“One Diet Does Not Fit All”, says Stanford Study — Here’s What You Need To Burn Body Fat

It’s odd that Stanford’s recent Diet Study concludes that “one diet does not fit all”, because what they actually show is that there is one that does work for most people. Your grandmother could have told you this, except for the 11 fat-busting tips — those are pretty special.  Read on and watch the video.

One Diet Does Not Fit All

YOU MIGHT have seen some of the various articles bouncing around the Interwebs last week about a new scientific study that investigated the relative benefits of a low-fat versus a low-carb diet.

Given everything you’ve heard about how great is the high-fat, or “Keto” diet, you might be surprised by what the Stanford medical researchers discovered.

I’ll get right to the conclusion, and then speak to what it all might mean to you.

What was tested?

>Low-fat and low-carb diets.

Who conducted the test?

>Scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine.

What did they conclude?

>It’s a draw.

The Stanford scientists show that cutting either carbs or fats shaves off excess body weight in about the same proportion.

Either one can turning the middle-age tide of plumpness back to the lean machine days of yore.

How could this be?

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How the Stanford Study was conducted;
  • The right conclusions to draw from this “one diet does not fit all” study;
  • How the Stanford study’s results compare to popular diets; and
  • 11 specific tips to effectively and efficiently lose body fat.

Let’s dig in…


JR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings had one ring to rule them all, and now perhaps Stanford medical researchers have found the “one diet to lose it all”, except they kinda did that in reverse.

They found that it’s not one particular diet that is ideal for everyone, but that any veggie-rich diet that leads you to eat whole foods at a caloric deficit will enable most anybody to lose body fat.

Rather than determine some ideal caloric allocation of how much of a particular macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein) that’s best suited to melt the fat away, the Stanford scientists discovered that:

  • A low-fat diet will help you lose body fat
  • A low-carb diet will help you lose body fat…
  • If you eat high quality, whole food,
  • No sugar,
  • No processed food,
  • Lots of veggies, and
  • You eat a little less of them all than your body requires to maintain your current weight (ie: caloric deficit).

As Dr. Christopher Gardner, the lead researcher of the Stanford Study, put it:

We’ve all heard stories of a friend who went on one diet — it worked great — and then another friend tried the same diet, and it didn’t work at all.

It’s because we’re all very different, and we’re just starting to understand the reasons for this diversity. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking what’s the best diet, but what’s the best diet for whom?

At this point, what’s pretty clear is that you should begin experimenting with consuming foods that are high quality, unprocessed, prepared at home, balanced (some of each macronutrient at each meal) and put you in a caloric deficit — perhaps 300 to 500 calories under your caloric output per day.

Once that’s done, you need to experiment to see what foods your body most responds to. In my case, I don’t count calories.

So, how do I know I’m in caloric deficit?

Three ways:

  1. I stop eating before I’m full,
  2. I see myself getting leaner in the mirror, and
  3. My pants gradually begin to feel looser.

So, let’s see if the “one diet does not fit all” Stanford Study reveals some pearls of wisdom for you.


How The Stanford Study Was Done

Let’s begin by giving tribute to the masterminds behind the study.

The senior authors of the study are all Stanford scientists; namely: Christopher Gardner, PhD, professor of medicine; Abby King, PhD, professor of health research and policy and of medicine; Manisha Desai, PhD, professor of medicine and of biomedical data science; and John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, professor of medicine.

Christopher Gardner

Christopher Gardner, PhD.

Abby C. King

Abby King, PhD

Manisha Desai

Manisha Desai, PhD

John P.A. Ioannidis

John Ioannidis, MD

Here are the particulars about how the Stanford Study was implemented:

  • To glean if individual biological factors dictate weight loss, Dr. Gardner recruited 609 participants between the ages of 18 and 50; half men, half women, and all randomized into one of two dietary groups: low-carbohydrate or low-fat.
  • Individuals participated in two pre-study activities, the results of which were later tested as predictors of weight loss:
    • Their genome was sequenced, allowing scientists to look for specific gene patterns associated with producing proteins that modify carbohydrate or fat metabolism.
    • Their insulin was tested to establish a baseline insulin response to food for each participant.
  • Each group was instructed to maintain their diet for one year.
  • The first 2 months — Participants were told to limit their daily consumption of either carbs (that found in 1½ slices of whole wheat bread), or fat (that found in a generous handful of nuts) to 20 grams.
  • After 2 months — The respective low-carb and low-fat diet groups were instructed to make small, gradual adjustments as desired to add back 5 to 15 grams of fat or carbs, with the aim of finding the balance that could be maintained indefinitely.
  • Results after 12 months — Those on the low-fat diet reported an average daily fat intake of 57 grams, and those on the low-carb diet reported an average daily carb intake of 137 grams, as compared to  down from 87 grams; those on low-carb ingested about 132 grams of carbohydrates per day, a substantial reduction given that average fat consumption for all participants before the study started was around 87 grams a day, and average carbohydrate intake was about 247 grams.

Fat and Carb Consumption Before and After Stanford Diet Fit Study

Fat Consumption (grams) Carb Consumption (grams)
Before Study (all): 87 Before Study (all): 247
After Study (low-fat group): 57 After Study (low-carb group): 132


What Can You Conclude From The “One Diet Does Not Fit All” Study?

Dr. Gardner says that the biggest takeaway from this study is that you can lose body fat with either a low-fat or low-carb approach, as long as you…

Eat less:

  • Sugar and
  • Refined flour… and

Eat more:

  • Vegetables and whole foods.

Eat fewer:

  • Calories than are required to maintain your current (overweight) weight.

Dr. Gardner emphasizes that we choose “whole foods”, whether that is a wheat-berry salad or grass-fed beef, as opposed to packaged or fast foods. This requires a heaping dose of mindfulness and intent.

“… we heard from people who had lost the most weight that we had helped them change their relationship to food, and that now they were more thoughtful about how they ate,” said Gardner.

What’s key, Dr. Gardner said, was emphasizing that the diets in the Stanford Study were healthy low-fat and low-carb diets. A soda is typically low-fat, but it’s certainly not healthy. Lard may be low-carb, but an avocado is far healthier.

“We made sure to tell everybody, regardless of which diet they were on, to go to the farmer’s market, and don’t buy processed convenience food crap. Also, we advised them to diet in a way that didn’t make them feel hungry or deprived — otherwise it’s hard to maintain the diet in the long run,” said Gardner. “We wanted them to choose a low-fat or low-carb diet plan that they could potentially follow forever, rather than a diet that they’d drop when the study ended.”

Next up, Dr. Gardner describes the Stanford Diet Fit Study and how you might use their findings to tweak your own diet:


Highlights from the video:
  • We don’t really think there’s one diet for everyone.
  • Food quality if of paramount importance. We want you to go to the farmers’ markets, want you to cook more for yourself, want you to sit down with your family. Don’t want you to snack in front of the TV, don’t want you to eat in the car.
  • Even though there were low-fat and low-carb genotypes among participants, this did not predict at all those who were more or less successful on either diet.
  • The more I’ve looked into this, the more conferences I go to, I continually see three factors come up again and again. Get rid of added sugar, get rid of refined grain, and eat as many vegetables as you can.

Click here to read the video transcript

Christopher Gardner, PhD, professor of medicine and the lead author of the study:

For decades, we’ve been pursuing a low-fat diet as a public health message. Then all of a sudden there seemed to be a flip-flop.

People said the low-fat thing was wrong.

It was the opposite, it was supposed to be low-carb. It seems like there’s been this very active debate and opponents on either side.

The acronym for our study is the DIET FIT study.

We don’t really think there’s one diet for everyone. One of the issues that would help people, if we could find out which diet is best for whom.

In this particular study, we wanted them to both be very high-quality low-carb and very high-quality low-fat. We wanted them to be huge differences. We actually weren’t sure how far we should push people. We came up with this idea that we would push both groups in the first eight weeks of the 12 month study to try to get to 20 grams of fat or 20  grams of carbs.

If you don’t know much about diet, those are huge changes from what they had at baseline.

Another point we hit home all the time was quality. Want you to go to the farmers’ markets, want you to cook more for yourself, want you to sit down with your family. Don’t want you to snack in front of the TV, don’t want you to eat in the car.

We told both groups, low-fat and low-carb, as little or no added sugar if possible, as little or no refined grain if possible, and as many vegetables as you can.

With that as the backbone, they went in their low- fat or low-carb direction.

This required quite a few people. We ended up with 609 enrolling in the study with more than 300 assigned to each diet. All of them were this wide range of genetic predisposition potentially, and insulin/glucose regulation variability, potentially.

The premise was that if we teased that apart and then looked by diet group, could we explain the individual variability that we consistently see in these studies? That’s what we were after.

In order to test the hypotheses we had going into this study, we had to meet a lot of the assumptions that we thought we would get. One of them was that people would lose a lot of weight in a weight-loss study.

They did. They lost collectively 6,500 pounds. The other thing that had to happen was that we needed people to have a wide variability of weight change on both diets.

Some of the participants lost , 40, 50, 60 pounds, some gained 10 to 20 pounds and everything in between.

At the end of the day, neither of our original hypotheses proved to be true. There’s a low-fat genotype. There was a low-carb genotype. High percentages of people fell into both categories, not predictive at all of who was more or less successful on either diet.

No matter what their insulin glucose dynamics were, in our hands, there was no ability to predict if one diet was better than another.

So, close the doors on our original two hypotheses, but the future is full of opportunity for building on this study. People are going to want to know what to recommend. We’re not going to recommend low-fat over low-carb, or vice versa, because that’s not what we found.

Depending on how you choose to define low-fat or low-carb in terms of food choices and food patterns, you can make a plausible mechanistic link between either camp, low-fat or low-carb, and better health.

The more I’ve looked into this, the more conferences I go to, I continually see three factors come up again and again. Get rid of added sugar, get rid of refined grain, and eat as many vegetables as you can.

Those are all enormous challenges in the American diet and many diets globally. Yet, we’re battling about points on the fringe of this whole debate without getting to the core.

I think if we really focused on added sugar and refined grain decrease or elimination, and we worked with some of our favorite chefs to make vegetables even more unapologetically delicious, a lot of the debates would go away.

If the results of the Stanford Study surprise you, perhaps because they’re so simple and common sensical, just sit down and pat yourself on the head, cause you’re right.


How Does The Stanford Study Results Compare To Popular Diets?

Many highly rated, popular diets are based on the same conclusions made by the Standford study.

In her review of the Stanford Study, MarketWatch writer Sally French underscores some common traits among top-rated diets.

DASH, the #1 diet

The No. 1-ranked diet according to U.S. News & World Report is the DASH plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which gives a hearty thumbs up for fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein, and a sad thumbs down for red meat and sugary snacks.

Other top-rated diets include the Mediterranean diet and the Flexitarian diet, and yes, they both emphasize consuming lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and olive oil, and encourage eating lean meats like fish and poultry over red meat.

These are also similar to the Renaissance Periodization diet, wildly popular among weightlifters and Crossfitters. Here you consume about 10 handfuls of vegetables per day, and select nutritious foods, such as non-fat Greek yogurt with fruit for carbohydrates before a workout versus a sugar-loaded energy bar.

Sally French points out that eating less sugar and more veggies doesn’t just benefit your waistline. The Mediterranean diet has also been scientifically proven to counteract the effects of aging on the brain’s ability to function, and plant-based diets have proven that they can delay or even possibly reverse chronic illnesses that too often arrive at our doorstep during our Golden Years.

And leave it to a “digital, social, mobile and emerging media expert”, as Sally French describes herself, to point out a nuance that even most nutritionists don’t know. She says to:

“Look for fruits or vegetables with a natural compound called nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), which is found in broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes. Scientists in Missouri found that mice that consumed large doses of NMN had better skeletal muscle, liver and eye function, insulin sensitivity, immune function, appropriate body weight and physical activity levels.”

I might add that NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) and NR (nicotinamide riboside) are precursors (meaning that they augment) NAD levels in the body, which can decline by 50% or more as we age, which is thought to be a major reason we get frail and susceptible to chronic disease as we get older.

As I wrote in Why I Increased “My NAD+ Levels” By Doubling My Dose of Nictotinamide Ribosideall these initials (NMN, NR, NAD) are part of the energy factory that is our mitochondria function in nearly every cell of our bodies.  And now a human trial has shown that the supplement called Basis, containing Nictotinamide Riboside and Pterostilbene, can dramatically increase your NAD+ levels, which decline precipitously with age, and thereby is thought to contribute to the degeneration that is aging.


Yawn, What Now?

OK, I get that I spent quite some time now — far longer than it took for you to read it — to pretty much tell you 83% of what you already knew; that one diet does not fit all.

I get that you might not be very motivated to try anything new, diet-wise, because nothing bright and shiny was offered.

I simply can not let that happen to you.

So, in addition to links to my 8 Sure-fire Ways to Trim Body Fat and Keep It Off Forever, 22 Belly Fat Tips From Three Experts That Will Make You Healthy and Lean and The Baby Boomer’s Guide To Trimming Body Fat, I also will share Kris Gethin’s 11 ways to burn more body fat right here.

Kris Gethin is a bodybuilder, writer and photographer who recommends 11 ways you can more effectively and efficiently lose body fat than constantly focusing on caloric deficits.

He includes lots of bright and shinny things… but you can only play with most of them if you earn them. The currency? Lots sweat; hold the blood and tears.

Naturally, I’ll add my two cents to each of these 11.

1. Avoid Insulin Spikes for Most of the Day

This is simple — just eat the foods that spike your blood sugar (and thereby spike your insulin), like most non-veggie carbs, just before and/or after exercising.

Insulin transports calories that you don’t use into fat cells; thus, eat most of your carbs close to when you exercise.

Note: Don’t kid yourself. If your exercise today is a stroll on the treadmill while reading the newspaper, that quarter pounder cheeseburger is still going to wiggle its way into your fat cells, as you do not need so many calories to fuel to energize, or provide nutrients to rebuild muscle tissue and hasten recovery for such a modest “workout”.

Do this: Avoid sugar, fruit juices, and processed carbs such as breads and pasta most of the time, especially when your primary goal is to cut body fat. These foods spike insulin, blunt metabolism, and make it harder to lose fat.

2. Encourage Insulin Spikes Around the Time of Your Workouts

The one caveat to avoiding insulin spikes is that you should encourage them around the time of your workouts — if your workouts are demanding.

Insulin drives the calories and nutrients you consume to muscle tissue when you’re training. In effect, it will provide your muscles with additional energy, and it will provide the raw materials to support muscle repair and growth when you consume protein.

You need only pay attention to this tidbit if you workout hard and are trying to build muscle; otherwise, it’s overkill.

If that describes you, consider consuming a fast-digesting protein source, such as whey isolate, with fast-digesting carbs such as rice cakes and honey, 90 minutes before or 60 minutes after workouts.

I work out often and pretty hard, but all I do (if I think of it) prior to a workout is to chew on some raw red beets for their nitric oxide, and drink some water spiked with creatine powder (and beet root powder if I’m out of the real thing). After the workout, I typically drink a smoothie chocked full of berries, veggies, kiefer, whey protein powder and branch chain amino acids.

Do this: Post-workout, put the emphasis on protein, and limit the carbs to 20-25 grams of total carbs. Mix them all in a blender. If eating the macronutrients separtely, consider avoiding fats and fiber pre- and post-workout, as they will slow absorption of the nutrients your muscles, broken down by the exericse, require — assuming you’re exercising hard enough!.  Consume the protein right after your workout, followed by some carbs 45 to 60 minutes afterwards.

3. Boost Fiber Consumption for Better Fat-Loss Results

A diet that’s high in fiber supports heart health and a wide range of other crucial health markers — including body fat reduction.

Getting plenty of fiber with a meal helps blunt the release of insulin, which will help you pull more fat from storage (body fat cells). In addition, fiber “traps” some of the calories you consume, pulling them through your body instead of allowing them to be absorbed. Fiber also helps you feel more full while fewer calories are absorbed into your body (and more fat is released).

Do this: Try psyllium and glucomannan twice a day before your largest meals. Fibrous vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and kale are good bets and add some important phytonutrients. Getting a good dose of fiber before and during whole-food meals helps make sure you don’t overeat calorie-dense foods, especially those high in carbs.

11 Ways to Burn More Fat Every Day
4. Try Intermittent Fasting

This nutrition strategy is particularly beneficial for those trying to reduce body fat. It’s less helpful for skinny people seeking to add muscle mass, and especially those who already have a fast metabolism.

There are many different ways to do intermittent fasting; each type dependent on the length of the fasting/feeding windows.

Three common ones are:

  • 12/12 — Twelve hours eating, same not eating, say from 8:00PM to 8:00 AM
  • 16/8 — say from 8:00 PM to 1:00 PM the next day (the one I do)
  • 5:2 — 5 days eat normally, 2 days under-eat, or abstain from eating.

If you’re interested in IF, go get a cup of coffee and sit down for a spell, cause I’ve got lots for you to read, such as:

Do this: Choose the feeding window that works best for you, but make certain that you don’t break your fast with foods that spike insulin. Start with slow-digesting protein sources, foods high in fiber, or those that are moderate in dietary fats.

5. Energize With Caffeine

Caffeine can get you mentally and physically tuned ready for hard training, but there’s more!

Caffeine accelerates the release of fat from storage, and it also helps prevent driving calories you’ve consumed into storage. Moreover, caffeine stimulates your central nervous system to support longer, better workouts. One of the ways it does this is by blunting the perceived pain associated with intense weight or body weight training. In other words, it helps you lift more weight and push out more reps.

Do this: Don’t fear caffeine, but know how to use it. Everyone responds a bit differently to caffeine, and it can be a beneficial tool in aiding fat loss. Just be careful not to take too much too late (in the afternoon), or it could impact your ability to sleep. Surely, organic, plant-based caffeine sources is preferable to the synthetic caffeine in most pre-workouts and energy drinks.

6. Use BCAAs for Muscle Fuel and Fat Loss

You lose body fat when you’re in caloric deficit, but if this is not well-managed, you could lose that hard won muscle tissue as well.

By supplementing BCAAs, a group of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine,  you help prevent this, helping to maintain metabolism. In addition, BCAAs encourage the release of insulin to help drive nutrients to muscle tissue when you take them around the time of your workouts.

Do this: If your workouts do not break down muscle tissue, do nothing. If they do, take high-quality BCAAs before and after workouts when you exercise intensely. Don’t use them when you don’t want to spike insulin.

7. Take Creatine for Improved Workouts

Creatine is a very popular and safe supplement known to help to bolster strength and muscle gains from training. However, when fat loss is the goal, many people skip it. This is a mistake!

The extra cellular fuel provided by creatine can equate to another rep or two during any given set. Over time, this extra volume increases muscle mass, and more muscle helps you stay—or get—leaner.

Do this: Take creatine HCL if you exercise hard and your muscles need some help with recovery. For best results, get in 750 milligrams for each 100 pounds of body weight. Take it with water 30-60 minutes before training, with your other pre-workout products, if any. You may also take the same dose immediately after workouts to support recovery, if needed (I don’t).

8. Supplement With Carnitine After Workouts

Alrighty, after arm wrestling with myself over this, I decided to include this one with the caveat supplementing with carnitine after workouts should only be contemplated by three of you, and you’re probably not among them. (Nor am I.)

Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid that’s synthesized in the liver and kidneys from lysine and methionine, two other amino acids. Carnitine promotes both fat-burning and muscle-building, making it a great supplement choice during a cutting phase. Essentially, carnitine helps transport fatty acids into your cells to be used for energy. This helps burn fat released from storage as well as preventing fatty acids from being driven to stored body fat.

So, what’s wrong with that?

Well, researchers found was that within 24 hours of carnitine consumption—eating a sirloin steak, taking a carnitine supplement—certain gut bacteria metabolize the carnitine to a toxic substance called trimethylamine, which then gets oxidized in our liver to TMAO (trimethylamine-n-oxide), which then circulates throughout our bloodstream.

What’s so bad about TMAO is that it may increase the risk of buildup of cholesterol in the inflammatory cells in the atherosclerotic plaques in our arteries, increasing our risk of heart attack, stroke, death—and, if that isn’t enough, cardiac surgery, as well.Do this: If you’re truly a hard core weight lifter, take 1.5 grams of L-carnitine before and after your weight workouts.

9. Avoid Diet Sweeteners at Most Times of Day

Calorie-free sweeteners likely cause your body to release insulin, despite the fact that they are virtually calorie-free.

11 Ways to Burn More Fat Every Day

The more insulin that’s released, the more your body will be inclined to drive calories to fat storage. That’s true if you’re eating food with a beverage with artificial sweeteners, or if you’re consuming artificial sweeteners with no calories whatsoever.

Note that many protein products contain diet sweeteners, but you can consume these around the time of your workouts when you’re seeking an insulin release to drive muscle growth and recovery.

If you use artificial sweeteners of any kind, pull your head from the sand and read Artifical Sweeteners Make You Fat, Neotame Makes You Sick.

Do this: Avoid diet sweeteners except from the supplements you take before or after your workouts, when the insulin spike supports your goals.

10. Don’t Fear a Small Late-Night Snack

A late-night snack will disrupt your Intermittent Fasting, but if you’re not doing that and you’re exercising hard and frequently, the right snack at night could be beneficial.

For late-night snacks, emphasize slow-digesting proteins such as a high quality casein or meat—beef is especially good here— as well as some dietary fats and fiber.

The addition of fats and fiber will slow digestion, providing a steady release of nutrients to protect muscle tissue from catabolism (breakdown) while you sleep.

Again, this is only advisable for those on a real, strong exercise regimen; otherwise, it’s best to get at least a 12-hour breather from consuming food, say from 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM.

Do this: Keep your late-night snack small, like 20-30 grams of casein protein with some fiber-rich berries, and no more than about 300 calories.

11. Don’t Skip the Steady-State Cardio

These days many athletes, such as Crossfitters and body builders/weightlifters emphasize high-intensity interval training (HIIT) when they’re dieting, but even if it’s out of favor, don’t nix steady-state cardio.

11 Ways to Burn More Fat Every Day

HIIT burns off more calories short term, but it comes with a price — it’s intense!

If you’re already doing intense body weight or weightlifting training and cutting calories, you can only handle so much before your body breaks down, typically via excess cortisol production by the body as a response to stress.

Cortisol is the hormone released during periods of stress, including intense training, and its presence makes it harder to burn fat and recover from weight-training workouts.

Steady-state cardio helps you control body fat without boosting cortisol.

Do this: Perform 20-30 minutes of steady-state cardio first thing in the morning after consuming BCAAs and glutamine, or after your weight-training workouts, getting in several sessions a week.


Your Takeaway

Remember these six points, because even if one diet does not fit all, doing this will do much for most:

  1. You will begin to lose body fat if you eat mostly high quality whole foods — the kind of food that looks pretty much the same in the grocery as at the farm.
  2. Increase the amount of veggies that you eat.
  3. At each meal, try to have a portion of each macronutrient — protein, carbs and fats, but ensure that the protein is lean (Alaskan Salmon is great), the carbs are complex (veggies, lentils, beans, a small amount of whole grains) and the fats are derived from omega-3 fatty acids (avocado, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts).
  4. Stop eating before you’re full. Don’t worry, you will be at the trough soon enough.
  5. If you get hungry in between meals, drink a couple of eight ounces of pure water, each glass with a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar.
  6. If you do vigorous resistance training, like calisthenics or weight lifting, try a few of the 11 tips.

Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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