Does Low-Carb Make You Crankier Than Low Fat?

Photo: FL4Y

So scientists just did another study pitting low-carb diets against low-fat diets. They took a bunch of overweight Australians, put some on low carb and some on low fat diets, and followed them for a year. Both groups lost about the same amount of weight (30 lbs), but by the end, who was in a better mood?

Well, looks like the Low Fat team won this round.

Hooray for the Low Fat Team!!
Photo: terrapin

Yep: the low-fat dieters were feeling significantly more chipper after a year of dieting than the low-carb group.

But here's the most shocking result the researchers found:

After the first eight weeks, both groups improved in mood. And while the Low-Carbers went back to baseline, the Low-Fatters remained more upbeat than they were when they started, even a year later.

But wait a minute... isn't dieting supposed to be miserable? Doesn't it make us feel anxious, pissy, deprived, fatigued, and depressed?

Well, apparently not for this group. But the low carbers couldn't hang on to their improved moods, while the low-fatters did.

According to the researchers, “this outcome suggests that some aspects of the low-carbohydrate diet may have had detrimental effects on mood that, over the term of one year, negated any positive effects of weight loss.” They wondered if it was the "social difficulty" of going low-carb, or the impact the diet itself might have on serotonin levels.

(Personally, I'm not in either the low-fat or the low-carb camp: for me, I like a good balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. It's the kind of fats and carbs that matter to me--I try to eat the healthy kinds, not the junky kinds).

But it's funny, I hadn't realized how much I'd bought into the idea that "dieting is miserable" until this study reminded me that actually, that's not necessarily true. I've settled into healthy eating patterns and have been at a fairly stable weight for so long, I forgot that deciding to lose weight and succeeding can make you happier! Seems obvious, but so many aspects of the process are annoying that I kinda lost sight of the big picture.

In fact, I remember years ago when the Lobster and I decided to change our eating habits, track what we consumed, and try to lose weight, we refused to call it a "diet." We called it going on a "Thing."

We'd say things like:

"Wow, I didn't realize how small a serving of pasta was until we started the Thing."

"Hey look how loose these pants are, I think the Thing is working!"

Even now, when I start getting a bit sloppy about too many treats I'll say: "if I don't stop eating so much junk, I'm going to have to go back on a Thing."

But when we were on The Thing? I'd forgotten that we were actually pretty psyched about it most of the time. Sure, the tracking and measuring and planning was a huge pain in the ass, but there was a big sense of accomplishment at (mostly) sticking to our plans and (mostly) meeting our goals.

However, we only had about 20 or so pounds to lose. We weren't in a hurry, and we didn't have to do anything drastic. And lucky for us, we both have pretty "normal" metabolisms that respond obediently to increased exercise, fewer empty calories, and more muscle mass. I know many folks can do all the right stuff and not get results, which must be incredibly frustrating.

But it's interesting the way I automatically assume that "dieting" is some sort of unpleasant ordeal, when my own experience was that it was pretty darn rewarding, even though I was certainly happy to stop measuring and counting once I reached my goal. I know restricting caloric intake can be completely counter-productive for a lot of people--but this study reminded me that for other people, it can also lead to a better mood.

Now I haven't personally noticed my low-carb friends being any more depressed or cranky than other dieters, but now I'm wondering, after this study, if there are any extra mood challenges with that sort of plan. And I'm curious about the "social difficulty" of a low carb plan--I picture hordes of angry pitch-fork wielding villagers chanting "bread, you must east bread!"--but I expect it's probably a bit more subtle than that.

What have you folks found? Does "dieting" or otherwise consciously limiting your food intake make you feel more miserable, or more upbeat? Does low-carb feel any worse (or better) than other plans?

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