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Why Do Low-Carb Diets Cause Weight Loss?

Diets Work Because People Eat Less, New Study Shows
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Can Carbohydrates Stimulate Appetite?

Boden says he was amazed to find that the participants did not compensate for eating fewer carbs by eating more of other foods. He added that they seemed happy with the low-carb diet and did not complain of hunger.

"They ate 1,000 fewer calories a day and did not miss them," he says. "That told me that it was the carbs that fueled their excessive appetites in the first place. In my opinion, carbohydrates do stimulate appetite."

But weight loss researcher George Bray, MD, tells WebMD that he believes the monotony of low-carb diet explains why people eat less. It is also why most people don't stay on any restrictive weight loss plan for very long.

"The strategy for every weight loss diet that I know if is to restrict choice," he says. "Monotony is essential to why people eat less."

He says there is no convincing evidence that low-carb diets are easier to stay on or help people lose more weight than other approaches to weight loss. He cites a recent year-long study comparing the Atkins low-carb diet to three other popular diets.

The people in the study lost about the same amount of weight in a year -- a modest 4 to 7 pounds -- whether they were on Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, or the Zone. And compliance was a problem with all of the diets. Only about half of those on Atkins or Ornish stayed on the diets for a year, and about 65% of those on the Zone or Weight Watchers diets stuck with the plans.

"Some people on each of these diets did very well and others didn't," Bray says. "I think the message is that one approach to weight loss is not the answer for everyone."

In an editorial accompanying the study by Boden and colleagues, Bray suggests that dieters might lose more weight by switching weight loss strategies from time to time.

"Switching between different diets with different approaches to food restriction may be the best approach to the long-term management of obesity," he writes.

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