Keto, IF, Macro tracking: Which is Best for Weight Loss?

making smart food choices by eating a healthy breakfast

What’s the best diet to lose weight?  There are so many diets out there it can make your head spin.  Knowing which diet is going to help you achieve your weight loss goals most effectively is key to making the most of your precious time and efforts.  We compare three popular diets for weight loss – ketogenic, intermittent fasting, and macro counting. We’ll break down the research on what’s ultimately best if weight loss is your goal.


The Ketogenic (“Keto”) Diet 


The keto diet is a very low carbohydrate (between 20-50 grams a day), moderate protein, and high in fat (at least 60% of calories from fat).  The basic premise of the keto diet is if you deprive your body of glucose or carbs, your body then begins to break down your fat stores for fuel. 


 If your carb intake is low enough and your protein intake is moderate, your body will transition to a state of “ketogenesis” where it burns more calories from the breakdown of your food. 


It requires more energy for your body to break down proteins and fat on a ketogenic diet than breaking down carbs on a more traditional, higher carbohydrate diet.  This increase in calorie-burning power may be one of the reasons many lose weight on this diet, especially in the beginning. Low carb diets naturally may decrease your hunger hormones, resulting in fewer cravings.  The very high-fat content of this diet also fills you up.


Research on Keto and Weight Loss


The ketogenic diet has been shown to result in short-term weight loss in some people as well as improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels 


The satiating effect of the diet may help with the ease of following it.  However, there is not enough research to show that weight loss remains beyond one year. To date it appears to result in similar weight loss amounts to other conventional diets 


Intermittent Fasting (IF)


Intermittent fasting involves modifying your eating window. There are a few variations to this diet but the two most common versions are:


The 16-8 Method.  In this method, you’re allowed to eat during an 8-hour window, such as 10-6 pm, and fast for 16 hours in between.  Many eat what they want during this eating window, without regard for calories or food choices. Others stick to their daily calorie allotment but only eat during that 8-hour window. 


The 5:2 Method.  In this method, you eat normally 5 days a week at any time during the day but the other 2 days you follow a very low-calorie diet (typically 500-600 calories/day). 


Research on Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss


Intermittent fasting can result in weight loss as long as you don’t overcompensate by eating excessively or having very high-calorie foods during the eating window.  When your body is in a fasting state, your levels of a fat-burning hormone called norepinephrine increase, this can help you lose weight.


Also, those who practice intermittent fasting often have lower insulin levels which may suppress appetite and curb sugar cravings.  If you follow either of these methods and stay within your recommended calorie restriction, which can be determined via metabolic testing, you may lose weight.  However, in a review comparing 12 clinical trials on intermittent fasting, there was no major difference in weight loss totals compared to a typical low calorie, continuous energy-restricted diet 


Macro Counting


Counting your macros, or macronutrients is an increasingly popular method to lose weight and may be viewed by some as a more balanced, sustainable approach.  A common acronym for this diet is IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros).  


Macro tracking involves determining your total daily calorie allotment and then tracking the macronutrients (i.e., carbs, fats, and proteins) you are eating to meet your overall daily goals. On this diet, most foods are allowed but there may be a focus on more protein or carbs depending on the goal of the individual. A calorie deficit must be present to lose weight. 


While macro counting may sound confusing, it actually is a method that has been used for weight loss for a long time.  It does not involve cutting out any particular foods or food groups and the macronutrient distribution is tailored to the individual. 


Macro tracking can be time-consuming.  Those following this approach should be motivated and willing to track their macros daily to be successful.  Apps such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! may help with ease of tracking, or some may prefer to use a journal to handwrite their food choices.    


 Research on Macor Tracking and Weight Loss


If you’re counting your macros to lose weight and are consuming fewer calories than you burn, chances are you’ll lose weight on this diet.  The combination of reducing your calories and meeting your macro targets can help increase the amount of weight lost.  


Also, the fact that you’re tracking your calories and macronutrients helps with sustained weight loss.  Simply tracking helps people lose weight. 


Which of these approaches is best for weight loss?


All three of these diets can result in weight loss in the short term (less than 6 months) and it may be a matter of preference, health status, and stage of your life that determines what may be the best choice for you.  


When looking at these diets in the long term weight loss results were fairly comparable.  What resulted in the most sustained weight loss in any program was long-term accountability from professionals and group programs, rather than the specific type of diet followed.  At two years, the people that were the most successful were those who attended regular group sessions and received continuous motivation and feedback .  


Getting support and staying motivated appears to be one of the strongest predictors of success.  So whichever diet you choose, make sure you are working with a professional to help keep you on track.


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