I’ve been thinking a lot about low effort sustainable dieting and I’ve come up with an idea that I was certain someone else had figured out before, but I haven’t seen it articulated anywhere. That either means my searching skills aren’t that good or it is a terrible idea or it is brilliant. 🙂
My thought is that the least effort approach to fat loss would be to just count grams of protein and nothing else. Hit your target grams and then trust that your appetite will be reduced, calorie intake will fall and fat loss will occur. Many diets count calories, which is hard work. Some diets count carbohydrates, which depending on how you do it can be successful or draining. But what many diets share in common is higher levels of protein.
Protein has been shown to have the greatest effect on reducing appetite. And not only will eating more protein suppress appetite, but it will support metabolism. A frequently cited study A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations concluded that doubling protein from 15% to 30% reduced appetite and “results in significant weight loss”.
You could count calories. People do all the time. But it is more work than just counting protein and does not address appetite. Go hungry for too long and you’ll binge eventually. In the end, appetite always wins. Give it protein.
How Much Protein?
The site Suppversity does a great job of pouring through the scientific research. Their article Losing Weight Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Metabolism: No Unexpected Reduction in Energy Expenditure With Sane Weight Loss. Plus: 9 Simple Rules Every Dieter Must Follow lists some solid ideas on what works best for dieting, including increasing protein levels to 25% or greater of total calories. Another Suppversity post more specifically makes a solid case for striving for 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight (not lean mass).
For easy math, let us say someone weighs 200 pounds (91 kilograms). Their protein needs would be between 136 and 182 grams a day. Going back to their recommendation in the first linked article, which advises a 15% initial calorie reduction, this works out to a protein ratio of about 30% at the high end.
Photo by Frank Monnerjahn
This is Starting to Look Like The Zone
The Zone Diet advises a protein ratio of 30%, which is a diet that started out well for me, but in the end became problematic. In the post My Experiences With the Zone Diet, I outlined how the frequent small meals left me hungry all the time. Besides the frequent meals, the Zone demonized too many good foods and had dieters obsessing about both carbs and fat. A quick search on fat loss and meal frequency will also show that “eating many small meals” have no metabolic edge over a less frequent eating pattern when calories are constant.
Despite the problems with The Zone, the 30% protein recommendation seems like solid advice for fat loss.
Just Count Protein
This post is just a proposal. I don’t know if it will work, but it seems like a sensible indirect route to fat loss that acknowledges appetite and doesn’t require counting calories.
I already know the opposite is true. When I was eating clean, underweight and with low appetite, I sought out ice cream as the food to bring my weight up. Turns out ice cream is just 5% protein. Lower the protein, increase the appetite. Right now I don’t think I am getting close to 30% protein. I plan on giving this a try.
What do you think?
Jul 6, 2014 — 11:57 pm
I think timing of eating is an important factor in compliance with any weight reduction effort. Coffee in the am or after lunch or mid afternoon all has an effect on appetite and insulin surge that increases the need to eat. The main thing is there has to be some stability in the plan, something you can do easily and make minor adjustments to when life interferes with our best ideas. A good amount of protein is also a good idea for a satiating effect. At the moment I am working on having coffee around midday, then second one around 3pm. Keeping my eating window any time between 3/5pm and 9/10pm. You want something where you don’t have to think about it too much or make it too complex. But it takes a few trials to get to the point where you can postpone your coffee or any habit you are used to. Also coffee on waking may be ok, but it’s the second one around midday that increases appetite for me. So if I move coffee forward for the first few hours until around 11am or midday and drink herbal teas earlier in the day instead, this seems to be helpful.
Jul 7, 2014 — 12:54 am
I tend to eat lean meat so I just count pounds of meat, 1 1/2 pounds a day gets me the g of protein I want.
Jul 7, 2014 — 4:43 am
Have you tried the following?
Bake an orange-fleshed sweet potato in its jacket. In a 700W microwave, a medium-sized sweet potato takes ~4 minutes.
Eat the sweet potato hot or cold, including the skin. I’m finding these to be very filling. 100g contains only 90kcals, as per Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt (set Serving size: to 100 grams).
I find white-fleshed sweet potatoes too starchy & dry inside, which necessitates adding sauce. Ditto for white potatoes. The flesh of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes is sweet & moist.
Jul 7, 2014 — 8:06 am
@Pauline – I too have a sweet spot for coffee, but it is different than yours. I do need to figure out the timing of food more though. Yesterday I failed to get the protein grams I made the case I needed in this post.
@Rob – That is cool rule. I just ran the numbers. 1.5# of lean ground beef is 168 grams of protein. That is right inside my range.
Jul 7, 2014 — 9:00 am
1) I personally find fat to be way more satiating than protein. Sometimes I’ve made shakes by just adding protein powder to water (ie, a pure protein shake, no fat) and I haven’t found them to be at all satiating. But if I down a can of coconut milk with a bit of fruit added in (ie, a low protein, high fat shake) I ain’t gonna be hungry for awhile.
2) I have no idea if this is a real concern or not, but it might be a good idea to limit protein beyond a certain point. There’s the notion out there that excess protein is converted to sugar, which isn’t ideal.
Jul 7, 2014 — 9:16 am
@MrFreddy – When I was consuming whey shakes, I would actually get more hungry. Recently I switched to Casein and so far it is more satiating.
I don’t expect this to be a long term lifestyle change. My goal is to get to my ideal weight and then reassess.
Jul 7, 2014 — 10:48 am
Interesting about the Casein, I’ll have to check that out. Btw, I think that’s the stuff T. Colin Campbell thinks causes cancer. But what does he know, haha.
Jul 7, 2014 — 12:20 pm
@Nigel – Sorry your comment got flagged as SPAM. I do like sweet potatoes, but haven’t used a microwave to cook them. I need to try that, as it would make it much more convenient.
Jul 8, 2014 — 2:03 am
Actually, the Hodge Twins have a video where they suggested this approach, and I have used it myself. From my experience, there is a period of uncertainty where you aren’t too sure if you’re approaching or have already hit your caloric ceiling.
However, once you get to grips with just counting protein there comes a second problem: are you getting enough healthy fat? Living in Asia, this can be very difficult for me to achieve. However, once I got over this, just targeting a daily minimum protein intake is a breeze. Unlike carbs where you can eat lots, but not feel full, it is very difficult to “overeat” your proteins. If you’re feeling full, just gulp down some fats (milk, avocado & eggs etc), and you’d probably have hit your daily macros.
From my experience, this approach is much easier, but only if you can show some restrain with the carbs. I’ve been using this approach for 3 months now, and I can tweak my weight up and down with reasonable ease just by adjusting my daily in-take, and without worry about my macro breakdown.
Could it help you get into fit & lean. Probably yes with some level of self-control. Can you get to ultra-lean, from what I can tell; no, there’s too much room for variance at a daily level. However, if you’re all about getting generally lean and fit without the madness of fine-tuned macro control, controling your protein and allowing your fats & carbs to fall out naturally is a good way to go without daily stress.
Jul 8, 2014 — 6:52 am
Personally, I find rare to medium rare protein to not be very satiating.
Sushi, a rare 10 oz filet, salmon sous vide…
But, I eat one well done 10 oz steak and I’m full for a day or more.
Doesn’t matter what my other macros look like.
My appetite gets shut down.
Jul 8, 2014 — 12:06 pm
@Alexi – Your comment got me thinking about how to best implement “Just Count Protein” on a timing basis. I’ll cover my thoughts in an upcoming post this week.
@JM – Interesting. I will pay attention to how well the cooking is and how it impacts satiety.
Jul 8, 2014 — 4:40 pm
@JM – I’m guessing this is in part because eating a rare 10oz filet is delicious and eating a well done 10oz steak is like trying to choke down shoe leather. perhaps when eating is a chore one tends to eat much less often than when it is a pleasure?
Jul 9, 2014 — 3:08 am
Cheers! I thought that’s what had happened, when my comment didn’t appear. A lot of my comments get flagged as SPAM, as I like to insert links with a text description that’s different from the url.
Jun 29, 2015 — 8:52 am
A year later, but i found this description of a similar diet, aimed at a more general audience, from Scott Adams. Interestingly, his post is about a month after yours. http://blog.dilbert.com/post/103051153676/easiest-diet-plan-ever
Jun 29, 2015 — 8:30 pm
@Jim – Love Scott Adams. Thanks for sharing.
Aug 12, 2022 — 5:03 pm
Have you seen the latest in the Ray peat community that has upset a few people? Ray has dropped his protein consumption significantly to around 50g a day. He also made it sound like he would go lower if he could, but 50g is the minimum he has been able to achieve if he wants to include milk in his diet
I am rethinking the whole protein thing, not just because of this, but because I prioritise protein after hearing all the messages on the daily about how satiating it is bla bla bla. And yet, I am not sure it is. I need to run some low protein experiments and now that food costs have hit an all time high, its the perfect time. My goal is to really test the satiety per calorie of different proteins alongside the staples of the peasant diet.
Aug 13, 2022 — 8:30 am
@Rachel – I had not seen that. I found this article on Ray’s 50 gram explanation.
This post is now 8 years old and I think it still mostly accurate. Increasing protein will assist with fat loss. However, I think that may be an oversimplification. I’m looking into this now and may add a new post on protein and fat loss.