eating significantly below maintenance, I’ve found that some of my clients enjoy their diets (which means greater compliance) when they can eat pasta, rice, etc. but for the clients that need to create a huge caloric deficit to get the weight moving, you’re more or less forced to eat “high protein” because you have to cover protein requirements first, especially at significant caloric deficits for a variety of reasons and the only calories left need to come from essential fats.
    But anyway tangent aside, it seems that the magic formula for the average client looking to lose weight, is to determine caloric deficit, set protein and EFA requirements and find a diet that meets these requirements, with the rest of the “allowed” calories coming from what ever foods that will allow them to stick to this set caloric intake. This will work most of the time and will allow the client to stay compliant on the diet so long as you firmly stress protein and total calorie requirements. I had one client that, I shit you not, did better when she could have 1/2 cup of ice cream and pretzels after her lunch. We worked in the calories into her diet and she was way more compliant than when she had to eliminate all junk food.
    Yes, this was officially a “tangent”, sorry Lyle!

  2. Could you explain this statement a little further. ?..


    For example, what would be improper resistance training?

    Thanks much

  3. What statement, you didn’t quote anything?

    There are tons of idiotic ways to train out there. They don’t work becuause the principles are wrong. Either they don’t apply proper overload, or no overload at all (e.g. a lot of bodybuilding programs tell you that you don’t have to increase weight, just focus on feel). Etc.

  4. I apologize, I guess my cut and paste didn’t come through – I was referring to this statement:

    proper resistance training (which sends a ’signal’ to maintain muscle)

    I guess I don’t know enough about resistance training in general, to understand the difference between what would be considered proper vs. improper.

    Trying to learn more about that…and searching around. thanks

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