To lose weight and keep it off, eat a big breakfast packed with carbohydrates and protein, then follow a low-carb, low-calorie diet the rest of the day, a small study suggests.
The "big breakfast" diet works, researchers say, because it controls appetite and satisfies cravings for sweets and starches. It's also healthier than popular low-carb diets because it allows people to eat more fiber- and vitamin-rich fruit, according to Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, of the Hospital de Clinicas in Caracas, Venezuela.
She told the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in San Francisco that she's successfully used this diet in her patients for more than 15 years.
"Most weight loss studies have determined that a very low carbohydrate diet is not a good method to reduce weight," Jakubowicz noted in a written statement issued by the Endocrine Society. "It exacerbates the craving for carbohydrates and slows metabolism. As a result, after a short period of weight loss, there is a quick return to obesity."
With scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Jakubowicz and her colleagues compared their high-carb and protein "big breakfast" diet with a strict low-carb diet in 94 obese, sedentary women. Both diets were low in fat and total calories but differed markedly in their carbohydrate content.
The 46 women on the very-low-carb diet consumed 1,085 calories a day, consisting of 17 grams of carbohydrates, 51 grams of protein and 78 grams of fat. The smallest meal was breakfast, at 290 calories. For breakfast, the low-carb dieters were allowed only 7 grams of carbohydrates, such as bread, fruit, cereal and milk, and they could eat just 12 grams of protein, such as meat and eggs, in the morning.
In contrast, the 48 women on the "big breakfast diet" consumed 1,240 calories a day. Although lower in total fat (46 grams) than the other diet, the big breakfast diet had higher daily allotments of carbs (97 grams) and protein (93 grams). Dieters ate a 610-calorie breakfast, consisting of 58 grams of carbs, 47 grams of protein and 22 fat grams.
For lunch, they got 395 calories, made up of 34 grams of carbs, 28 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat. Dinner — the smallest meal of the day — was made up of 235 calories (5, 18 and 26 grams of carbs, protein, and fat, respectively).
At four months, there was no significant weight-loss difference between the two diet groups. Women on the strict low-carb diet shed an average of about 28 pounds, while women on the big breakfast diet lost nearly 23 pounds, on average.
But at eight months, the low-carb dieters regained an average of 18 pounds, while the big breakfast dieters continued to lose weight, shedding another 16.5 pounds.
Those on the big breakfast diet lost more than 21 percent of their body weight, compared with just 4.5 percent for the low-carb group.
And according to Jakubowicz, women who ate a big breakfast reported feeling less hungry, especially before lunch, and having fewer cravings for carbs than women on the low-carb diet.