optimising macros for fat loss with less hunger

Many people like to define their diet based on macro ranges, such as:

  • low-carb,
  • ketogenic,
  • high-fat,
  • low-fat,
  • high-protein, or
  • high-carb.

However, if you want to control your appetite, reduce body fat, and improve your health, you probably want to know if your chosen dietary preference works.

Everyone agrees that consciously restricting calories can be difficult.  We want to understand how we can manipulate macronutrients and micronutrients to improve satiety and reduce hunger which will lead to a spontaneous reduction in appetite and sustained fat loss.

My Nutrient Optimiser partner Alex Zotov and I have been busy lately mining the database of half a million days of MyFitnessPal data for insights that can help us refine our algorithm to help people achieve their goal with more precision.  It’s fascinating to be able to quantitatively answer common questions and dispel many myths about nutrition with this massive data set!

Data cleaning

In order to focus on people trying to lose weight, we filtered for people with a calorie goal of between 1000 and 2500 calories and eliminated days where people consumed more than 300% or less than 50% of their target calorie intake.  This trimmed reduced out data set down from the original 587,187 days of data to 438,014 days of completed food diaries.

Definitions of diets by macronutrient range

The table below shows how we sliced up the data based on macronutrient ranges that align with different popular dietary approaches.

  • The “n” is the number of days in each ‘bucket’ of data.
  • The “%” column shows the percentage of days that meet that criteria.
  • The average row represents the average macronutrient breakdown of all 438,014 days of data. Each of the dietary approaches are subsets of this data.
Diet Protein Fat Carbs n %
Low-protein, high-fat < 15% > 70% 1,887 0.43%
High-fat > 70% 7,229 2%
Junk food < 20% > 30% > 35% 84,781 19%
Low-protein < 15% 87,985 20%
Standard Western 10 – 20% 30 – 40% 35-50% 43,504 10%
Low-carb, higher-fat > 60% < 30% 18,581 4%
Very low carb < 15% 21,644 5%
Low-fat < 25% 75,859 18%
Low-carb < 30% 64,960 15%
Low-carb, high-protein > 20% < 35% 34,870 8%
High-carb > 70% 4,966 1%
High-protein > 30% 72,473 17%
Very high protein > 40% 15,205 3%
Average  22% 36% 43% 438,014 100%

Average macros (%)

The chart below shows what each of the diet approaches looks like in terms of macronutrients for the days that met the criteria for each ‘bucket’.

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Average diet macros (grams)

Many people like to manage their diet by limiting or targeting a certain quantity of a particular macronutrient, so the table shows the average intake of each of the approaches in grams.  If you currently track your diet you might like to see how you compare to these averages.

Diet Protein (g) Fat (g) Carbs (g)
Very high protein 165 45 97
High protein 137 53 122
Low carb, high protein 116 86 54
Low carbohydrate 107 88 72
Low fat 93 33 201
Very low carb 101 107 31
Low carb, high fat 81 120 40
High fat 69 134 29
Standard Western 70 67 193
Junk food 62 76 185
Low protein 49 67 205
High carbohydrate 38 20 248
Low protein, high fat 47 158 47
average 86 62 168

Satiety of different macronutrient diet approaches

This table shows the average goal and actual calorie intake for each of the groups.  The right-hand column shows the average of the actual intake divided by their calorie goal and multiplied by 100%.

A calorie goal in MyFitnessPal is set by a person’s Basal Metabolic Rate minus an allowance to ensure that they achieve an energy deficit if they are trying to achieve weight loss.

  • A score of less than 100% means that someone was able to eat less than calorie goal for the day.
  • A score of greater than 100% indicates that someone was able to eat less than they planned.
Diet Goal (cals) Actual (cals) % Goal
Low protein, high fat 1,698 1,796 106%
High fat 1,698 1,597 94%
Junk food 1,779 1,673 94%
Low protein 1,730 1,615 93%
Standard Western 1,806 1,655 92%
Low carb, high fat 1,721 1,569 91%
average 1,795 1,575 88%
Very low carb 1,714 1,490 87%
Low fat 1,787 1,478 83%
Low carbohydrate 1,753 1,506 86%
Low carb, high protein 1,735 1,461 84%
High carbohydrate 1,592 1,325 83%
High protein 1,834 1,511 82%
Very high protein 1,804 1,453 81%

This chart shows the goal vs actual calorie intake for each approach graphically.

image4

The chart below shows the % goal achieved for each approach graphically.

image2

Discussion

Looking at the goal vs actual calories in the chart below we can see that:

  • The people following a low-protein, high-fat approach were the only ones to exceed their calorie target consistently.
  • The people using the high-protein diet had the highest target calorie intakes, suggesting that they were active and likely had more metabolically active muscle mass, and hence a higher BMR.
  • The high-carb approaches seemed to have a lower goal intake, indicating that these people may have already been typically smaller or had less muscle mass.

Both the high-fat and low-protein approaches have a negative impact on satiety.  Combining these two approaches (i.e. high-fat with low-protein) appears to lead to people to eat much more than planned.

Avoiding protein (i.e. in pursuit of ketones or due fear of gluconeogenesis) and consuming “fat to satiety” appears to significantly increase your chances of overeating.

Lowering carbohydrates provides slightly better than average satiety.  Focusing on reducing carbohydrates while also prioritising protein seems to provide a better outcome.

When we look at the correlation between macronutrient consumption and the ability to achieve your target calorie goal, we see that higher protein has the strongest alignment with followed by lower fat.  Restricting carbohydrate seems to have a much smaller impact on spontaneous calorie intake.

This observation from the data also aligns with this recent study that tested high protein low carb vs normal protein high fat and found that “Body-weight loss and weight-maintenance depends on the high-protein, but not on the ‘low-carb’ component of the diet, while it is unrelated to the concomitant fat-content of the diet.”

A higher protein approach with less fat may be more advantageous in terms of satiety if your goal is fat loss.

A high carb approach such as a Whole Food Plant Based approach may lead to weight loss.  However, it may not provide adequate protein to prevent loss of lean muscle which is a real concern during weight loss.

Also, keep in mind that plant-based amino acids and some micronutrients such as vitamin A and omega 3s are less bioavailable from plant-based sources compared to animal-based sources.

Someone following a high carb plant-based approach should monitor their body fat levels during weight loss and look to add additional protein if they are losing excessive amounts of lean muscle mass or their % body fat is increasing even though they are losing weight.

Personally, I used to follow more of a low carb high-fat approach in an effort to manage my insulin levels and blood sugars.  However, recently I have found much better results in terms of satiety and body composition by prioritising protein.

When you buy into the Carbohydrate-Insulin Hypothesis of Obesity, a lot of things get blamed on insulin resistance.  I was a victim, and my obesity was beyond my control (or so I thought).

I now realise that following a diet that enables you to eat less and control hunger is what will reverse insulin resistance (see this article for more discussion) and lead to increased satiety and fat loss.

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21 thoughts on “optimising macros for fat loss with less hunger”

  1. Fascinating work Marty. I wonder if the results are the same if you were to look at only men and women. Also different age groups like over-50s and BMIs as a proxy for people who have insulin issues.

    1. We don’t yet have data to differentiate men and women. But older people definitely need more protein to prevent muscle loss.

  2. There seems to be a lot of assumptions made here. How do you know just because the people are eating less that they are losing more weight? Do you have any of the data showing they are losing weight? This is a huge assumption. So eating less automatically means they are more satisfied and are losing more weight? Is that really the case? Clinically?

    1. The biggest assumption is that this data represents a successful steady state. That is not my experience.

      In 2016 three times I used the app to lose weight using a whole grains diet and it worked for 2-3 weeks. I was always hungry. So, not satiated. Then I was starving and was forced to abandon it. I immediately regained the 15 lbs I had lost. So although I was eating less than my calorie target every day, I was completely failing. And once I was forced to abandon the diet and went back to eating to satiation and regaining the weight, I stopped putting my data on the app. No point. I knew I was failing.

      Then I went on a Keto diet and successfully lost 65 lbs which I kept off more more than year until today.

      Plus, I am insulin resistant/pre-diabetic. I recently went on a high protein diet for several months as an experiment and got my insulin up even though I was in ketosis. All the symptoms of pre-diabetes came back.

  3. As a really biased reader (high carb whole foods) when I see this graph, it shows that the only diet that does not require destroying environment ( unless protein is plant based ) is the high carb or low fat approach. The better results on the higher protein diets are certainly due to the poor conversion of protein into energy, this resulting in a good caloric deficit. I wonder how people feel on higher protein diets and wonder how you can make a high protein low fat diet as all meat is very fat today (without raising your cholesterol in the atherogenic levels at 140+). My total cholesterol dropped from 190 to 110 on a high carb/high fruit/high veggie diet. I do feel awesome (coding, working out) as long as I eat enough carbs. When I stray to fatter foods I need to eat more (most likely my body runing out of carbs faster if eating higher fat foods). My body weight seems stable like this (6 pack guessable).

    Perhaps adding more lentils and chickpeas might bring even better results then.

    Amazing post. Gives me a good confirmation bias boost ; )

    1. the production of tofu, lab meat, fake burgers, lentils and chick peas aren’t necessarily better for the environment than animal-based proteins. This sort of thinking needs to stop. Our modern agricultural system is based on destroying soil with chemical ag. Yes, factory farming of animals is not good, but there are alternatives that must be considered before blanket statements that “all meat is bad for the environment/all plants are good” are presented. Let’s have some deeper thinking here. If you follow Marty, then you appreciate nuance, no? Let’s then look at which agricultural system is optimal for both human health and the environment. Regenerative agriculture that includes both plants and animals, not chemicals, is optimal – this means using animals as part of the system. Also, a total cholesterol of 110 is not really ideal, you know this?

  4. Please Could you be so kind to Actually explain in Terms of a Food Junkie who is a Type 2 Diabetic 60yrs of Age Female. Currently taking Insulin and Meds for control of Diabetes. Plus, Also take High Colesterol, Laxis 40mcg per day, Potassium and Thrroid .100mcg as well as A Med script for OCD. Please anyone with Insight as to why I’m so Fatigued and Was taking 1 and 1/2 Phentermine daily for weight loss. Also on Oxygen 24/7 3lts. I was active and ran 2 miles 6 days a week plus worked in job that had me VERY ACTIVE…Running and Chasing most days. Until. work injury in ’96 was given Injections of Steroids 2+ times per week. In 6 months went from 151lpds to 289lbs ! Please help me with any information and Ideals to help me get Healthy weight! Due to Work Injury can only due Low Impact Exercises. Also was avid swimmer prior to my work accident. I’m at the end Rope and I Want to live and get off the Pain Meds also. Was Diagnosed in ’99 w/MS by Neuroligist. Currently not taking meds for the Multiple Scherosis.Again any Advise much appreciated. Bless you all!

    1. Going with a ultra low carb calorie restricted lifestyle approach may help. I am a type 2 diabetic. Back in november I had an A1C reading of 8 something. I had to make a change. I started by just going low carb. Which helped but in feb still had an A1C of almost 7. Added a focus on lean protein (almost no red meat) wth ultra low carb and focusing on a grazing approach to eating to reduce overal hunger. Also added lots of low glycemic plants , celery broccoli, different lettuces, asparagus, cilantro, parsley, cauliflower etc.

      Also got the doc to help with phentermine for 3 months to help my appetite while I shrunk my stomach. Ive lost 55 pounds since feb 27, and my last A1C was 5.6.

      Ldl was 109 HDL has gone up as well. My triglycerides while still a little high dropped by over 1500.

      The “diebetic” diet as suggest by most health care people is way way too high in carbs. I get less than 30 grams of effective carbs a day. Losi g weight may help with overal inflammation and help reduce pain.

      If you eat a lot of cabs, you wil go through withdrawal symptoms. Monitor you blood sugar frequently during this time. You feel like its low and want to eat something, but check you sugar before you do. It might just be withdrawal.

      As far as the fat content. I dont strive to eat fats, but I dont avoid them either. Lots of “low fat” versions of food that normally have fat such as mayo, dressings, cheese etc keep flavor by adding sugars. Never choose those low fat versions. Instead learn to use less of the natural kind

      Also cannot stress this enough. You cannot consider it a diet. It must become a lifestyle. Ultimately tho, tell your doc what you are doing, and ask for monthly blood tests to monitor your progress whie you adjust. Then usually every 3 months should do.

      The hardest is the 1st week. It gets easier from there.

    2. Hello @Tammy Melton Gibson. I’m 26 with type 2, well pre-diabetes at this point. My average is 81 on fasting was 93 a year ago. So what I did was drink nothing but water for almost 3 years straight and I would eat alot of fibrous fruits, they are your best friends. Also my main water intake goal would be at least one gallon per day. It’s not necessary but it helps to flush the kidneys and liver. I’d eat alot of vegetables such as beets cauliflower, kale, spinach and spring mix greens. With a plate of 75% vegetables and the rest protein and carbs which depends on my mood. First thing in the morning I’d drink a glass or two of water then make a fruit/vegetable smoothie always use fresh fruits not the prefrozen bag ones those have added or extra sugar. Pick up a bottle of Noni juice at Amazon fo $37 or purchase from Tahiti moringa website and also matcha green tea they both help balance your blood sugar Indian goosberries helps also just very sour. I have foot issues from overworking at least 75hrs a week at a point during being type 2 and developed tendonitis so I eat to loose weight and do sit-ups to help. Hope you can try this and it helps you. I’m not a doctor just a person who is dealing with diabetes and trying to rid it lol.

    3. I would look into Dr. Jason Fung’s work for help in your situation. Here’s got a ton of information on his website and had books for sale as well. He just put out a book regarding T2D.

  5. have just started whole food plant based diet, 4 days ago. I find protein intake becomes less unless i eat lots of beans or legumes, which increase carb count. very interesting work and you have put enormous efforts and time! validity of using the data is perplexing to me. i think we need good RCT to show what works best and for whom. Both sides- LCVF and whole food plant based diet have some amazing individual admirers!
    thanks for putting in so much work
    SB

  6. I’m 26 with type 2 my average sugar levels is at 81 so far. On fasting which depends on how long. What I do is As soon as I wake up drink water, and for 3 years all I drink is water. However after those years I’d also made a fruit smoothie with kale and Spinach after I drink water in the morning. Oatmeal is good for breakfast and fibrous fruits are your best fruits. Eat less chicken and red meat and more fish. Consume vegetables like beets, broccoli and spring mix greens. Do that for a year and see how you feel. Also your plate should be at least 75% vegetables the rest is up to you. Your water intake should be at most a gallon a day and grab a bottle of Noni juice on Amazon for $37 and also matcha green tea helps to balance your sugar and detox.Hope this helps you as it did me.

  7. High fat is easier to maintain than high protein maybe because it provides satiety in a different way. High fat gives you crunch (macadamias) and variety (more flavour from butters on low carb vegetables). Being satisfied comes down to not just being full but also not craving.

    High protein gets very boring very quickly plus on high protein something weird happens to my brain’s neurotransmitters on day 24 and 25 of my monthly 30 day reproductive cycle. I binge eat bad carbs when two of the main female sex hormones drope off (and Im too scared to purge). My 28 days of eating clean (high protein) are negated.

    My question: does high protein affect female sex hormones at certain times of the month. This issue does NOT happen on high carb or high fat.

    1. The ‘problem’ is that it can be hard to get a lot of energy with high protein. This can be used as an advantage too. As always, you need to find the right balance for your situation and goals. I think you’d be craving more energy in different times of the month and it would be hard to get enough on lean protein only.

  8. Hi Marty,

    very impressive analysis

    Looking at the data and caloric intake it seems data being analysed hence conclusions driven may be associated with the weight reduction phase. Alas, the maintenance phase is different and more complicated… have you tried to look at data points correlated with weight plateau ? another important data to take into consideration, if available, is calories spent on exercising (also down regulating calorie intake)

    Two points that haunt my thoughts:

    i) High protein intake is correlated with higher IGF-1 and increased inflamatoin (and I wonder to the extent physical activity can mitigate)

    ii) Many would regain back their weight within 5 years. Maybe its kind of relatvistic hyperplasia as these SAT cells won’t get away with the diet, maybe some sort of Leptin resistance, I don’t think there’s anyone out there that really knows.. 🙁

    Be that as it may, as you have MyFitnessPal data, I thnk it would be interesting to look at it from strategies for weight loss vs. maintenance perspectives.

    My best regards,
    Yuval.

    1. Cheers Yuval

      For the moment we just have daily data. We have it in mind to chase linear data that will give us an idea of the long-term effect.

      1. Some level of IGF-1 is required important. Like everything it is a balancing act. I think you will be in a better position in terms of longevity and insulin sensitivity if you have adequate protein with a lower energy intake and a lower level of body fat than low protein with excess energy and excess body fat. See the https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/ article for more discussion on this.

      I would suggest you use the observation in this chart to manipulate your macros based on your weight loss / maintenance goals. Because you are using an approach that provides nutrientent density and satiety rather than just restricting you have a better chance of maintaining compared to just restricting.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Cheers

      Marty

      1. Hi Marty,

        Many thanks taking the time putting a a personal reply. Accordingly, as no good deed goes unpunished..: 🙂

        Yep, I am familiar with that article, again very impressive. It was one of my starting points into longevity topic! Putting aside IF/FMD/CR, the big question is how much protein one really need @ harmonize longevity with leanness

        My own diet strategy is quite simple:
        i) To satiety, Nutrient Dense & Protein Rich.
        ii) Optimise / maintain leanness @ 10-12% BF –> Each time I diverted from 40-35:40-45:20-25 (P:F:C) I started to gain fat.
        iii) And I am fibre rich to keep my microbiome happy (40-50g/day)

        Alas, my IGF-1 is high (50% above the upper threshold, and is my prolactin, and weirdly my total protein is marginally low. An interesting topic on its own :-()

        As IGF-1 is a tradeoff, as long as I continue to gain muscle mass toward my 50th birthday 6-pack present I am OK with it,

        However…@ 1900-2200KCal/day, I am already at 2.3-2.7g/Kg body weight protein.

        ISSN 2018 recommendation suggest even 3.0g/Kg is OK; and to further justify age factor also suggest 2X the protein and 2X resistance training effort to get result.

        So, high protein intake makes sense, but is it sustainable as a diet strategy for life? would say quarterly FMD/IF prove efficient to mitigate inflammation risks ?

        After all, my next 50 years are going to be merely the 2nd trimester.. 🙂

        Take care!
        Yuval.

      2. I don’t think there is anything really wrong with higher protein other than the fact that it starts to get hard to acheive with real food. 1.8g/kg LMB seems to be enough for muscle and 2.4 g/kg LBM seems to give best outcome for satiety. I think higher will only really be relevant if you are trying to get bigger (eg.. bulking, powerlifting, puberty etc).

  9. Very interesting! Looks like keto is not the best…Might work if you have only diabetics in the sample population. Personally I like the low carb, higher protein approach with fats varying depending on your body comp goals. Thanks for sharing.

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