Negative Calorie Diet: Does It Actually Work?

negative calorie diet

If you’re up on the latest diet and nutrition trends, you may have heard of the negative calorie diet.  Popularized by Rocco DiSpirito in his book “The Negative Calorie Diet”, it promises that you can “lose up to 10 pounds in 10 days” while eating “as much as you want”.

Needless to say, this is a pretty bold claim.  We’ve heard similar pitches before with The Military Diet and The Grapefruit Diet, but those diets also involved severe caloric restriction.

The negative calorie diet comes with the promise that you can eat as much as you want.  Well, such an alluring pitch may sell books, but is there any science to support this?  Can you really lose 10 pounds in 10 days?

In this article, we’ll answer questions like:

  • What Is The Negative Calorie Diet?
  • What Are Negative Calorie Foods?
  • Is There Any Research To Back Up These Claims?
  • What Can You Expect From The Negative Calorie Diet?

and a whole lot more.  If you’d like to know the truth about the Negative Calorie Diet, based on science (not hype), read on…

What Is The Negative Calorie Diet?

The Negative Calorie Diet is a diet plan which promises to help you lose weight fast without counting calories.  It emphasizes foods which Rocco Disperito, it’s creator, calls “negative calorie foods”.  Rocco uses this term to describe nutritious foods that naturally support weight-loss.

He claims that, by eating these foods on a regular basis, you can actually lose weight without cutting your total calorie intake.

Throughout the book, he gives several examples of foods that he considers negative calorie foods.  We’ll discuss what those foods are in the next section, but they’re mostly fruits and vegetables.

The diet is based on the notion that some calories are better than other calories and that you shouldn’t be counting calories so much as considering the “quality” of the calories you consume.

The book provides several examples of “high quality calories” vs “low quality calories”.  For example, an Orange and a Chocolate Bar may contain the same exact number of calories, but the chocolate bar is fattening and the orange is nutritious.

This is essentially the logic behind the negative calorie diet.  It’s not about restricting calories.  It’s about eating higher quality calories?

High Quality Vs. Low Quality Calories

High Quality Calories

Terms like “high-quality” and “low-quality” may sound good, but what do they really mean?

Well, Rocco provides a few factors that play into whether a food is considered high-quality or low-quality.  In the context of the negative calorie diet, a high quality food would be:

  • high fiber
  • whole grains
  • non-processed
  • high protein
  • low fat

That’s pretty much it.  The diet encourages you to eat foods that have a higher thermogenic effect and feel fuller for longer.  What are some examples?

examples of “negative calorie foods”

Negative Calorie Foods

The diet emphasizes 10 “negative calorie foods” in particular.

  1. Almonds
  2. Apples
  3. Berries
  4. Celery
  5. Citrus Fruits
  6. Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Cabbage, etc.)
  7. Cucumbers
  8. Green Leafy Vegetables
  9. Mushrooms
  10. Nightshades (Tomatoes, Peppers, etc.)

The obvious thing to note here is that most of these are fruits and vegetables.  We’ll talk about why that is in the next section.  The negative calorie diet doesn’t restrict many foods outright.  It encourages you to eat plenty of meat (because it’s high in protein and more thermogenic), use spices, etc.

According to the rules of the negative calorie diet, it’s ALL about the quality of your calories, not the amount you consume.  It seeks to disrupt the commonly held belief that “a calorie is a calorie” and posits that if you choose your foods carefully, you can actually burn fat and lose weight without cutting calories.

And that brings us to the most important question of all…

Is There Any Research To Support This?

Negative Calorie Diet Research

In the book, there are a few examples of studies which “prove” that not all calories are created equal.

In 2003, researchers at the City of Hope National Medical Center in California split subjects into 2 groups.  One group consumed 84g of Almonds per day and the other group consumed complex carbs.  Both groups consumed roughly the same amount of calories and protein.

The subjects on the almond-enriched diet cut more fat and lost more weight than the subjects who ate complex carbs.

A 2004 study conducted at the University of Connecticut compared the weight-loss/fat-loss impact of a low-carb diet vs a low fat diet, matched for calories.

The researchers in this study found that the people who followed the low-carb (ketogenic) diet dropped more fat and lost more weight than those adhering to the low-fat diet, despite consuming slightly more calories on average.

A study out of Penn State which was published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition showed found that subjects who reduced fat intake and increased fruit and veggie intake lost slightly more weight than subjects who only reduced fat intake with no emphasis on eating more fruits and veggies.

If you actually take the time to read this study, both groups lost weight.  Although the weight-loss was slightly greater in  subjects who ate fruit and veggies, after 6 months, there was no significant difference.

Sure, these studies all seem to support the notion that certain kinds of foods are more conducive to burning weight and losing weight than others.

there’s also a lot of research that says it doesn’t really matter that much

A 2003 study found that severely obese subjects who consumed either a low carb diet or a low fat diet experienced about the same amount of weight-loss over a 6 month period.

A similar study conducted 2 years later and published in the same journal found that a very low-carb diet resulted in about the same amount of fat loss as a low-fat diet with the same amount of calories.

These findings were replicated in a 2 year study conducted at Temple University in Pennsylvania.  Both low-carb and low-fat diets (matched for total calories) resulted in weight-loss, but both protocols resulted in about the same weight-loss.

The negative calorie diet doens’t mention these studies of course.  They don’t really jive with the whole notion that you weight loss isn’t just a matter of calories in vs calories out.

So what’s the deal?  Some studies say a calorie is a calorie and some studies say otherwise…

EXACTLY!

It’s time we stop cherry-picking studies to prove our point or sell whatever we’re selling.  The fundamental basis of scientific research is that it builds upon itself and is constantly evolving.  One study doesn’t tell us much about anything, but each study helps us see the bigger picture.

If you take a step back and look at ALL the research, the truth is pretty clear…

Some foods facilitate fat-burning more than others, but calorie restriction is still required to lose weight.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to lose weight unless you burn more calories than you consume.

The bulk of the weight-loss achieved in EVERY STUDY we discussed, was achieved through placing subjects in a caloric deficit.  You can eat Twinkies and drink Pepsi all day long, but if you take in less than you burn, you’ll lose weight.

Are Negative Calorie Foods A Real Thing?

are negative calorie foods real

The Negative Calorie Diet is based on the notion that some foods actually burn fat while others, even if they contain the same amount of calories, are fattening.  First off, let’s just get one thing out of the way.

There’s no such thing as a food that provides actual nutrition but provides less calories than your body expends to digest it.  This is a myth.

The foods listed above, which Rocco considers negative calorie foods, will not magically make you burn fat.

The rationale for eating these foods is that, because they contain a lot of water and few calories, your body will burn more calories digesting them than they provide.  This isn’t true.

However, there are foods which have a greater thermic effect than others.  Protein has the most thermogenic effect out of the macroutrients, so a high protein diet is ideal for fat-loss.

Can You Really Lose 10 Pounds In 10 Days?

10 Pounds In A Week

It’s possible to lose 10 pounds in a week or two, but it’s usually not a good idea.  First off, it requires a MASSIVE calorie deficit.  Considering there are about 3500 calories in 1 pound of fat, you would need to burn 35000 calories in 10 days to lose 10 pounds of pure fat.

If you are severely overweight and have a VERY high calorie diet (like 4500 calories a day) and you cut it to 1000 calories a day, you can technically burn 10 pounds of fat in 10 days.  However, for most people this is not reasonable.  Placing yourself in such such a massive caloric deficit will likely make you:

  • Tired
  • Irritable
  • Hungry

So whether you can even stick to the diet becomes a factor.  Of course, cutting carbohydrates out of your diet will generally lead to a loss of water weight.  You could lose a couple pounds of fat and lose the other 7-8 pounds in water weight fairly easily by restricting carbs.  However, as soon as you start eating carbs again, the water weight will come back.

Cutting water weight is NOT an effective strategy for long-term weight-loss.  10 pounds in 10 days may sound great and sell a lot of books, but it’s just not realistic for most people.

The Bottom Line

The negative calorie diet is definitely the latest over-hyped fad diet, but some of the principles hold true.  It’s true that eating a highly thermogenic diet can help you lose fat in the long term.  It’s also true that a high protein diet is beneficial for fat-loss compared to a high-fat diet.

What’s not true, however, is that some foods magically burn fat.  Food doesn’t burn fat.  energy expenditure  burns fat.  That’s why, no matter what, you need to place yourself in some kind of caloric deficit to lose weight.  You CAN NOT physically lose weight if you are eating more calories than you’re burning.  That’s a fact.

Have anything to add about the negative calorie diet?  Have you tried it?  Thinking about it?  Comment below…