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Medical Strength training while dieting = weight gain?

  1. Jul 5, 2012 #1


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    The title is a bit deceptive but I've been very curious about something that many people who diet have found. Over the course of a few months, I was losing weight at a steady pace of 2lb/week. At one point I decided to make the most of my gym membership and start doing resistance training as well for around 30 minutes twice a week. The weight loss just stopped dead in its tracks. I never gained weight (unlike what a lot of people said happened to them) but my weight loss definitely slowed to a crawl.

    Everywhere online and everyone I talk to says that this is to be expected, but why on Earth does this happen? My understanding of physiology is pretty bad, but I figured that, as you lose weight, your body is going through fat for the energy to run your body. If nothing else changes and you start resistance training, why exactly does weight loss stop (or even reverse)? You're still giving your body less energy than it needs to run on, so why does this happen?

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  3. Jul 5, 2012 #2


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    With weight training, one builds muscle. Muscle is denser than fat so that one can reduce one's size, but retain mass (weight).

    With exercise, one uses energy (calories).

    Did one also reduce caloric intake, or even increase food intake?
  4. Jul 5, 2012 #3


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    I had the same caloric deficit before and during the training. This is what I don't understand. I was losing weight for a good 5 months prior to this.
  5. Jul 5, 2012 #4


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    Has one's sleeping habits changed?
  6. Jul 5, 2012 #5


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    Nope not that I remember.
  7. Jul 6, 2012 #6
    In the absence of burning it off, any fat you eat is stored as fat. Likewise with most carbs.

    What about protein? Is protein ever stored in any way except as muscle?

    My suspicion is that you are now retaining that protein portion of your diet that was previously being eliminated without being used. At the same time you are burning off fat you are adding muscle mass from the protein in your food, protein that you previously weren't using to repair the muscle damage of exercise. In other words, your caloric debt was greater than you thought before you started exercising because you weren't even using the protein you were taking in.

    That's my guess. Otherwise I'd have to say Penguins just aren't normal.
  8. Jul 6, 2012 #7


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    Well this was a while ago. I stopped the resistance training and the weight has been coming back off just like it was before I did the training.

    I think penguins aren't normal.
  9. Jul 6, 2012 #8
    Fat is used especially, when other fuels like carbohydrates are absent (think atkins diet).

    You mentioned that you started resistance training. This where your body changes into conserve mode. This happens initially whenever someone starts any exercise. That is the body tries to conserve, when for the same calories intake you are burning more. This a natural body mechanism, similar to a situation in starvation (lack of calories). This is the best, i can come up with. Maybe somebody else has a better explaination.
  10. Jul 6, 2012 #9
    Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but if you are taking in the same calories as before and are doing resistance training on top of what you normally did before, then it shouldn't decrease the rate of weight (fat) loss. If anything, and all other things being equal, it should slightly increase the rate of weight (fat) loss because you're burning more calories than before. Having said that, as one's weight decreases it becomes progressively harder to lose weight (fat) because a lower body weight requires a lower amount of maintenance calories. At 160 lbs. you would need to consume less calories to maintain that body weight than when trying to maintain a bodyweight of 180 lbs. So if you want to continue losing weight, as you body weight decreases, you sorta have to either continually exercise more (increase output) and/or eat less (decrease input) or a combination of the two. After a while it becomes very difficult. Again, I might be misunderstanding you?
  11. Jul 6, 2012 #10


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    Nope, that is exactly the situation. Then, once I stopped doing the training, the weight started shedding just like before. I call BS on my body.
  12. Jul 9, 2012 #11
    Before taking a serious look at the why of your body mass dynamics, we need to acknowledge the unknown variables:
    1. We don't know your weight: particularly your lean mass and fat mass. Your energy expenditures (resting energy expenditure or REE, activity energy expenditure or AEE, total energy expenditure or TEE) which determine caloric requirements depend mostly on your lean mass (muscle, bone, organs). weighing 180 lbs. at 160 LBM (lean body mass) burns more calories than 180 lbs. at 120 LBM. the LBM affects all the other values dramatically too.
    2. We don't know your dietary macronutrient ratio: F/C/P ratios (and their absolute values) can affect different folks differently. They interact with your hormones in different ways, some folks can eat tons of carbs and not gain weight while others must treat them like fattening poisons. It's also highly likely you do not keep them constant and vary them (slightly to massively).
    3. We don't know your caloric intake: just that you are "eating less"
    4. We don't know how "honest" your replies are: everybody lies (or over/underestimates, if you find the term "lie" offensive) and there are many other reasons one would not report accurately that may not be deceptive like poor memory (other things to worry about), etc.
    5. We don't know your genetics or hormone ratios: perhaps the most complicated (and often the most influential) of these variables since they are like a fancy multivariable function, and you all (on physics forums) know how nasty multivariable functions can be!
      • a few hormones to consider: leptin, ghrelin, insulin, glucagon, cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, calcitonin, SREPB, CHREBP.

    Without controlling for all variables (and the above aren't "all," they are just the more significant ones), we will always have little inconsistencies in what we see and be unable to explain them since we can't seem to tease them out, like you said.

    Without knowing more, here are a few things that are relatively constant
    • Aerobic exercise is great for weight maintenance, but marginal for weight loss: This is a highly controversial issue because so many will claim "I lost weight just jogging more", but without getting more into the studies, we know that exercising more (especially aerobic exercise) increases appetite to match the caloric deficit produced. There are also hormonal factors that counteract the weight loss. These regulatory mechanisms are exquisitely balanced to adapt to variations in calorie intake for a reason: to keep your evolutionary ancestors from starving to death in the past; a far more dangerous reality than the dangers of overeating, which has only been a problem for a tiny fraction of human history.
    • Resistance exercise increases insulin sensitivity: This is due to the reduction in the size of glycogen stores and increase in fat loss to a greater degree than aerobic exercise (which as i explained before, tends to make you hungrier). As such fat gain is actually less likely even if you increase your caloric intake while lifting weights, assuming you're working yourself to failure or near-failure (and not just screwing around at the gym).
    • Resistance exercise in beginners (<2 yrs weight experience) often produces dramatic "weight gain" or a least "stop weight loss" for the same reason: Insulin Sensitivity and Muscle Volumizing. The reason your muscles are more insulin sensitive is due to the depletion of glycogen in your muscles after a good workout, so they are low on fuel and "want" more. When you eat, your body will shunt more sugar than normal to your muscles along with more proteins and fatty acids to "rebuild" tissues stressed during your workout, and in anticipation of another workout in the near future. This volumizing of muscle is most apparent in beginners who often had nearly atrophied muscles that suddenly are being put to good use for the first time in a long time!
    • Macronutrients affect water retention: This is why most diets, and especially low carbohydrate diets produce dramatic effects in their first two weeks. Hepatic glycogen depletion that results from carbohydrate restriction (most low calorie diets are semi-low-carbohydrate diets because when you reduce calories, you still reduce your absolute carbohydrates) will often produce weight losses of about 5-7 lbs. If you are not properly nourishing your body after such workouts, you will also notice additional weight fluctuations due to weight loss from muscle glycogen too.
    • You're eating more: you must allow for this possibility, and only eliminate it when in good faith, you can count every calorie that crosses your lips. From personal experience, I know I didn't notice improvements in my own body composition till I became anal-retentive about every single calorie that entered my GI tract. I can't overemphasize how often, and in how many ways, most humans "miscount" the calories they are taking in... I'd estimate 98% of humans do this.

    so without knowing more, every guess anyone will come up with would be no different from the nautical practice of "dead reckoning"... it's better than chance, but not by much.

    and if you really don't want to delve deeper and want some wild guesses, try these:
    1. Weight loss often includes muscle loss: most folks who aren't genetically blessed or very scientific about it go on a diet and lose fat PLUS muscle:cry:. often the ratio can be as high as 1:1 which means that for every 10 lbs you lose, 5 of them are muscle. This is the #1 reason for a reduction in basal metabolic rate (BMR) (i.e., why it gets harder to keep losing weight). Most diets will result in some muscle catabolism, but carefully planning your diet/ exercise routine will keep this to a minimum.
    2. Your weight plateau was not significant: it's also (assuming you were keeping your diet, see my previous notes) likely that you were losing fat, but not at the 2 lb./wk. rate you believed, but at a more modest rate of 1 lb./wk which is still useful. The other weight loss may have been water and glycogen loss that disappeared after resistance training (see my notes on beginners and weights). in short, you were losing weight and the "plateau" was an illusion. As much as your senses tell you this was not so, without measuring yourself in a water chamber or DEXA scan, or at least using some calipers to measure your fat (like these), your own insecurities about your "fat" will often mask the truth. This is why most dietitians and health gurus recommend folks only weigh themselves once a week at the same time (usually after waking and having taken 2 days off of exercise, like a Monday morning): because watching your weight go up and down every day would test anyone's faith in their weight loss.

    hope this helps. here's one more.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2012
  13. Jul 9, 2012 #12
    Very useful post. I always wondered how much evidence exists for this point. That is, all other things being equal (same caloric intake, activity, etc.) is there any hard evidence that altering the macronutrient ratio will affects weight and/or fat loss (or the ratio of fat to lean tissue lost). This 2012 study was interesting because it seems it may have controlled for calories, I think? This is not consistent with some other metabolic ward studies I looked at before suggesting that a calorie is a calorie, to a large extent. Now I'm really confused.
    Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance
  14. Jul 9, 2012 #13
    The interaction between macro-nutrients, metabolism (catabolism + anabolism), energy expenditure (REE, TEE, exercise), and hormones is quite fascinating, and I would invite you to read more on it because there is no question that macronutrients affect different folks differently at a molecular level.

    The problem is extrapolating this to the whole-body level since the math gets more complicated. As for the JAMA study you cited, you should read Dr. Attia's analysis of the 2012 JAMA study as he can break it down like a champ.. not to mention he actually knows and talks to Dr. Ludwig (not Lustig), who I've listened to a few of his lectures too!

    Much of the misunderstanding and false assumption that a calorie is a calorie comes from Kinsell's 1964 study where he tested 5 obese subjects. He varied their macronutrient ratios wildly but kept the calories below maintenance and at the same amount. In the end, he showed that the subjects all lost weight at the same rate regardless of macronutrient ratio. The big problem with Kinsell's study (other researchers have since pointed this out) is that his patients were not representative of the general population (3 were Type 2 diabetics, one had epileptiform seizures, one had a pituitary cancer, one was taking thyroid meds). The other point was that the subjects were placed on a very low calorie (800 - 1200 / day) diet. Very low calorie diets (below 1200/day) begin to look alike in the body because at such a calorie deficit, the body goes into "starvation" mode regardless of macronutrients: thus, hormones are usually trumped. The study had many more problems, but in time, other researchers "forgot" these weaknesses (that had been known since 1965) and only considered the low calories = weight loss regardless of macronutrient claim. Many later studies since then have refuted Kinsell, but it takes dozens of good studies to fully refute a single bad study that intellectually lazy people fall in love with, if they ever let go of it at all...

    It reminds me of a quote i can't fully recall, but I like. It goes something like this:
    something like that, maybe you know the actual quote?
  15. Jul 9, 2012 #14
    Thanks for that link. Can't wait to print it and read it. With respect to above, I was thinking about more recent studies in this area. I posted this stuff in the thread linked below (see my post 14 for links). Here is one quote from that post questioning Feinman's and Fine work:

    Regardless, now after this study I'm very confused and at the same time very interested.
  16. Jul 10, 2012 #15
    being confused is good... it means you're at least searching for understanding in a sea of information.

    Keep in mind that the whole debate over "a calorie is a calorie" depends on how you want to frame this statement:
    • biochemically, this rule holds: because it simply states the first law of thermodynamics. it cannot be violated. (a calorie is a calorie) equations on paper will always work out... This was the beef Buchholz had with Fine and Feinman, their theory is quite solid... but
    • empirically, the rule "fails": because of the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy will parasitize the system; and it does. ( 1 calorie in = 0.8 calorie out or worse). protein is more thermogenic than fat and glucose for well-known reasons. also, hormonal variations will affect mechanical and chemical extraction efficiencies so that some folks will make better use of their intake (those tending towards weight gain) and others will not (skinny folks). Those tending towards weight gain are Priuses (45 mpg) and those who remain skinny are like Mack Trucks (5 mpg)...see the chart I made (there's a link at the bottom of this post) for an estimate.

    Entropy is not the only reason for the difference, though. There is an even greater factor that Buchholz did not address:
    humans are not JUST biochemical machines :mad:.
    if we were, the question of dieting would not exist.

    Humans gain weight mostly due to intake and secondarily due to indolence.
    let me repeat: humans gain weight mostly due to intake and secondarily due to indolence.
    But the folks who only look at biochemistry already know that. the problem is they keep their thinking on a biochemical level and simply assume that "putting the fork down" or "moving your behind" is the solution. If we were machines (like your car), it would be. ​

    Sadly, we are powerfully attracted to sweet, fatty, salty, and soft foods because these foods are more likely to be energy dense and easy to eat, and this feeds a need that has been hard-wired into our evolved bodies over hundreds of millions of years! for 99.99999% of our evolutionary history (way back to the first tetrapods), sweet, fatty, salty, and soft foods were rare so that nature limited our access to them... as such, we developed a "bloodhound nose" for anything that might have these traits: I can smell baking bread a mile away! Today such foods are plentiful and cheap, but our hormones are still wired to assume such occurrences are rare and so when we come across them, we gorge ourselves. our hormones are well adapted to detecting such foods, but poorly adapted to regulating our intake:
    if for 99.99999% of our evolutionary history nature limited our intake of such foods, why would our bodies need to evolve regulatory mechanisms to limit our intake of such foods? (ok, we need some, but not much). This also explains why humans lost the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid while other mammals can: because primates ate plenty of fruits such that the loss of gulonolactone oxidase (the final Vitamin C synthesis enzyme) was not a problem; we got more than enough vitamin C from nature. the moral: why make enzymes to regulate something when nature provides the regulation for you (positive or negative)?​

    This explains why for many of us, food is more than just a fuel... it's a love affair.
    • It's an addiction: many people who give up carbohydrates will go into withdrawal symptoms vaguely resembling alcohol and opiate withdrawal. When I gave them up for the first time, I couldn't get out of bed for 2 days!
    • It's a constant temptation: those who don't have it, can't understand how the refrigerator "calls" you at 2 am in the morning, especially when you have sweet, salty, soft, and fatty things in it!
    • It's a social tool: few folks take their girl to eat salads, we take her to eat burritos, big steaks, funnel cakes, nachos, and other sinful foods. So many social occasions center around foods, and we never give a thought to healthiness... it's all about tastiness baby!
    • It's medication: girls aren't the only ones who eat food when sad, we do it too. we also eat when bored, tired, and happy. and it treats our emotions to some extent.

    With so many emotional reasons and the ubiquity of food and sources of it, calorie maintenance becomes, NOT a matter of calories in, calories out, but of understanding its impact on your behavior (e.g., you're not a robot):

    The positive (negative) feedback loop: This poor regulation of food first leads to weight gain and that weight gain results in hormone imbalances that are even more conducive to weight gain: getting fat makes it easier for you to get fatter for two reasons:
    1. The food's drug-like addiction: most sweet and processed foods have opiate-like qualities. giving them up will affect your brain's chemistry in the same way so that you will hate life until you either get over sweet food long enough, or give in and gorge on your addiction again.
    2. The hormonal imbalance favors food storage & energy efficiency: your growing fat cells, in the presence of sweet foods will grow and actually increase insulin resistance and reduce satiety signals. this dysregulation will mean more of the food you eat goes to your fat cells (adipocytes) and less of it feeds your body (muscles and organs). your body is starving, so it keeps you hungry, but sadly, you never quite feed it since most food (thanks to your poor hormones) is getting shunted to your adipocytes. your body is more efficient than ever and you're hungrier than ever....

    In such an imbalanced environment, is it any wonder that dieting is such a Sisyphean task, almost always doomed to fail?
    Not convinced? go look up the failure rates for dieters and compare them to the failure rates for alcoholics and opiate addicts. hint: they're all more or less the same!​

    This human behavioral aspect is conveniently overlooked in most diets and studies on diets, yet it more than accounts for the difference in diet effectiveness for a few reasons:
    • People lie on studies: the more regulated they are, the less likely this is to happen, but even in metabolic chambers, people sneak snacks in many ways. Just ask anyone sent to a fat camp if cheating occurred...
    • People lie during diets: addiction is such a terrible mistress... we lie for our addiction, we cheat for it, and we steal for it if necessary. it may not be as bad as heroin, but we know from studies that the same mechanisms are at work, it's just a matter of degree.
    • Your body lies to you: the fact your muscles are starving while your adipocytes are growing throws off your sense of reality so you feel hungrier, you're getting fatter, but some part of you is really getting smaller (your muscles and organs). your world is topsy turvy and even if you're 100% honest to others, your perception of reality will lead you to eat the wrong amounts of food and to report less than what you ate because you honestly only saw a tiny plate of food and not a heaping mountain of it!

    in short, the behavioral effects of certain foods, particularly sweet and soft foods (junk foods) affects more than our biochemistry. studies that try to control for this may only report the biochemical effects of food, but food is not gasoline... it's tasty, delicious, and we'd do so much for it!

    And there IS a biochemical advantage to low carbohydrate diets, we know this from theory and from empirical research (see the 2012 JAMA article in a previous post, 2004 Buchholz, 2004 Volek, 2007 Gardner below and pay close attention to the results in their tables). It's just that this effect is often overwhelmed by our behavioral effects, both in the short term (cheating, lying) and in the long term (hormonal dysregulation, insulin resistance).

    Finally, to be fair, human variation dictates that some of us will have adequate regulation, either due to tight biochemical or hormonal control, poor access to junk food, or being too busy to indulge. These are the folks we love to hate because they are naturally skinny for many such reasons that we wish we had.

    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  17. Jul 10, 2012 #16
    I got a chance to look over that JAMA 2012 study. One of the weaknesses of this study can be found in the methods section:
    The problem is that under free-living conditions, researchers have very little control over what people eat and how much physical activity they do, potentially confounding results? The argument has been given that in metabolic ward studies (when subjects are placed in a ward environment where they are watched and all food is supplied to them), there is no difference in fat/weight loss between high-and low-carb diets? Have you come across any such metabolic ward studies showing a "hormonal/metabolic advantage" with the lower carb diet? I was really hoping that the JAMA study was such a study. Two questions:

    1. Do you think that an extra 300 kcal/day expenditure on the low-carb isocaloric diet over the higher-carb in the JAMA 2012 study seems a bit too impressive to be true? Especially given that:
    Shouldn't there be some difference?

    2. Are you aware of even 1 controlled ward study that shows higher expenditure with an isocaloric, lower carb diet?

    I think there was a review I had looked before of such ward studies and all showed little to no advantage, if I'm not mistaken? By the way, I'm no fan of the high carb diet. I do find many of the processed ones very addictive and a constant struggle but that is another issue.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  18. Jul 10, 2012 #17
  19. Jul 11, 2012 #18
    Bohm2, first of all, we’re going off-topic here. The original post was why someone who was on a diet and losing weight would stop losing weight when the only thing they changed was their activity level from sedentary to 2/week resistance training.
    I tried to explain that there are many potential ways this “weight-loss plateau” can arise including:
    • resistance related muscle gain not necessarily "buffing up" but more volumizing.
    • the OP simply ate more (who doesn’t cheat on a diet?)
    • hormone ratios out or balance due to improper intake, rest, drugs, etc.
    • illusory plateau: the OP is losing weight, but not accounting for potential fluctuations that may mask the true weight loss which might be more modest

    The point of my responses was to explain that we are not biochemical machines where calories in equal calories out. While on a molecular level, this law holds, there are simply too many ways in which the calories in calories out model can be sidetracked, and NOBODY SEEMS TO WANT TO RECOGNIZE THEM.

    I then addressed your post on some of the background on why food is more than just fuel and how overwhelming the behavioral aspect of food control is: it is not about putting the fork down nor about exercising more… too many obese people are drowning their sorrows in drugs today because well-meaning, but misguided friends tell them this crap.

    For you math nerds: you know how bad confounding variables can be. Well, in dieting, they can be even more significant than the effect you are trying to measure: try making sense of one variable that varies from 1 to 10 when the counfounder is varying from 1 to 20.

    Think about that for a minute…

    Think about it a little longer…

    This means that we can talk about the biochemical “advantage” of low carb diets in carefully controlled environments, but such discussions are purely academic because in free-living conditions, the behavioral confounders will often overwhelm any small biochemical effects.

    Metabolic wards aren’t all you think they are… they can sometimes be worse (as far as controlling for confounders) than outpatient diets, it all depends on
    • the food you are being deprived of
    • how severe the deprivation is
    • and who you are starving: some folks can deal with diets better than others, even when controlling for food addiction
    ... in other words..more confounders...​

    I have a few sources from the 1970s that discuss the problems with the rampant cheating in metabolic ward diets… if you really need them, I can go to the library and get them, but it will take a few days as I’m not at school right now.

    Nevertheless, if you insist on an academic discussion of the biochemistry of the metabolic difference: If you read the links I put in post 15 (especially Gardner 2007, Volek 2004, and Buchholz 2004), you will see various studies of different qualities showing a metabolic advantage. Yes, most of them are tainted by the behavioral confounders, but keep in mind that even if we didn’t find a metabolic chamber study, 95% of all studies where low carb diets were compared with high carb diets, the worst that low carb diets came out was that they were no different, but 75% of all studies show that there is at least a small advantage, even when the authors deem it insignificant. Read the three articles to see what I mean… I mean, even Buchholz’ studies showed this additional expenditure with lower carbohydrate diets!

    In science, I generally trust those trying to defeat a particular hypothesis as their bias is against a particular proposal and so you should be more likely to see them try to confirm it. As such, when you see someone come up with the opposite results, it’s likely their results are more trustworthy because—as foes of the original idea—they scrutinized the idea far more than those who were friends of the idea.
    1979 [Rabast] Dietetic treatment of obesity with low and high carbohydrate diets
    This guy actually was against low carb diets and for most of his life didn’t care for them… yet he gave them credit where his studies proved him wrong: the metabolic advantage in a carefully controlled “metabolic ward” like you requested (notice he raises the same objections you raised in your post):

    But keep in mind, we are not robots… this explains why, for all its benefits, most diets… including low carbohydrate diets… will fail… not because the diet is biochemically flawed, but because humans are so behaviorally modified by food… as such, most long-term studies comparing low carb to other diets often show “no difference” … but confounders are even harder to control over the long run… humans cheat.

    So to close:
    • Biochemically: a calorie is a calorie
    • Realistically: We are not biochemical robots, so we throw the whole equation out the window
    • Academically: there is a metabolic advantage of about 200-300 calories for low carb diets
    • Real life: the metabolic advantage is usually NOT the source of the advantage of low carb diets… that usually comes from simply denying yourself your addiction (read my note in the Rabast paper).
  20. Jul 11, 2012 #19
    not even close...
    this is only a sampling... there is plenty more from real researchers...

    while there are studies that attempt to show kidney damage from elevated nitrogen... they are rather esoteric, so we'd spend the rest of the month discussing how they are mostly applicable in lab conditions and not as a supplement to your nutritional advice.

    in short, protein ... even elevated protein... is perfectly ok for anyone (read Martin 2005's terrific summary on this point, it will answer even your worst doubts) except perhaps those who's kidneys are on their last leg... and you'd know it if they were (edema, lethargy, immune problems, inflammation, etc).

    frankly, you should reconsider your sources
    WebMD... i rarely pay attention to screwballs that try to push drugs on you while giving you tests to see if you are a candidate for other drugs...
    I'd rather go to the primary sources and talk to folks who are doing the work in the labs
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012
  21. Jul 13, 2012 #20
    Thanks again. That was the study I was looking for. That 200-300 extra kcal you mention seems really phenomenal (to me, anyway). All other things being equal, that would be an extra ~ 1 lb. body weight/fat loss every 2 week period, I think, even though isocaloric? I recall that some loss of ketones via the urine can contribute to the greater weight loss of low-carb diets but I think that is much smaller than that value you mention, so it can't be just the excretion of ketones.
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