What is the better diet?

First of all, I don’t subscribe to a blind adherence to weight gain = (calories eaten - calories burned)/3600. While that may be a good guide, there are metabolism issues (hormones, plateaux, “starvation mode”, lean vs. fat mass, etc.) to account for.

Let’s say I want to lose 50-100 pounds. I currently eat 4000 calories per day that with fiber and water weight works out to 4 pounds of food. I am willing to either eat less or eat a healthier diet but not both. I decide to eat 3000 calories per day which I can do by either eating 75% of the crap I eat now (3 lbs of food) or continue to eat 4 lbs of food substituting 250g of protein/carbs for fat in my previous diet.

Of these two choices, which will cause me to lose weight faster? Which is healthier? Is there a correlation between a healthy diet and weight loss because of metabolism even if the number of calories is the same in both diets?

Neither, I’d imagine. 3000 calories is a lot of food.

Whether you subscribe to the calorie in calorie out theory or not, it’s a pretty good one. No, it’s not perfect because, as you say, other things matter too - but none matter nearly as much as that basic calorie count. Perhaps when you’re fine-tuning for your athletic career when close to your desired weight, sure, get all hyper-scientific about it. Until then, calories-in-calories-out is a very good basis.

I know everybody has opinions on this, but, for me, it truly was calories in - calories out when I lost 40 pounds. (The math corresponded almost exactly to my weight loss–I know this is apparently not the case for everyone.) The trick was keeping sated on a reduced calorie diet. I did reduce carbs to about 50% of my calories, but that helped in satiety–I really do find that protein and fat helps keep you feeling full longer than refined carbs, at least. The total volume/weight of food I ate was probably the same or more than before my diet–I substituted all the high calorie carbs with lots and lots of vegetable I enjoy: spinach, broccoli, cabbage, squash, peppers, eggplant, etc. By centering my diet around vegetables accompanied by a protein, I found that I was able to eat as much or more than I used to, while still accomplishing a reduced calorie goal. (I personally went for a 500 calorie deficit, along with 500 calories worth of exercise–about a 5-mile run each day. I lost at the rate of 2 or slightly more pounds per week.)

Reduce to 75% of your calorie count. There is no discussion beyond that given the choices.

I agree, but I think that eating a healthier diet will generally come with reduced calories, too. So despite the OP’s statement that he would be willing to eat less or healthier, but not both, I think he would eat “less,” in terms of calorie count, if he were to eat healthier.

He’s thinking in terms of “pounds of food.” The eat less/eat better options are the two ways given for eating fewer calories.

Well, everything is calories in calories out. All that bullshit about starvation mode, differing metabolisms and et cetera is just a way of saying “knowing exactly how many calories you’re burning is not possible with super high precision, before ever starting on a weight loss regimen.” There are lots of formulas that for most people will be within 10-20% of being right, but at the end of the day there is a very good way to learn what your “calories burned” number is.

My philosophy is that if you’re seriously over weight, meaning you have a BMI over 30, > 40" waist circumference (for men of average height and below), have more than 30% body fat or one of those measures, you need to cut calories right now. You need to lose weight right now.

Something I’ve found with a lot of dieters in this internet age is that people get obsessed with crafting the perfect diet plan. They will spend weeks or months comparing every different technique, strategy, a hundred different websites will offer to track calories for you and et cetera.

However, the truth of the matter is, if you’re seriously overweight, every day you spend seriously overweight is hurting your body. No matter your age, you get healthier every day you’re reducing that weight. Lots of diets can cause health problems, and really any serious fat loss is just slow starvation and carries some negative health impact. However, the danger of continuing to carry large amounts of fat (meaning you’re one of the seriously overweight people) outweighs any of those concerns and you need to start reducing your fat now.

If you’re in that category of seriously over weight (and you’re male), eat 2,000 calories a day. Do it for a month, and weigh yourself every single day at the exact same time every day. When you’re done, look into how to calculate a “weighted moving average” for your weight, this will smooth out the weight variations that outright mystify most people. One of the things that causes people a lot of problems on diets is the scale. The human body moves a lot more weight through it in the form of liquids and solids that get “passed right on through” than it will be losing in actual fat. So what this means is something like 80 times the amount of fat you’re losing in a single day is being passed through your body every single day. What that means is, don’t obsess over the scale because each weigh in only measures a snapshot of your weight, it doesn’t measure how fat you are (unless it’s one of those impedence scales, but even that’s just a rough measure.)

Once you’ve been dieting on a 2,000 calorie a day diet for 30 days, you just need to look at your weight loss trend (using weighted moving average) and you can see how much weight you’ve lost. Divided the amount of weight you’ve lost by the number of days you’ve lost, and convert that number to calories (so if you’ve lost .20 lbs a day, multiply that number by 3500), you now know, in an average month how many calories you burn every single day.

If you’re one of those people in the “seriously over weight” category 2,000 calories a day will work out to probably around 6 lbs of weight loss over a single month, more if you aren’t sedentary.

This 30 day period will teach you everything you need to know about how much you personally are burning. If you find out you’re burning 2700 a day, then keep with that 2000 calorie a day diet until you notice the weight loss slowing (it will, the lighter you get generally the less you burn.) If you find out you’re burning 3200 a day or something (not impossible, if you’re moderately active and also heavy) then you may want to consider moving your intake up a little bit. Personally I think it’s easier to stick with it if you limit yourself to 2 lbs of weight loss a week, which is 1,000 calories deficit per day. Over 2lbs I’ve heard is not recommended by medical professionals.

I see, so eat 3000 calories either by eating a lesser weight of food, or by eating the same weight of food, but healthier (and thus reducing calories that way?) It really shouldn’t matter much, but I suspect the latter method would be easier to maintain (at least in my case it was.)

Basically on average a person needs 11 calories per pound to maintain their weight.

So if I want to weigh 175 pounds that is about 1,925 calories per day.

This is why it’s so tough to lose weight. If you’re a tiny woman like five feet and should weigh around 100 pounds you need about 100 X 11 or 1,100 calories a day to live.

That’s not a lot of food.

Once you realize food is fuel it becomes easier to do this.

As for diets there are two real phases the first is getting the weight off. This is easy for most people. The tough part is changing your eating habits to KEEP it off.

I actually think the Atkins Diet is a good diet to take weight off. It works, why? Because you eat less. Studies have shown it becomes monotonous and people eat less. It’s also VERY easy to follow.

Atkins is not for everyone, if you have kidney problems for example, but it does work in the short term to get the weight off.

Then the hard part comes, you need to find a way to change your eating so you keep it off.

This is the hard part and there’s no good answer for everyone, 'cause it’s different. You need to find what can work for you. And then DO it. And if you fail, so what? Just try again.

Note that you are only discussing half of this – calories eaten. To effectively lose weight, you need to adjust the other side – calories burned. That means more exercise.

In fact, many times changes in exercise are the key to the next step, keeping the weight off. Many times you can make minor adjustments to your routine that increase the amount of physical exercise that you get each day, in ways that are easy to continue to do after you have lost weight. Like always parking your car at the far end of the parking lot, where there are empty parking spaces on either side (thus less chance of door dings on your car); or whenever going only 1 or 2 floors, using the stairs instead of the crowded elevator.

Whichever one you can stay on for 365 days in a row without exception, using the lowest possible amount of willpower.

Diets (and exercise plans) need to be EASY. It needs to be a plan you can stick to the day your mom tells you she has cancer, the day your dog dies, when you are on business trips, on your birthday, after a 16 hour workday, when company comes. I’m a huge fan of self-control, and I spent YEARS thinking weight loss was all about being tough, about being strong, about atoning for the sin of being fat with enough suffering to equal out past indulgence. But it isn’t any of that. It’s just biology, and the most important thing is consistency. So you need a plan that is easy, easy, easy most of the time so that you have reserves of willpower for the tough times. Once I figured this out, I lost 135 pounds in 14 months, and it was easier–by far–than any number of diets I’d been on before where I lost 50 lbs.

And don’t get fixated on the weight of food you are eating. Satiation is based on many things, but weight of food has little to do with it. If you eat 4 pounds of food that is mostly water, you’ll get hungry again soon enough.

Planning your diet based on the weight of food you consume is ridiculous because the caloric density of food varies so widely. It doesn’t really make any meaningful sense to bring weight into it at all.

Four pounds of cucumber is only 216 calories. You’d die off very quickly if you ate only 4 pounds of cucumber a day. 4 pounds of peanut butter is 10,800 calories. That’s fifty times the calories by weight.

Presumably nobody would eat 4 pounds of one food in a given day, but dieting based on the weight of your food seems absurd to me.

It is absurd. But the OP doesn’t “subscribe” to the calorie theory.

It’ll be amusing to hear progress reports!

Don’t go on a diet, have a diet. Too many people make this mistake. To get weight off and be healthy you need a lifestyle change. One that you are happy to keep up.

I’d suggest my patented “don’t be a stupid, greedy lazy bastard” diet.

Lots of fish, vegetables, fruit, olive oil. Steer clear of the processed foods. Have things you enjoy but just not much of it, do some walking, have a glass of wine or a beer everyday.
Generally be sensible with what and how much you eat.

Unfortunately there is no money to be made by publishing a tiny pamphlet with this sage advice. I’ll leave it to others to overcomplicate things.

The OP tossed out much of what we know about calories:

First of all, I don’t subscribe to a blind adherence to weight gain = (calories eaten - calories burned)/3600.

Why bother offering numbers to someone who is willing to make all of it moot by just discounting it up front?

It’s just easier for the OP to eat less quantity of whatever the hell he is eating and have him lose weight. Just being realistic.

I did not say I didn’t subscribe to calories in vs. out. Like I said in the OP I think it is a good giude but that there are additional factors. For example, I keep hearing that lean mass burns calories better than fat. So all else being equal, a 200 lbs former athlete will gain less weight than a 200 lbs schlub with 25% body fat if they eat equal calories.

If it is truly calories in vs. out, how are plateaus explained if for the same diet people temporarily stop losing weight? Are they eating more and not realizing it?

Because the 200 lbs. former athlete with, say, 17% body fat versus the 200 lbs. “schlub” with 25% body fat is burning more calories.

Calories in = the same
Calories BURNED (which is the same as “calories out”) = not the same

Fat is inert, more or less; pretty much all your calorie burning comes from lean mass.

You burn it at a certain rate while at rest (resting metabolic rate), and at a higher rate when doing cardio type exercise.

Maybe, maybe not. I think it depends. For me, eating better and eating the same or more volume better kept me sated than if I went on a diet to eat 75% of what I was eating before. Also, it was more sustainable. That’s how I’ve kept eating since I’ve lost those 40 pounds and have been maintaining my weight. The stuff about “lifestyle change” or “don’t go on a diet, have a diet” is completely true. I guess it actually helps that I enjoy vegetables, lean proteins, and cook for myself. My own diet was 1800-1900 calories, and I was shocked at how full I could feel eating just that many calories, when the foods were strategically replaced with less caloric options.

My own experience is that it’s easier to sustain a more healthful, lower calorie diet that has roughly the same amount of food as your original diet, than to simply eat 75% of what you used to eat. But, everyone is different. Portion control is an important lesson, too, and I don’t believe in completely cutting out foods from your diet; I’m not one of these “food is fuel” people, and much joy in my life comes from food and cooking. Hell, when I was losing weight, McDonald’s cheeseburgers were an acceptable part of my diet–I just didn’t get fries with it, and made sure to have water or a diet drink and eat nothing else for lunch. But, for dinner, an entire pound of chicken breast (not my favorite, but good for when you’re reducing) has under 500 calories. Add a pound or so of vegetables, a bit of gravy, and that entire meal has less than 750 calories. I don’t think I could eat enough of that in one sitting to be dangerously close to overeating.

Yes, but from the point of view of someone well within normal ranges, those differences are completely diluted by the overwhelming importance of calories in/calories out. It’s like someone wants a lower electric bill and they wander through the house unplugging their toaster and VCR and never letting their cell phone stay plugged in after it charges, but ignoring the lack of insulation and the AC set on “frigid”.

A lot of it is fluctuations in water weight. Water is heavy, and it’s trivially easy for a body to retain a couple pounds of water (or more) without any visible sign. A person can be losing fat, retaining water, and seeing a plateau. Other times it can be eating more than you realize (which is why I stressed sustainability before).

Plateaus may, at times, be related to your metabolism becoming more efficient (and hence burning fewer calories). Certainly, the impact isn’t perfectly timed, and it can be hard to see a perfect correlation. And ones overall caloric needs do decline as one weighs less, so a person eating the same diet will eventually reach an equilibrium point, where their new weight demands the level of calories that resulted in weight loss some months previous. But worry about that later. 90% of the time, for 90% of people, it’s about caloric restriction.

That is correct, because the average 200lb athlete with little body fat will have a higher metabolic rate than the average 200 lbs schlub with 25% body fat. The calories “out” for the two are different. Look up basal metabolic rate. Look at the latter two formulas, which take lean body mass into account. There are more accurate ways of finding the BMR and RMR (resting metabolic rate) using gas analysis, a device such as this, but that’s one way of doing it.

As you lose weight, your caloric needs go down. When you’re down to 175 pounds, you can’t be eating the same as when you were 200 pounds, unless you’ve seriously bulked up your muscle mass. You probably should be eating around 200 calories less per day to sustain your weight loss. Also, there appears to be evidence that your metabolism becomes more efficient, so your BMR actually goes down as you diet, with your body getting used to the changes and making better use of the calories it gets.

ETA: Water weight. It’s amazing just how much water your body can retain. I have graphed my own weight fluctuating in a 7 pound range on some days, depending on water and intestinal content. An average range for me is about 3-4 pounds in a day.