Fat loss is basically all about creating a calorie deficit, right? We have been told for years together by experts, including a recent trial published in the revered New England Journal of Medicine, that fat loss can be established with a caloric deficit, and the individual macronutrient component of the diet is immaterial. In other words, whether you do low carb or low fat, you should be fine when running an energy deficit.
Many experts in the field of nutrition, especially the whistle-blowers of traditional nutrition (like Gary Taubes, for example) disagree vehemently. According to them, this is one of the sinister myths of conventional ‘wisdom’. Obesity is not the result of overeating, but the cause of overeating. This has been memorably exemplified in the movie Fathead. Check this link.
According to this school, if you eat carbohydrates, the resultant insulin spike causes fat deposition, and further cravings for sugars that leads to overeating. Therefore, obesity causes overeating. It is synonymous that carb consumption causes obesity.
The low carb school of nutrition advocates consumption of natural fats and proteins ad libitum, and avoiding even fruits (except occasionally, perhaps). On this diet, you don’t need to count calories, and you will lose fat even if you exceed your caloric requirement. How, you ask? In the absence of carbohydrates and insulin, how does the body fuel itself? You got it–adipose tissue, aka fat (a process called gluconeogenesis).
There are lots of people who have got impressive results with a low carb lifestyle. The more extreme low carb votaries advocate a ketogenic (meaning nearly zero carb) status as a matter of permanence.
So, for the average Joe or Jane seeking to shed 10 lbs (or 100, for that matter) of blubber, should one go low carb or should one tie down calories?
If you can go low carb, go for it! If you find it difficult (I, for one, can’t forego my mangoes, litchis or jackfruits in the insanely hot Indian summers), eat carbs, but stay clear of processed sources of these. No noodles, pastas, chips, etc., if you want to eat healthy carbs/sugars from fruits or the odd Bengali sandesh (made from dairy).
In this kind of scenario, keep your caloric intake down below your requirement. Be warned, however, that cutting carbs is the easiest way to earn a caloric deficit. If your carb count climbs up, so does your caloric count!
If I don’t eat sweets or fruits like mangoes, keeping a carb intake down to less than 100 grams per day is easy. On fasting days, it is as low as 50 grams. If you want to get it even lower (to ketogenic levels) then you need to avoid dairy. For Indians and vegetarians, dairy is a major source of nutrition, especially proteins.
Even though I agree largely with the Paleo outlook, I continue to enjoy verboten foods like sugary fruits and dairy. To me, therefore, a Paleo lifestyle is a major guide, but not a religion.
I go low carb on three days a week (when I fast and my carb/calorie intake is consciously and naturally low), and high carb on the other days. However, I should repeat that high carb for me does not mean I eat processed foods or more than bare minimal amounts of grains. Even on my high carb days I don’t reach near the recommended 300 grams per day. Most of my sources of carbs are dairy and fruits.
To sum up: if you can go low carb, do so by all means. If you can’t, keep the calories down! Exercise is one way of increasing your caloric deficit, though a relatively minor one.
At the day’s end, suit your fat loss method to what you will be able to sustain for a lifetime!