If you want to be successful at weight loss, you need to concentrate on what you eat so you can feel full on fewer calories.
For far too long, most dietary advice to promote weight loss has focused mainly on reducing calorie intake by limiting portion size and carefully counting calories in order to restrict energy intake. No one can argue that from the point of view of physics this strategy has merit but it ignores the biology of how food intake is regulated. Clearly reducing body energy stores requires a negative calorie balance and there is plenty of research showing portion control can be effective weight loss strategy in the short term.
However, there is little evidence that focusing on calorie intake is an effective strategy for long-term weight control. The reason for this failure is not all that complicated. The modern diet consists largely of low-fiber, calorie-dense foods that provide relatively little satiety per calorie. So when people are told to eat less of foods that provide little satiety per calorie they become increasingly hungry over time. The biological drive of hunger eventually overwhelms the intellectual will to eat less and the lost weight is soon regained.
Trying to get people to eat fewer calories while consuming foods with a low satiety-per-calorie ratio is like trying to get people to urinate less while maintaining the same fluid intake. No matter how determined one is, eventually the biological drive to urinate or to eat will overwhelm the intellectual will to fight it.
Now if all foods kept hunger at bay at the same calorie cost, then focusing on what people were eating, rather than on how many calories they were eating, would be no more productive. However, research has shown that foods do in fact vary in terms of how much satiety they provide per calorie. Foods with more water and fiber and less fat provide more satiety per calorie than do calorie dense foods high in fat, sugar and refined grains.1
In 1983, researchers at the University of Alabama published the results of a short-term trial in which obese and normal weight subjects consumed either a typical energy-dense modern diet or a diet with less fat and a lot more foods rich in fiber. In this study the subjects averaged 3,000 kcal per day on the high-energy-dense diet but only 1,570 kcal per day on the low-energy-dense diet. These researchers suggested “….efforts to alter patterns of food selection of obese persons may be more effective than attempts to modify their eating behaviors per se.”2
Simply put, these researchers were suggesting clinicians focus on what people eat rather than trying to limit calorie intake from low satiety foods.
Would advice to reduce fat and eat more fruits and vegetables lead to long term weight control even in the absence of advice to count and reduce calorie intake? That was what researchers examined in a recent year-long trial that examined the impact of counseling overweight subjects to consume a diet lower in fat either with or without additional advice to increase fruit and vegetable intake. Weight loss in those counseled to eat less fat was about 14 pounds after one year but those who were also counseled to eat more fruits and vegetables lost several more pounds. Those eating more fruits and vegetables also reported being less hungry at the end of the study despite weighing about 17pounds less.3
This study shows losing weight without counting calories and keeping it off, while feeling less hungry, appears to be a more biologically rational approach to long-term weight control than having people limit portions of calorie-dense foods and learning to live with chronic hunger.
By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN
1 Euro J Clin Nutr 1995;49:675-90
2 Am J Clin Nutr 1983;37:763-7
3 Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1465-77
Compare 2 Meals for Energy Density
How to figure calorie density:
Calorie density is a way of comparing calories of foods by weight. An easy way to do this is to convert the serving size to one pound and to calculate calories accordingly. While no one usually eats a pound of food, this makes the comparison easier.
1 pound lettuce - 77 calories
1 pound apples - 235 calories
1 pound ground beef - 1174
1 pound cookies - 2143
Note how the calorie density increases when the fat and sugar increases. Picture your stomach as one large bucket; if you fill it with foods that are low in calorie density, such as the lettuce and the apples versus the cookies, you will consume fewer calories during the course of the day.
Compare these two meals:
Hamburger (121 g) - 310 calories, 13 g fat
French fries (117 g) - 360 calories, 18 g fat
TOTAL:?238 grams, 670 calories, 31 g fat
Calorie density: 1276 calories per pound
Stir fry with vegetables and rice (226 g) - 191 calories, 3.5 g fat
TOTAL:226 grams, ?191 calories, 3.5 g fat
Calorie density: 382 calories per pound
The stir fry fry is lower in calories and fat! It is a much better choice.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.