Over the last year I’ve written several articles about how to lose weight, what the studies show works and what they show doesn’t work. I figured it was time to put all that content together in to a single article that makes clear actionable recommendations. First, let’s just get one thing straight – the most commonly offered advice, to eat less and exercise more, doesn’t work. At least not for the vast majority of people.
When people begin the “eat less, exercise more” diet they quickly start to feel like they’re starving to death. At the same time, their metabolism slows to a crawl, which results in much less weight loss than would be predicted based on how much less they’re eating. It’s only a matter of time before they break down, and when they do, they’re likely to end up weighing even more than they did to begin with.
A successful weight loss diet isn’t one where you’re consciously counting calories and just eating less of the things you were eating before. It’s one where you completely overhaul what you’re eating. There are two different ways in which this can be done, both of which work. The first is to significantly increase protein intake. The second is to significantly increase fibre intake. Both work. If I wanted to lose weight rapidly, I’d do both simultaneously.
Earlier this year I decided to do a personal experiment with switching from the paleo-ish diet that I normally follow to the pure animal product carnivore diet, just to see what would happen. What this meant in practice was cutting down dietary fibre from around 50 grams per day to less than 10 grams per day (by getting rid of all the berries, nuts, and vegetables I was eating), while increasing protein from around 17% of total calories to 30% (by eating more meat). What happened?
Actually, I rapidly gained weight, from 73 kilograms to start to 80 kg around a month later, which is more than I’ve ever weighed (although still within the limits of what would be considered “normal weight”). Considering that I’m normally stable at 73 kilograms with little variation up or down, this was a pretty profound change and could only be explained by the change in diet. The weight remained stable at 80 kg for a few months, until I reintroduced fibre, at which point it dropped down again.
That is of course entirely anecdotal evidence from my self-experimentation, so the findings should be taken with a grain of salt, but it showed me how much of an impact fibre has on body weight, which would explain why people in cultures with traditionally very low intakes of protein, such as the people of Okinawa and the Kitavans, can still be slim. It suggested to me that fibre might actually be the more powerful of the two levers to pull on. That would be an interesting topic for future research.
That being said, there is no reason to do just one or the other when you can do both at the same time (unless you have some gastrointestinal issue and aren’t able to tolerate high fibre foods, or you’re vegan, say, and therefore can’t access the densest sources of protein – in that case it should be perfectly possible to achieve success by just doing one or the other, it might just take a little longer to get where you’re going).
So anyway, there are two levers you can pull on if you’re overweight and your goal is to lose weight. Most people in the western world have a low protein intake, at around 12 to 14% of total calories. They simultaneously have a low fibre intake, at around 15 to 20 grams per day. If you’re currently normal weight and you want to avoid gaining weight over time then you can probably get away with going low on one, but you can’t go low on both.
People with functioning kidneys can safely get as much as 30-40% of total calories from protein, which if you’re overweight will result in rapid weight loss. The average person can also easily increase fibre intake to 50 grams per day without negative consequences, although the fibre intake should be increased gradually, over the course of a few weeks, or there is likely to be some stomach pain and diarrhoea while the body adjusts to the increased fibre.
There is one class of food that is particularly detrimental to body weight, and that is refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are low in both protein and fibre, and they are therefore optimally designed to make you gain weight. Pure fats, such as butter and oils, are also low in both protein and fibre, and intake of them should therefore also be kept to a minimum.
Note that I’m not saying you should necessarily eat a low fat diet. What I’m saying is that you should limit intake of pure fats if your goal is to lose weight rapidly. A little butter in the frying pan is fine, but eating a stick of butter isn’t.
In light of all of this, an optimal weight loss plan has three pillars.
- Increase protein intake to 30-40% of total calories.
- Increase dietary fibre to at least 50 grams per day.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and pure fats.
If you’re overweight and you do all these three things, then the excess weight will rapidly come off. You don’t have to feel like you’re starving. And you don’t have to count calories. You just have to make sure you’re getting sufficient protein and fibre.
Here are some examples of foods that are high in protein:
Tuna (85% of calories)
Chicken breast (75% of calories)
Cottage cheese (70% of calories)
Low-fat Greek yogurt (70% of calories)
Beef steak (50% of calories)
Soybean (50% of calories)
Pork chop (45% of calories)
And here are some examples of foods that are high in fibre:
Cauliflower (16 grams per 100 calories)
Raspberries (13 grams per 100 calories)
Broccoli (12 grams per 100 calories)
Spinach (10 grams per 100 calories)
Asparagus (9 grams per 100 calories)
Cabbage (8 grams per 100 calories)
Strawberries (6 grams per 100 calories)
Chickpeas (5 grams per 100 calories)
Kiwi (5 grams per 100 calories)
Avocado (5 grams per 100 calories)
Blueberries (4 grams per 100 calories)
Sweet potato (4 grams per 100 calories)
And here’s a list of foods that should be avoided like the plague if your goal is to lose weight rapidly:
Anything with added sugar
There are many different ways you can eat that will accomplish the dietary goals of getting at least 30% of calories from protein and at least 50 grams of fibre. If you, for example, get 50% of calories from high protein foods and 50% of calories from high fibre foods, then both goals should be fulfilled without too much difficulty. Here’s just one example of what a daily meal plan might look like:
Breakfast: Low fat Greek yogurt with blueberries and raspberries
Lunch: Chicken breast, sweet potato, and broccoli
Snack: Cottage cheese
Dinner: Steak, sweet potato, and asparagus
(I hope you like sweet potato!)
Don’t attempt to limit overall portion size. Eat as much as you need to in order to feel satisfied at each meal.
Just as a final clarification, if you’re already at your ideal weight, then you don’t need to go up as high as 30% of total calories from protein or 50 grams of fibre. You can get away with less of both without gaining weight. This is for people who are overweight and want to lose weight rapidly.
That’s it. No need to read anything further on the topic of weight loss. Just follow this advice. I hope this is helpful to people. If you decide to try part or all of this, then let me know how it goes!