The Diet That Actually Helps Keeps the Weight Off

A new study explains the science behind why many diets only work short term.

Research shows that maintaining a moderate-carbohydrate diet is the best way to keep the weight off. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Here’s the problem with plenty of popular weight-loss diets: They may shed those pesky pounds in the short term—but long term is a whole other story.

Once someone has lost a significant amount of weight, the real work involves keeping it off. It doesn’t help that long-term weight loss is not often a strong point for many diets, and it continues to be a frustrating health problem with the increasing prevalence of obesity.

So is there a diet out there that can keep our waistlines slim after we’ve, well, dieted?

Yes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers wanted to study the effect of one’s diet on energy expenditure after weight loss. Energy expenditure is the amount of energy a person uses to digest food and be active, among other things. When our energy expenditure is reduced, we gain weight.

A group of overweight and obese adults with an average age of 30 were randomly assigned to one of three diets after losing 10 to 15 percent of their bodyweight. The diets consisted of a low-fat diet, a moderate carbohydrate diet, and a very low-carb diet that was modeled after Atkins.

After four weeks, researchers tested the participants’ energy expenditure, hormone levels, and metabolism. The energy expenditure levels decreased the most under the low-fat diet and decreased the least with the Atkins-like diet. Those on the Atkins-like diet also experienced greatest improvements to their metabolism. That’s good news for the very low-carb diet, but there was a catch:

Those on the very low-carb diet experienced higher levels of the hormone cortisol, or stress. High stress levels are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Those participants also showed signs of inflammation throughout the body.

Sure enough, the phrase “everything in moderation” held true in this study, since the moderate carbohydrate diet proved to increase metabolism and maintain moderate levels of energy expenditure—without the scary side effects of the very low-carb diet.

Worth noting: The moderate diet involved a daily intake of 40 percent carbs, 20 percent fat, and 20 percent protein.

The full study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association