Look at the whole equation:
Calories in < Calories out
For example, it’s true that 50 calories of protein may slightly promote fat loss more than 50 calories of sugar. However, that isn’t because the calories in is any different. It’s because the calories out is different.
In theory, protein has a greater thermic effect than carbs. It raises your metabolism slightly, causing you to burn more calories in the process of being consumed.
So the basic equation stands. As long as calories consumed is less than calories burned, you should lose fat.
What I’m not sure about is how significant that thermic effect is in the real world. Overall, I’m not convinced that the slight metabolism boost makes nearly as much of a difference to fat loss as simply controlling the amount of calories consumed and burning more calories through exercise.
My current thinking is that the positive results I’ve seen on various nutrition plans over the years is 95% due to simply eating less than I consume, and maybe 5% due to all the other voodoo that we tend to obsess about.
I think there’s some danger in overestimating the value of meal timing, macro ratios, leptin manipulation, etc. For example, eating too much during a cheat meal can undo the progress you’ve made despite all the fancy theories that justify having a cheat meal at that time.
I’m currently following Joel Marion’s Cheat to Lose diet. I believe the basic theory that gradually increasing carbs during the week and having one cheat day can help maximize leptin levels and facilitate fat loss.
But does all that really make much of a difference compared to simply eating less than you burn? I think the real benefit of Joel’s diet is that it has helped me consistently control my caloric intake 6 days/week. I suspect that if I controlled my calories on that 7th day instead of cheating, I would see even better results.
We can talk about the motivating value of a cheat meal, but as long as you have the discipline to consume less than you burn aren’t you better off foregoing the complexity and restrictions of the various plans out there and keeping it simple?