What should you eat for weight loss?

When it comes to figuring out what to eat for weight loss, the most important factor is eating less. When you consume less calories than you spend you will lose weight and the diet that helps you lose weight best will be the one that allows you to consume less calories without causing much distress or lethargy. The key is to pick a diet that you can adhere to.


Your bodyweight depends on your total caloric intake more than on your macronutrient ratios (how many of your calories come from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and alcohol). Increased caloric intake as an independent variable is more than sufficient to explain the current obesity epidemic,[1] without the need to find a scapegoat, such as high-fructose corn syrup.[2]

A trial in a controlled setting (a metabolic ward) compared several isocaloric diets composed of 15% protein, 15-85% carbohydrate, and 0-70% fat. It concluded that caloric restriction, not macronutrient ratios, determined weight loss.[3] Comparing low- and high-carbohydrate diets over 6 weeks[4] and 12 weeks[5] led to the same conclusion, as did comparing a low-fat/high-protein diet with a high-fat/standard-protein diet.[6]

Another trial in a metabolic ward noted that, in healthy individuals overeating for 8 weeks, caloric intake alone accounted for the increase in body fat. However, caloric expenditure, total weight, and lean mass increased with protein as a percentage of caloric intake.[7] In contrast, a previous study on the impact of protein on weight loss had noted that women lost as much weight on a high-protein diet as on a high-carb diet, but that subjects with high triglycerides lost more fat on the high-protein diet.[8]

In people suffering from hyperinsulinemia,[9][10][11] insulin resistance,[12] or type-2 diabetes,[13][14][15][16] the results are mostly the same: Caloric restriction, not macronutrient ratios, leads to weight loss. Two studies noted, however, that lean mass was better preserved in women (but not men) on a high-protein diet,[10][16] and one study did find a greater weight loss (nearly entirely from fat) in the high-protein group (men and women).[11]

In conclusion, losing weight requires a negative energy balance,[17] which can be obtained by eating less, as we have seen, but also by exercising more.[18][19]

Independent of your diet’s macronutrient ratios, a negative energy balance (consuming fewer calories than your body needs) is responsible for weight loss.

But what about the magic of fad diets?

Many diets, fad or not, do work. This is mainly because they reduce calories.

Several diets restrict your carbohydrate intake. The ketogenic diet is very high in fats, low in proteins, and very low in carbohydrates. The Atkins diet is high in fats, high in proteins, and very low in carbohydrates. The “paleo diet” (hunter-gatherer diet) is high in fats, high in proteins, and low in carbohydrates.

Fats and proteins digest more slowly than carbohydrates, so are more satiating. In addition, most diets (including the three already mentioned) recommend the consumption of foods that are less calorie-dense (more fibers and a higher water content: a pound of broccoli packs less calories than a pound of grains). Finally, carbohydrates participate in the synthesis of serotonin, which can cause cravings in some obese individuals.

You can also refer to our page on how much protein you need per day to figure out the exact number.

Therefore, people on a low-carb diets lose weight because they naturally eat less and avoid the large binges caused by carbohydrate cravings. People on very-low-carb diets can also lose weight very quickly on the short term because the depletion of their glycogen stores leads to the excretion of bound water. That explains why two trials found that people on a low-carb diet had lost more weight than people on a low-fat diet after 6 months but not 12.[20]

Consuming your macronutrients together (balanced diet) or separately (dissociated diet, also known as “food combining”) makes no difference with regard to weight or fat loss.[21]

Since prolonged fasting might increase heat expenditure, diets that manipulate fasting (Intermittent Fasting, Alternate Day Fasting) may have some benefits on the “calories out” side of things. Yet, even here, weight lost is mostly due to the fact that you control eating: It is much harder to overeat in 8 hours than in 16.

Finally, it doesn’t matter when or how many times you eat every day.

A worthwhile read is a major study that showed a low-fat versus a low-carb diet did not matter for weight loss.

For more information on what you need to eat for weight loss, see our Fat Loss Stacks page.

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3.^Leibel RL, Hirsch J, Appel BE, Checani GCEnergy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet compositionAm J Clin Nutr.(1992 Feb)
4.^Golay A, Allaz AF, Morel Y, de Tonnac N, Tankova S, Reaven GSimilar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate dietsAm J Clin Nutr.(1996 Feb)
5.^Golay A, Eigenheer C, Morel Y, Kujawski P, Lehmann T, de Tonnac NWeight-loss with low or high carbohydrate dietInt J Obes Relat Metab Disord.(1996 Dec)
6.^Luscombe-Marsh ND, Noakes M, Wittert GA, Keogh JB, Foster P, Clifton PMCarbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipidsAm J Clin Nutr.(2005 Apr)
7.^Bray GA, Smith SR, de Jonge L, Xie H, Rood J, Martin CK, Most M, Brock C, Mancuso S, Redman LMEffect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trialJAMA.(2012 Jan 4)
11.^Brinkworth GD, Noakes M, Keogh JB, Luscombe ND, Wittert GA, Clifton PMLong-term effects of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet on weight control and cardiovascular risk markers in obese hyperinsulinemic subjectsInt J Obes Relat Metab Disord.(2004 May)
12.^McLaughlin T, Carter S, Lamendola C, Abbasi F, Yee G, Schaaf P, Basina M, Reaven GEffects of moderate variations in macronutrient composition on weight loss and reduction in cardiovascular disease risk in obese, insulin-resistant adultsAm J Clin Nutr.(2006 Oct)
20.^Astrup A, Meinert Larsen T, Harper AAtkins and other low-carbohydrate diets: hoax or an effective tool for weight lossLancet.(2004 Sep 4-10)
21.^Golay A, Allaz AF, Ybarra J, Bianchi P, Saraiva S, Mensi N, Gomis R, de Tonnac NSimilar weight loss with low-energy food combining or balanced dietsInt J Obes Relat Metab Disord.(2000 Apr)