“Losing weight” is an ambiguous term, and one which needs to be clarified if you are to do it successfully and healthily.
If asked what it means, a lot of people would shrug their shoulders and say “exactly what it sounds like”, but that’s a flawed way of thinking, and in this article, we’ll explain why.
To Lose Weight
Betty decided at the strike of new year that this year’s resolution was to ‘lose weight’. It’s now half way through the year, and Betty has tried the dieting thing and it just isn’t working.
By the way, Betty is fictional. Nonetheless, I had a conversation with her. It went a bit like this:
Me: “What was your resolution this year, Betty?”
Betty: “To lose weight.”
Me: “How’s that going?”
Betty: “Terrible, if anything I’m bigger now.” (she has a sad face)
Me: “What did you do to lose weight?”
Betty: “I went on a diet.”
Me: “What did that entail?”
Betty: “Counting calories, eating less and drinking lots of water.”
Me: “What went wrong?”
Betty: “I had very low energy, and I felt tired all the time. I also felt hungry constantly and so I would occasionally slip and eat a lot of crap in one day.”
Me: “Did you lose weight though?”
Betty: “Yes, for a while but then I hit a plateau and couldn’t be bothered with it anymore.”
This – or a variant of it – might sound familiar to a lot of dieters around the world. It’s not even that calories restriction is a bad thing.
If anything, the only way to lose weight through dieting is to eat less calories than you use up. Energy in vs Energy out.
The first problem is the concept of weight loss, and what you think you are losing.
What Have You Lost?
Weight is a unit of measurement. You stand on scales and the needle or display gives you a number.
If it’s less than the last time you stood on the scales then you’ve lost weight and you are happy – right?
Let’s for a minute assume that you have covered all variables first: you are weighing yourself at the same time of day every time…your scales are accurate…your floor is level…you are naked or in underwear…you haven’t drunk a large amount of fluid compared with last time…you’re not pregnant…you are on planet Earth…you’re not holding a large helium balloon and you aren’t holding the dog.
So, what is the weight you have lost?
Weight! you idiot, I’ve just lost…weight! (pfff. this guy)
That’s odd, because anything that has mass (which is everything…well, everything that matters to someone on a diet) has weight because of gravity.
Please excuse the lesson in obviousness, but some people simply do not understand the fact that we are comprised of many different types of matter, and that when they say they want to lose weight; what they mean 99% of the time – is fat.
The main things we can lose when we go on a diet are:
- muscle tissue
- bone density
Okay the last one only happens if we are getting it really wrong.
Now, let’s ask the question again: what weight have you lost?
The Benefits of High Protein Diets
The most unfortunate result from a diet is the loss of muscle mass and water and the retention of the fat we are trying to get rid of.
Your body is a smart organism, and if it feels threatened in anyway, you’d better believe it has a response lined up.
One of these responses happens during a period of calorie restriction. The brain commands the body, of that we are certain. However, no-one has yet told me why the brain never lets the body know what the weight loss plan is.
Cutting calories invariably leads to results, but if you keep eating the same things – just less of it – muscle mass will be used for energy as well as fat.
The results can be a lot more dramatic if the intake of protein is low during the calorie restriction phase.
In contrast, raising the protein intake as a percentage of the whole diet while still reducing calorie intake slightly slows the rate of total weight loss but can preserve lean (muscle) mass by twice as much. Even better, fat reduction is greater.
An Example Please
One study – of which there are many more – showed the effect extremely well.
The subjects underwent a 500kcal restriction for a year. One group consumed 1.6g protein (per kg of bodyweight) and the other group just 0.8g.
Overall weight loss was the same for both groups on average (about 10kg over the year).
The difference was in the loss of fat mass. Here’s the results:
- High protein group: lost average of 14.3% fat.
- Low protein group: lost average of 9.3% fat
An important point here is that the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8g/kg in the western countries where obesity is a pandemic.
(study ref. Evans EM(1), Mojtahedi MC, Thorpe MP, Valentine RJ, Kris-Etherton PM, Layman DK – Effects of protein intake and gender on body composition changes: a randomized clinical weight loss trial – Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jun 12;9(1):55. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-55
We can make a loose recommendation based on studies like these. Everyone is different though and metabolic rates vary, so it is a good idea to consult a physician to get your body mass index and base metabolic rate.
Taking the amount of calories that would give you a deficit you are comfortable with, you can then make sure about 30% of them are from high quality protein.
If you find out your lean mass value then you can eat about 1g protein per lb (pound) of lean mass.