Two scenarios could potentially explain this paradoxical phenomenon, both of which seem to shed positive light on carbohydrate-restricted diets.It is possible that the simple act of eating high-protein, high-fat foods causes people to spontaneously eat less total calories. It has been tested and proven many times, that subjects who eat a high-protein meal report being more satisfied and often eat less in the following meal (see satiety). With this explanation, it seems that the regulation of calorie intake does not happen consciously, but rather at the cellular level, sending signals perceived consciously as fullness.
Another explanation, championed by many low-carb enthusiasts, is that carbohydrates, especially refined ones, cause weight gain via their stimulatory effects on insulin, the main hormone required for fat storage. Our fat tissue is regulated by multiple hormones circulating in our blood streams, but the most powerful regulator is insulin. The regulation is quite simple: when insulin is high, the body switches to storage mode, and excess calories are stored in your fat cells; when it is low, energy from your fat cells can be mobilized and used as energy throughout the body.
Many foods spike insulin to varying degrees, but breads, pastas, sugars and refined flours are particularly potent. The USDA-promoted diet, consisting of 65% of one's daily calories deriving from carbohydrates, stimulates net insulin secretion to a greater degree than a low carbohydrate diet. As the theory goes, this excess insulin release may be chronically directing more calories into your fat cells as opposed to your body to be burnt for fuel. This, in turn, will cause the person to remain hungry since a certain amount of necessary energy did not reach the cells but rather was stored away as fat, perpetuating a vicious cycle of hunger co-existing with adipose tissue growth.
This hypothesis implies that calories are secondary in relation to how many carbs you eat. Many of the studies listed below which measured calorie intake seem to support this theory, since the subjects consuming the carbohydrate-restricted diet did not report eating less calories, and often lost more weight. However this is still unclear.
The mechanism by which this extra weight loss occurs remains controversial, but the positive effects of losing the weight is not. In general, the weight loss seems to be most dramatic during the first six months and sometimes levels off after a year or two. The subjects become less compliant to the diet as time goes on, making it impossible to tell if the diet doesn’t work after six months, or the subjects are just not following it properly.
Regardless of the mechanism, carbohydrate-restricted diets seem to be the most effective way to lose weight based on the clinical data. From a practical standpoint it seems logical that the majority of calories consumed on a successful diet should come from the most satiating nutrients. The clinical trials suggest that the simple act of placing someone on a carbohydrate-restricted diet is the only intervention required for the patients to lose weight. Their own internal hunger and satiety mechanisms regulate their food intake, which seems to make calorie counting unnecessary.