Losing Weight by Eating Ice Cream

It’s every dieter’s dream. Eating the foods that you love and losing weight at the same time.


Impossible, right? Foods like ice cream, pizza, chocolate etc. are widely known as being fattening because they contain the two most reviled substances of the modern dieter: fat and sugar.


Fat + Sugar = Love Handles


Case closed. Full stop. Don’t let ice cream ever touch your lips or it will be forever on your hips. Right? Or is it right?


Let’s look at this the only way that makes any sense; scientifically. To make things easier to understand, let’s introduce a guinea pig into this article. Let’s give a big welcome to Bobby. Bobby is the every man. Perfectly average in every way; just look at his stats:

  • 25 years old
  • 175cm (5’9”) tall
  • 70kg (154lb) body weight
  • Lifts weights 3 days a week and is otherwise lightly-moderately active

Based on these details and using the Harris-Benedict formula for calculating metabolic rate {1} (which is by no means a completely accurate formula but is used here to simply give an estimate of metabolic rate) we can calculate that Bobby needs to consume approximately 2,500 calories/day in order to maintain his bodyweight. This, funnily enough, falls in line with the recommended calorie allowance for adult men according to both the USDA {2} and the National Health Service of the U.K. We’ve also been observing Bobby’s normal diet over the course of the month and have recorded that he does indeed consume on average 2,500 calories per day and his body weight is stable. Looks like we’re off to a good start.


Now Bobby is perfectly happy with his weight as it is (good for you Bobby) but as he’s our Guinea pig, he has no say in the matter and we, the scientific community, want Bobby to lose some weight (sorry Bobby).


How on Earth can we get Bobby to lose weight? Well, it stands to reason that if Bobby is eating 2,500 calories per day and maintaining his weight then eating less than 2,500 calories will put Bobby in what’s called a “calorie deficit” and cause him to lose weight. This “crazy” idea of eating less to lose weight is based on something called “the first rule of thermodynamics” which states “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but transformed from one form to another” (it’s just a little UNIVERSAL LAW, essential to our entire concept of physics… no biggy).


In other words, if a closed system (Bobby’s body) is provided with less energy than it needs to maintain itself, it will use it’s own stored energy (body fat) to function resulting in a decrease in those energy stores, otherwise known as weight-loss. So all Bobby needs to do to lose weight is eat less food than he needs. Hands up if you just had your mind blown.


I know this may sound pretty damn obvious to a lot of you but believe me, there is an embarrassingly large number of people out there who don’t want to believe this to be true (just like there are actually people who don’t believe in evolution… I know right!).


Well, now that we understand the science, let’s get to the ice cream.


Bobby’s Diet

We want to test out a few diets on Bobby, just because we can, so we carry out an experiment on Bobby and his clone (oh yeah, we’ve cloned Bobby so we always have a control subject for our experiments... and so Bobby has someone to talk to when we lock him in his  cage... I mean room at night).


We decide that we’re going to put both of the Bobbys into a calorie deficit of 200 calories less than maintenance, per day. 2,500 – 200 = 2,300 calories per day for the Bobbys. Now, ½ kg (~1lb) of fat tissue contains about 3500 calories {3} so if we divide 3,500 by 200 calories a day (Bobby’s deficit) it should take him 18 days to lose ½ kg of weight. Nice, slow, manageable weight-loss (the way it should be done folks!).


Ice cream… and some hippy crap

Bobby No.1 was put on the ice cream diet, which he followed diligently (Bobby loves ice cream), recording his daily intake of ice cream with a calorie-tracking app. His daily macronutrient intake was as follows:



Basically he was eating almost 2 entire pint tubs (836g) of premium ice cream a day.


Bobby No. 2 on the other hand followed a similar, but different diet. He just ate avocados and bananas as we can see from his food log here:


Bobby No.2 was eating about 4½ avocados (900g) and a little over 8 bananas (1kg+) per day.


How is this apparently healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet of avocados and bananas “similar” to a clearly unhealthy diet of fattening ice cream? Well folks, hold on to your hats because we’re going for a ride through “knowledge bomb” town.


Ice cream is just like Avocados & Bananas???

From outward appearances, the two Bobbys’ diets look significantly different but from a macronutrient perspective (protein, carbohydrate and fats) they are surprisingly similar and we can see this if we look at the macronutrient breakdown of both diets:


As you can see the calorie and fat content of both diets is virtually identical and the protein and carbohydrate contents are comparable. (The higher carb content of Bobby No.2’s diet is probably due to a combination of fiber and the fact that “a certain” calorie-tracking app frequently shows calorie/macro discrepancies. We’ll choose to ignore this here, it’s not hugely important to my point).


Now, if you were to observe the two Bobbys over the course of the 18 days we estimated it would take for them to lose ½ kg (1lb) of bodyweight, who do you think would lose significantly more weight?


If you said Bobby No.2, you’re wrong and if you said Bobby No.1, you’re also wrong. Confused yet?  The truth of the matter is that over such a time scale, it’s quite probable that both diets would result in about the same amount of weight loss.


“That’s preposterous! Someone eating nothing but ice cream can’t possibly lose the same amount of weight as someone eating nothing but avocados and bananas!”. That’s exactly what the majority of people reading this are thinking which is mostly due to the image that has been created for these foods in the mass media. Ice cream is seen as something that should be seriously limited or eliminated from our diets whereas avocados and bananas as something that should be included.


However the fact of the matter is that the most important driver of weight loss is a caloric deficit. Both of the diets mentioned above are not only matched to have an equal caloric deficit (something essential for accurately comparing the effects of different diets) but are also accurately matched for fat and similarly matched for protein and carbohydrate content. In reality it has been proven time and time again that diets that are matched for calories or macronutrients end up with similar levels of weight loss regardless of the specific foods consumed {4-6}. So based on the universal laws of thermodynamics, which I mentioned earlier, both of the diets we’ve seen here will result in similar weight loss in the short term because they both provide similar calories and macronutrients.



So, should we all follow the ice cream diet???




In fact, you shouldn’t follow either of the two diets mentioned here as neither are well balanced. If I had to pick one of them to live on for the rest of my life it would be a tough call; Pralines & Cream is my favorite flavor of ice cream… EVER… but man can not live on ice cream alone. I would obviously pick the avocado and banana diet as it’s not only higher in almost all major vitamins and minerals (except calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D, obviously enough), but it’s also higher in fiber and a host of plant-derived anti-oxidants that contribute to general health (you can check the figures yourself using the USDA Food Database).


However, Bobby No.2’s diet is far from perfect. In fact it’s low in a number of essential minerals such as iron and zinc and just like Bobby No.1’s diet, it’s laughably low in protein (a guy of Bobby’s size who lifts weights should be aiming for a minimum of 126g of protein per day {7}), which is essential for maintaining muscle mass while dieting. In the long term, this is far from an optimally balanced diet.


The Importance of Balance

We’re finally starting to get where I aiming with this article. Let’s try and create a more balanced diet for Bobby with a similar caloric deficit so he can lose weight and stay healthy in a much more long-term way.


Now we’re talking. I’m not going to go through the diet above in detail but it is far superior compared to either of the other two diets the Bobbys had to endure. I can summarize its benefits as follows:

  • Same caloric deficit allowing for the same initial rate of weight loss
  • Adequate protein allowing for better maintenance of muscle mass
  • Wide variety of foods including plenty of nutrient dense fruit, vegetables, whole-grains and legumes providing a wide array of vitamins, minerals and fiber
  • Reduced fat content (but increased essential fatty-acids) which allows for a greater volume of food and greater satiety
  • Still has some ice cream (making up a measly 12% of his total daily calories)

Why is the Ice Cream so important???

Well it is and it isn’t. While I said earlier the biggest driver of weight loss is a caloric deficit, the most important factor for weight loss success is CONSISTENCY i.e. the ability to sustain a diet long term. You can lose weight on a multitude of different diets but if you can’t maintain that diet (for whatever reason) you’ll simply gain all the weight back again. That’s why so many extreme or fad diets work so well initially; people lose a lot of weight due to the initial caloric deficit but eventually give up due to the strict/limited food choices and regain the weight through compensatory binging (sound familiar?).


Neither Bobby No.1’s nor Bobby No.2’s test diets were sustainable! No matter how good a food is, if you have it and nothing else every day, you’ll get bored, feel restricted and eventually crave other foods.


However, if you’re diet is unrestricted in terms of what you can eat (provided you fulfill your own individual macronutrient and micronutrient requirements) therefore allowing you to enjoy some of your favorite foods in moderation, then that diet becomes much more sustainable in the long-term.


This is why the flexible-dieting approach has been shown to not only lead to an improved relationship with food (you don’t fear certain foods because you think they will cause you to gain weight) but also results in more successful, sustainable diets {8-11}.


As I mentioned, Bobby loves ice cream. While the last diet I outlined above is very healthy and well balanced, if Bobby can’t stick to it because he can’t eat some of his favorite foods, gets cravings and is miserable, then it’s pointless. However, if the majority of Bobby’s diet is made up of varied and balanced, nutrient dense foods, and if he’s also allowed some the foods he loves (ice cream, pizza etc.) then his diet becomes a whole lot more sustainable.


We’ve already seen that you can lose weight eating nothing but ice cream (provided there’s a caloric deficit). So by the same logic, eating a well balanced diet that includes a little ice cream (or whatever food you like) while maintaining the same caloric deficit will also allow you to lose weight. I am by no means saying that you have to eat ice cream, nor am I saying that ice cream is an essential part of a healthy diet. I’m saying that if you want some, have some, especially if it helps you stick to a healthy eating plan over all and in the long run.


Basically, you don’t have to think of your diet in terms of black and white. To live a sustainably healthy life, everything you consume doesn’t need to be organic/vegan/wholegrain/produced with unicorn tears. If eating a little of the foods you love makes your otherwise “perfect” diet more sustainable, then do it and be happy knowing that the greater consistency you achieve in your diet is making you more successful than any fad-diet in existence.




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