Using Protein To Rewire Weight Set Point


Ever since reading Stephan Guyenet’s book, The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat, I’ve been mulling over protein. I fist discussed it towards the end of this post, including a comment by Stephan himself on the subject.

The idea is simple:

  1. Target lots of lean protein.
  2. When eaten with higher fat, go low-carb.
  3. When eaten with higher carb, go low-fat.

I’ll give some meal samples in a bit, but we’re targeting two things here. The first is a high degree of satiation from the protein, which tends to reduce caloric intake. The second thing is to hopefully reprogram your natural setpoint. Whether that actually works or how long it might take to “keep” appears to not be certain at all, and there’s probably significant variation by individual. Stephan goes into some good detail on the mechanisms of set point in this post: The impact of weight loss on the drive to eat.

And here’s another clue: Meta-analysis: Impact of carbohydrate vs. fat calories on energy expenditure and body fatness. In this post, Stephan discusses a recent study by Kevin Hall where they looked at 28 controlled feeding studies that controlled for protein intake and it turns out that when protein is controlled, there’s no meaningful difference between subjects as to whether the rest of their diet was high fat or high carb. In fact, the higher carb showed a slight increase in energy expenditure over higher fat, but no big. Might one infer that perhaps the key to successful, more long-term loss might be upping the protein substantially?

So, as always, I’m more inclined to just wing it, see what happens. The first thing you need is a low-fat substrate of protein. So, think lean cuts of meat: New York Strip, skinless chicken, water-packed tuna and sardines, low-fat cottage cheese and yogurt, etc. Those are my typical choices, anyway, plus fresh fish broiled or grilled. And, this was surprising: ribeye steak has about 6 times the fat, ounce-for-ounce, as a New York strip (6g vs. 1g per pounce).

So, I went and got a some NY strips and a single ribeye to pair with a fattier, LC meal. Plus, I kept things simple. This is over the last few days.


New York Strip, about 10 ounces with a pat of butter, mixed LC vegetables with a pat of butter, a half avocado: higher fat, low carb.



Same basic grilled New York, no butter. 2 potatoes, mashed with only a splash of milk, 16-oz beef stock (zero fat) reduced to a sauce, no fat added: higher carb, low fat.



A 12-oz ribeye and two medium boiled eggs: higher fat, near zero carb.



Same basic New York, no added fat. Two potatoes tossed in 2 tsp coconut oil and oven fried. At least half the coconut oil remained on the cookie sheet: higher carb, low fat.


So, hopefully that conveys the idea if someone is looking to try this for themselves. I have quite been enjoying it, and it’s pretty much been one of these meals above as dinner in the evening and the rest of the intake throughout the day is comprised of things like tuna or sardines on some whole grain toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat plain yogurt, low-fat kefir, and usually a pint to a quart of organic whole milk daily (raw preferred). Oh, and I’ll dabble at a few raw nuts in the shells (so you have to go to the bother of cracking them).

How much protein to target? Well, I like to keep that simple, too, so 1 – 1.5 grams per 2 pounds of bodyweight. So, a 200-pound person would be looking to get 100-150 grams per day.

I would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone who already has been eating somewhat similar to this for a while, and how it’s gone.

Oh, and if you have dogs, they will like this option, too.


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  1. Scott Miller on March 23, 2017 at 10:23

    Hi Richard, long time!

    It’s interesting that your opening three points have been Art De Vany’s recommendation going back at least 10 years ago on his original blog.

    He’s about to turn 80:

    He’s still posting and writing another book:

  2. Michelle on March 23, 2017 at 10:54

    Richard – I think you are great :) I’ve been wanting to do something like style but hesitated as I was not sure if mixing styles up like that would work. If I understand what you are saying I can have a meal either way with lean protein as the center with either low fat high carb sides, or high fat low carb sides. Not over eating, or stuffing large amounts of anything in, eating to satiety.

    It seems so simple my mind kinda blew out. I’m going to try this. I’ve been eating mostly high carb low fat virtually no protein with mixed results and very low energy no matter how many veg or potatoes I put down the pie hole, which in retrospect was pretty dumb. Thanks for the new trail :)

  3. Barbara on March 23, 2017 at 11:23

    This reminds me of an old Suzanne Somers diet from 20 years ago (Somercizing I think). You ate protein, veggies, and fat together OR carbs with lean protein and veggies but NEVER carbs with fat. Had to wait three hours in between combinations. Fruit was to be eaten alone on an empty stomach preferably for breakfast.

    Also has me thinking of Chris Powell’s carb cycling alternating low carb days with added fat and high carb days with no added fat.

    • Jennifer Spinner on March 24, 2017 at 15:39

      Those two came to mind for me, too, as well as a program called “Trim Healthy Mama.” The basic premise (of THM) is separation of “fuels” in each meal.

  4. Resurgent on March 23, 2017 at 11:25

    Richard – That is a interesting experiment, that I am inclined to try myself.

    I have a question – When you say 150g of protein, what is the best way to measure that. I have a kitchen scale, so should I weigh the raw steak before cooking to be 150g – what do you recommend.?

    • Richard Nikoley on March 23, 2017 at 11:30

      I dont measure, I wing it.

      But LF cottage cheese and plain yogurt are like 15g per cup. A can of water packed white albacore is like 30g. It’s not hard, and there is a range.

  5. Justin Watts on March 23, 2017 at 13:51

    Those steaks look great! You’re gonna make me fire up the grill for the next several days to catch up.

    I agree with you that protein is a big factor in satiety. If I do a veggie-only meal, I really have to pack in the food to get that satisfied feeling. Contrast that with grilled burgers we had last night. I grabbed two big ones and a plate of veggies. I ate one patty with cheese and was starting to feel stuffed before I even hit the sides.

    For a while now my “sides” are the star and protein is added afterwards. Think 2/3 plate veggies, 1/3 meat. I keep it fairly low fat, just because my body tells me it doesn’t like when things are fried or slathered in butter. Since I keep it fairly high carb with my veggies, it sounds like my body knows how to signal to me to keep it low fat.

    Part of what I aim to tie in with the mantra of “eat real food” is “eat real portions”. I’ve been following Dan Barber for a while and like his take on things. His study of cuisine and ecology across the globe points to the fact that the American idea of the 10oz steak at every meal 7 days a week is something a natural landscape just doesn’t provide. That ties in with your ratios – 100-150 grams is 3.5 – 5.25 oz a day.

    As a follow-up to your OJ post, I used my new juicer for the first time this morning. It was crazy easy and the taste is amazing. Thanks for the tip on that.

    • Bret on March 24, 2017 at 07:58

      “Eat real portions” could do the chronic keto people a lot of good as well. Absolutely zero evolutionary basis for a diet of 80% or more dietary fat.

    • richard hall on July 15, 2018 at 15:32

      He meant grams of protein not grams of meat. 100g of average red meat would have 20g of protein. Lean eat like Tuna maybe 30g.

  6. Marc on March 23, 2017 at 20:39

    As you know, been eating like this going on 7 years now. First three of my 10 year journey was Art D and then weird paleo meatza shit.

    As to how it’s gone…age- 50 in August.
    Went from 181 bulky muscle pounds (I’m just shy of 5’7) to 160 over the last 2.5 years by being strict with this approach being my main stay. I believe I have hit my “reset point”
    Feel best I ever have and am stronger and push more weight around (especially body weight stuff, pull ups, etc) compared to 181. Believe this factor is due to increased recovery capabilities …ran a half marathon this past weekend without any training whatsoever.

    Supplements …I take a shit ton of spirulina. Look into it, it’s got some fucking crazy science behind it.
    k2/d3 combo almost daily .
    Maca powder
    Lypospheric vitamin c

    And a little green jam from time to time :-)

    Trust you’re great.


  7. K9 on March 23, 2017 at 21:36

    Those doggies are so freaking cute. Feed them liver and photograph your steak after it has been cut but before it has been eaten please.

  8. Paul d on March 24, 2017 at 04:33

    Hi Richard,

    I have been eating like this for many years as well.

    I have managed to go from 86kgs at 5 foot 6, inactive, skinny fat, terribly sickly, to a lean 63-65kgs year round. I have maintained a clearly visible 6 pack for 4 years and am almost 48. I never ever had visible abs until I worked at it. And I easily dip with 30 plus kilos, can do 5 chins with 20 plus kilos, and have deadlifted 2.5 times body weight for a triple (I don’t deadlift anymore). That is just to say that body composition is far more important to me than leanness. I do try and add muscle while remaining lean.

    I was a very early adopter of leangains but have abandoned most of the ideas since. I simply use fasting now and then to regulate my weekly intake by undereating a little when I have overdone it. I may fast until dinner or eat a high carb high protein breakfast depending on the day and my activity levels and the past few days. But without any planning, I simply vary carbs and fats around protein.

    I have a few simple protein meals I do daily. My current favourite is a low fat coffee smoothie I buy for $5, with 30 grams of protein, 30 grams of “carbs” and 8 grams of fat. I soak half a cup of organic rolled oats in it and eat a few hours later. Easy way to get 35 grams of protein, tastes incredible etc and when training weights I do this twice a day. I also have a high protein low carb vegan smoothie I make that gives me 20grams. A carrot, large hit of raw spinach, frozen berries and pea protein.

    The two insights I have had the last year Which have taken the remaining angst out of it all for me are the following.

    Most fitness people recommend training one day on and then taking a day off for recovery. I always eat a lot more food at home over the weekend. I now only train “heavy” weights Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and try and fit a hard but brief conditioning (loaded carries) session in at the same time. Weekends with any diet restriction just suck, so I train really hard and eat huge amounts, and it gels perfectly with my natural weekly eating rhythm. I effectively bulk over the 3 days and enjoy it all so much more. I can add 5 kegs to the scale and after a day of dropping water look almost the same as I did before the weekend.

    When I go out to dinner or lunch on weekends I just eat huge meals of protein. Think massive steak meals, huge bowls of raw seafood etc, protein is naturally 2-3 times higher over the weekend. If high fat, I eat it with salads, if lean (like seafood) I eat carbs and often lots of them for dessert.

    I did the low fat cottage cheese experiment, the canned fish and it just did not work for me.

    Cheers Paul

  9. Kris on March 24, 2017 at 06:47

    Does Stephan discuss the role of leptin resistance in weight loss? I’ve noticed that following habits to sensitize leptin, such as waiting 4-5 hours between meals and not eating within hours before bed allows me to lose lbs quickly and stay satiated. It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat. I saw quick weight loss this way even eating high fat pizza.

  10. Geoff on March 25, 2017 at 13:06

    How about fatty protein solo as a low carb/high fat meal? On an infrequent basis it might be a nice break from the lean protein paradigm. Worth an experiment?

    • Rob on March 25, 2017 at 13:33

      I did that for a year and looked and felt great. It was only after going zero carb that my forever appetite was tamed, and I realized one day that I couldn’t remember the last time I snacked. I could also go long hours between meals with little discomfort. If I ever get my life back together I’m going back to low-carb high fat.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 25, 2017 at 14:23

      Rob, but did you try same protein, high carb an little fat, or was it just a preference?

  11. Rob on March 25, 2017 at 19:25

    At the time I thought carbs were the most important consideration in weight loss/maintenance. So thought the lower the carbs, the better. I didn’t go as far as some in eating as much fat as possible, but I didn’t have any problems no matter how much fat I ate. But while I maintained my weight easily eating this way, I wanted to lose more. This was around the time of the Colpo/Eades war, and I gave the benefit of the doubt to Colpo, so I went zero carb-low fat (Stillman Diet). I ate mostly boiled eggs plus lean chicken breasts, tuna, stuff like that. I rapidly lost a lot of weight, so much that my face was gaunt. My cholesterol also skyrocketed, but dropped like a rock a few weeks later. After all that I went to a more standard “paleo” type diet, with lots of vegetables, and occasional sweet potatoes and some fruit. I gained back a little by still didn’t have much problem staying lean by eschewing starches, sugar and grains.

  12. richard on March 29, 2017 at 11:54

    Thanks for letting me know that Stephan Guyenet wrote a book! I have missed seeing new posts on his blog.

    I look forward to reading it myself, cheers.

  13. JLL on March 31, 2017 at 04:28


    Long time reader here, but first time commenting. Used to be on a high-fat, low-carb diet for years, but the weight started slowly creeping up so am now experimenting with high-carb, low-fat instead.

    I’m confused by one thing — what’s the difference between eating

    1) a lean cut of meat with some avocados (low-carb, high-fat)
    2) a fatty cut of meat without avocados (low-carb, high-fat)

    I mean, you’re still cutting carbs in both cases, and you’re getting plenty of fat, right?

    • Richard Nikoley on March 31, 2017 at 07:16

      Probably not a huge difference, and in fact I did that once, the ribeye and eggs.

      But I think on balance, I’d rather keep the meat lean, get fat more from plants, like avocado, coconut, nuts, etc.

    • Shameer M. on April 2, 2017 at 14:19

      Hi Richard,

      After adopting this way of eating, do you still incorporate getting your fill of resistance starch by way of food or supplements?

    • Richard Nikoley on April 3, 2017 at 07:51

      Not a lot, but plenty of potato in various ways, some whole grain bread. I’ll take the powder now & then.

  14. David Brown on April 2, 2017 at 07:53

    Lean meat is a good source of protein as long as the animal was not grain fed. Among animals finished on grain, ruminants are the safesst bet because most of the polyunsaturated fats are biohydrogenated in saturated fats before absorption into the bloodstream. On the other hand, omnivore animals usually have plenty of arachidonic acid in their cell membranes and, if grain fed, little omega-3.

    Arachidonic acid (AA) in the diet can be efficiently absorbed and incorporated into tissue membranes, resulting in an increased production of thromboxane A2 by platelets and increased ex vivo platelet aggregability. Results from previous studies have shown that AA is concentrated in the membrane phospholipids of lean meats.

    The highest level of AA in lean meat was in duck (99 mg/100 g), whereas pork fat had the highest concentration for the visible fats (180 mg/100 g). The lean portions of beef and lamb contained the higher levels of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) compared with white meats which were high in AA and low in n-3 PUFA. The present data indicate that the visible meat fat can make a contribution to dietary intake of AA, particularly for consumers with high intakes of fat from pork or poultry meat.

  15. Rob on April 2, 2017 at 17:13

    Since this thread began I have gone back to high-fat, low-carb and I’m astounded at how satiating it is. I have no desire to snack at all.

  16. Chris Highcock on April 20, 2017 at 12:14

    A nice basic template. Fix protein. Have a goal for calories. Keeping protein constant and high fill the calorie gap as you wish… highwith carbs or fat

    • Richard Nikoley on April 20, 2017 at 12:19

      Yep, 2 caveats:

      If you are maintaining a significant average cal deficit over time (like say average for a week), then not a big whether you are eating carbs with fat.

      However, if you are at body comp and eating in average balance, better to use fat and carb inversely (as in nature). Higher fat meal, take it easy on the carbs. Higher carb meal, take it easy on the fat.

      Always eschew added fats. Dump the nut butters if you can’t keep it to a sane occasional treat (fortunately, I have never had THAT problem).

  17. Christina Clark on May 15, 2017 at 08:18

    About the whole grain breads—have you checked out Einkorn flour to make bread (can also buy the bread but expensive–a bread machine is easy). This is the original wheat before all the changes made to it and can be used by people needing gluten-free. Very delicious. “Jovial” is the manufacture.

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