How is a carb counting diet any better than a calorie counting diet?

My basic feeling regarding low carb diets is that, generally, low carb, low sugar foods don’t have a lot of calories. A big old slab of steak really doesn’t have that many calories. But eating steak and lettuce wrapped this and that gets pretty old, pretty fast. The amount of “bad stuff” you can eat while still adhering to basic principles of the diet is pretty small.

This, of course, completely falls apart if you find something you absolutely love and can eat endless amounts of with 0 carbs/0 sugar. For me, that is smoked barbecue pork rinds. I know, disgusting right? I never had pork rinds before and would have thought so too. But goddamn, you get the right brand and flavor, and it’s just like eating potato chips, maybe even better! I can down a bag of those with ease and that’s 540 calories for a medium sized 3 oz. bag right there. Eat a few of those a day along with 3 balanced approved meals and you’re toast!

I’m sure that’s not the only delicacy out there, it’s just the first one I’ve found. Genoa salami is pretty good too, but I can get sick of that after a while.

Are low carb diets just a gimmick?

All I can say is that I tried calorie restricted and fat restricted food plans for decades and all I could manage was to keep my weight about the same while my blood glucose went up to the “pre-diabetic” range. So I cut out most of the carbs in my diet back in April, I eat a lot and never feel hungry and I’ve lost fifteen pounds. So there’s an anecdatum for you.

Well, for me, it was a smashing success for the first week or so, where I lost 10 pounds and suspect was 90% water weight. I also strangely had what I can only describe as sugar withrawls as I ached all over and barely wanted to get out of bed for 3 straight days. My weight has steadily gone up since then, and I project that I will surpass my starting weight in less than a week. My cravings for sweets has gone down, but my appetite hasn’t. At all.

Ultimately, all that matters is Calories in minus Calories out. But that’s not all there is to diet advice, for two reasons. First, “Calories out” depends on a lot more than just what people think of as exercise. You’re burning Calories all day by doing whatever it is you do, and the rate at which you do so can be affected by what you’re eating. With the wrong diet, you’re going to feel sluggish and naturally tend to move around and do other things that burn Calories less.

Second, most people find it difficult and uncomfortable to restrict the number of Calories they eat. If the only foods you’re allowed to eat all make you miserable, you’re likely to cheat, and eat more Calories than you should. But if you can find low-Calorie foods that you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick to your diet, and a diet only works while you’re on it.

For at least some people, a low-carb diet makes it easier for them to stay active, and to stick to the diet. In those cases, it’ll work. For others, that won’t be the case, and so it won’t work.

If you have a calorie deficit, 2 things (or a hybrid of various degrees) can happen: 1) your energy levels go down 2) your body digs into its energy reserves.

High blood sugar spikes insulin and high insulin puts the body into energy storage mode. Hence why people often feel fatigued after a meal.
Raising insulin + calorie deficit can be particularly energy-sapping.

If you have a caloric deficit combined with low blood sugar, the initial adaptation might be rough but after a while, your energy levels will go up. Basal metabolic rate actually goes up in the first few days of fasting.

A pretty good explanation, it’s half an hour but will be pretty comprehensive,:

If that’s too long, you can find shorter versions if you search for “Jason Fung” in Youtube

A diet with the right calories and a lower proportion of carbs may be better, I don’t know. But if you cut the carbs and also significantly increase the calories, you’re merely trading one problem for another.

Thanks. I can certainly get behind the idea that less sugar = better in almost any circumstance. I’m still skeptical about the actual weight loss aspect, but I’ve only been at it for a month or so.

According to some recent studies (referenced in this NY Times article:, the best diet is the one you can stick to.

So, high carb or high fat diets both seem to work as long as you keep your overall calories lower. Simply counting carbs without any thought of portion size, calories, and so on, probably won’t help you lose or maintain weight, but this is GQ and I’m not a dietitian and can’t cite that.

No, not necessarily. The thing that makes a diet successful is how well people can stick with it. For many people, severely limiting their carbs can reduce cravings and uncontrolled overeating. Typically, your body eventually gets tired of eating fats and proteins, but carbs don’t trigger that full feeling as much. Consider the difference between how much straight butter (100% fat) you can eat versus the amount of ice cream you can eat (fat + sugar). So someone may keep drinking soda after soda, roll after roll, etc. and ingest a lot of calories.

Calorie counting would also work, but most people would struggle with the willpower necessary. They would eat more than they should and eventually give up the diet altogether. In practice, it often works better to severely restrict a whole category of foods that are a major part of cravings (carbs) rather than try to eat all foods but a reduced amount.

So it’s not necessarily that carbs are evil, but rather that our biological systems sabotage our motivation. Carbs are a high-value reward, and our bodies make us crave them. By severely limiting them, we can reduce those cravings and not feel the need to eat as much.

An addendum to my previous post is that I already had fairly healthy eating habits established–I cook, I plan meals, I really like my veggies and infinitely prefer whole grain seedy bread over tasteless spongy white bread. My big problem was having to be put on warfarin for a health problem, which comes with a restriction on green leafy veggies that make your blood more clotty–so I started restricting those, that lost me a big source of bulky filling food that got replaced by empty carbs and things went downhill for a few years. I had to do some fancy footwork to make my meds match up with my vitamin K intake but things seem to have stabilized nicely. Oh, and my blood glucose is back in normal range.

I get that being addicted to things like chips is hard to break, but my solution was to substitute pistachio nuts for chips and salty high carb snacks and fresh fruit for cake and pie and cookies. Plus, I’ve gotten fiendishly inventive about making low carb replacements for high carb snacks, like coconut oil “fudge” sweetened with erythritol and no bake cheesecake filling with no cal sweetener to make into parfaits with my fruit. I’m starting to experiment with baking using almond flour (three net carbs per oz, amazing!) and using almond flour for gravy and the like. It’s a bit more of a time commitment, but it works for me and I’m finding the higher fat diet tends to make me satiated quicker so I don’t just sit down with a giant bag of Pirate’s Booty and eat the whole fucking thing, which wasn’t unheard of before I got my diet straightened out.

It’s kind of scary when you go through the supermarket and realize just how many aisles are basically completely off limits to a low carb food plan. All that sugar and starch, it’s mind boggling.

Sugar dumps into the blood stream (via carbs, especially those up on the glycemic index), and insulin levels go up.

Then it all comes down. You’re insulin spiked to manage the sugar dump; they both crashed and…

Now you’re a food zombie. This is where the mind’s surrendering of free will makes itself known. This is what makes sane people – whose weight and diet pose life threats – rise from the couch and proceed to eat again, because they did not create chemistry, via food types consumed, that satiated them.

By consuming carbs, and experiencing the sugar-insulin cycle, they have ratcheted up their hunger drive to the point that they basically are a food zombie.

All calories are not equal. Eat more protein and fat, fewer carbs and get only good carbs (veggies, nuts, beans) and you will be satiated (have self control) and not surrender free will (to be a food zombie).

Sugar drives hunger. It makes you surrender your free will (what we call ‘will power’ when it comes to eating).


Some years back when I was trying to lose weight, I went on Atkins. I lost 4 pounds (water weight) in the first three days, and then nothing, even though I followed the diet to the letter.

I called Atkins. The rep advised me to cut down on meat. “At Atkins, we say, ‘Don’t count calories, but calories do count.’” The book had said, “Eat to your heart’s content” of the approved foods.

YMMV, but it was not a sustainable diet for me.

That is wrong. Since you’re linking to other info, you can read this:

Jason Fung is a quack.

FWIW, I’ve lost 55 pounds (so far) on a low-carb diet (plus exercise).

I did provide a tl;dr version in addition to linking to other info instead of saying “wrong, read these 4 pages”. Would you have the same courtesy?

No, you didn’t. You linked to a 36 minute video and said shorter version are on YouTube.

You don’t have to read 4 pages, but they are informative and written by someone with a Master’s degree in Nutrition and a second Master’s degree in Exercise Science and is highly respected among his peers in the world of nutrition such as Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon. He has co-authored several peer-reviewed, journal published studies in the field of nutrition. Sorry I’m not being “courteous” enough to tell you to Google for condensed versions.


All of what I’ve said may be inaccurate and Fung may indeed be a quack. I guess I’ll know when I have enough time to read 4 links without much indication of what’s in them.

I remember eating 6 donuts which was about 2000 calories. I can’t imagine eating 2000 calories of steak without feeling nauseous.

Going low sugar for a while, I realized that what I thought of as hunger wasn’t really hunger, it was sugar craving. Refined sugar should be conceived of in much the same way as alcohol; Something you have once in a while for fun or as flavor enhancement but terrible as a habit.

Vegetables and fruits do contain sugar but the fiber they contain slows down the absorption of sugar, thus not spiking insulin.

The unfortunate thing is that realizing the benefits of low/no sugar requires going through sugar withdrawal which is difficult not to give in to given how tempting and readily available it is.

While we’re still in GQ, I feel that it’s important to stress again that, in a pretty good scientific study (referenced in the NY Times link above), low carb and low fat were both pretty equal in terms of losing weight. The best diet is the one you can stick to, so if you’re better with a low carb diet, do that.

However, just counting and minimizing carbs without any thought to calories (eating a bag of pork rinds, for example) is probably not going to lead to weight loss.

These anecdotes are interesting, but seem better suited to IMHO, although that’s of course up to a moderator.

However, I would like to see a real scientific cite that “sugar withdrawal” is a real thing.

You really should read those links before posting.