IIFYL: ’Fit your diet to how you live, not the other way around.’
This meta-analysis concludes “Trials show weight loss in the short-term irrespective of whether the diet is low CHO or balanced. There is probably little or no difference in weight loss and changes in cardiovascular risk factors up to two years of follow-up”.
So the short answer is no: There is no clear physiological advantage for fat loss. As you know, ‘it’s any calories‘. Problem solved?
Not quite… not only is there no advantage: there is a clear disadvantage in adherence and general unpleasantness. There’s a much wider impetus behind this question: If it’s harder, it must be better, right?
The ‘hardcore’ side of the fitness industry plays on this, and likes to weave a layer of masochism and impatience into restrictive diets and extreme training plans. The goal being to FEEL like you’ve worked hard, independent of the efficiency of results (we’re sure you can name a few popular fitness fads that operate on this basis).
This contrasts with our approach, which is absolutely not about ‘feeling the burn’, and instead distilling the most efficient inputs for results. This should clarify things a little:
We have two friends, Angus and Barbara:
A: Angus S. Peppered: Follows a mixed macro diet with restricted calories. Eats sufficient protein and micronutrients, but his calories mainly come from pizza, donuts, pastries and cake, within the macronutrient parameters. Angus adheres about 80% to his diet, frequently eating out.
B: Barbara Cue: Follows a zero-carb, paleo, and generally more restrictive diet. She gets sufficient protein, micronutrients and EFAs, but is meticulously adherent to her fixed meal frequency, and only eats ‘clean’ food choices. She hammers the cardio, never cheats on her diet, and turns down social invitations because the restaurants aren’t paleo enough.
Now EVEN IF Barbara loses fat faster – how much faster would it be? 5%? 10%? Even 20%?
Most extreme case, that would mean in approximately 8 weeks, Barbara would be as lean as Angus would get in 10 weeks.
How much does that (maximum) 20% extra speed mean to you? How do you think Angus and Bob’s quality of lives differ over the 8-10 week period?
While Angus barely feels like he’s dieting, Barbara is developing diet neuroses, painstakingly aware of every organic mouthful.
What are the implications of more dietary freedom at the expense of slower fat loss? You could go out for social events without bringing your own meals or abstaining, you can buy a sandwich for lunch (good luck finding a paleo, low-carb lunch on the high street).
The decision depends on 3 variables:
– Cost: What you’re willing to sacrifice (restraint, schedule, convenience)
– Benefit from that sacrifice (e.g. making weight for a competition)
– Your personal level of masochism.
Three levels of masochism:
2) Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: If you are happy to go all guns blazing and get lean at the potential cost of mild strength loss, then an approach like carb nite with some HIIT would work well. Low carb diets do have other benefits, and some individuals may adhere better to them. Some twisted folk even LIKE it. As a result, we sometimes use low carb diets with clients as part of our inventory in getting people lean, but it’s not our favoured approach.
3) PSMF: One step further for those with the most extreme masochistic disposition – there is a remaining option of a highly restrictive, rapid fat loss diet such as a protein sparing modified fast (PSMF). Lyle McDonald has clients doing this for bursts of 7-10 days when they are averse to long periods of dieting. If you’re happy to sacrifice a small amount of muscle, have a strong willpower, and ‘just want it all to be over with’, this approach may be preferable.
Unless you’re preparing for a specific event with a tight deadline, then follow a dietary approach that can easily drift into the background and get lean without counting the days and suffering.