Weight Loss: What?s Working?

Data from 1960-1962 found 13.4% of Americans, ages 20-74, obese. Data from 1999-2000 showed this number has increased to 30.9%.1 61% of Americans are now overweight or obese.

 This weight gain is no mystery

An increase in body weight requires an intake of calories (energy) in excess of calories burned. Further, to maintain adult weight gain, calorie intake must be permanently increased by about ten calories per pound per day. Each pound of adipose tissue contains about 3,500 calories. It takes about the same amount of additional calories each year to maintain a one-pound weight gain as it took to gain it in the first place.

The first law of thermodynamics demands that losing excess body fat requires an energy deficit. The laws of physics tell us that weight loss requires either a reduction in calorie intake and/or an increase in energy expenditure without a corresponding calorie increase.

Why does calorie counting often fail in the long run?

Traditionally, weight loss strategies have focused on reducing calorie intake by restricting portion size or counting calories. However, most people find that as their weight drops, they become more and more hungry. The limited portion sizes leave them unsatisfied. Eventually this increased hunger drives people to eat more than the prescribed amount of calories. People often report that they were doing pretty well with their diet but didn’t really feel satisfied and so they begin to eat more. Sometimes they become so hungry that they binge on rich calorie-dense foods such as ice cream, cookies, pizza, chips, etc.

What individuals are lacking on their calorie-restricted diet plans is called satiety. Research shows that simply eating less of the foods that make up the typical American diet will probably leave most people unsatisfied.

There are 2 ways to achieve a negative calorie balance without leaving people hungry and unsatisfied.

1. Change what you eat.

One way is to focus on what people eat rather than how much they eat. Why? Some foods provide greater satiety for the same amount of calories. Satiety is the flip side of hunger. The more satiated you feel after eating a meal or snack the less hungry you feel. Satiety is also a measure of how long it takes for you to become hungry again after eating a meal. A high-satiety meal will make people feel more satiated initially and will also stave off hunger longer than a low-satiety meal.

In general, a higher calorie intake is associated with greater satiety. A small handful of peanuts may leave you hungry for more, but if you ate an 8-ounce can of peanuts, chances are most people would feel very satiated and won’t be hungry again for at least several hours. If people felt the same degree of satiety from the same number of calories regardless of what foods those calories came from, then it really would not matter what they ate. But research has shown that satiety does not depend solely on the number of calories in a meal. Low-satiety foods require more calories be consumed to achieve the same level of satiety as high-satiety foods. There are several strategies that may be useful for achieving more satiety on fewer calories. The strategies listed in the box below may be useful for providing more satiety per calorie and lower daily calorie intake without increasing hunger.

2. Exercise regularly.

The second strategy for achieving permanent weight loss without an increase in hunger is regular exercise. Contrary to popular mythology, walking several miles a day will have little or no impact on appetite.11 If one burns off an additional 300 calories per day exercising and there is no increase in either appetite or food intake then this could lead to a weight loss of up to 30 pounds. This is because it takes about 10 calories daily to maintain each extra pound of body weight.

Bottom Line

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the most effective strategy for reversing the trend toward increased body weight in the U.S. is a combination of regular exercise and an eating plan that provides more satiety per calorie.

6 Ways to Increase Satiety Per Calorie:

1. Avoid liquid calories. Research has shown that sugar in a solid form (jelly beans) provides more satiety for a given calorie level than it does if it is dissolved in water (soda). 2

2. Reduce the calorie density of the solid foods you eat. Foods with a high calorie density generally provide less satiety per calorie than foods with a low calorie density.3 Fruits, vegetables, legumes and nonfat dairy are all much lower in calorie density than processed foods that are made with sugar and white flour. Fatty meats and other high-fat foods are very high in calorie density. Choose lean poultry, seafood and leaner cuts of meat instead.

3. Increase high-fiber foods. Foods with more dietary fiber tend to make people feel satisfied longer than those with less fiber. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are all high in fiber. 4,5

4. Don't eat when you are not hungry. Research has shown that the same snack provides more satiety of eaten when hungry than when consumed in the absence of hunger. 6

5. Increase consumption of foods with a greater volume if their calorie density is similar.7 For example, choose popcorn rather than corn chips or puffed kashi rather than Grape Nuts(R) cereal.

6. Avoid foods high in fat and or sugar. Research suggests that foods with more protein, starch and fiber provide more satiety per calorie than do those high in fat, sugar or refined grains. Foods that are high in fat include fried foods, cheese, butter, margarine, refined oils, fatty meats and many fast foods such as burgers and pizza. Foods that are high in sugar include candies, pastries, cookies and most desert foods. 8,9,10

Best Foods for Weight Loss Without Hunger

Broth-based soups with plenty of vegetables, beans and grains; vegetarian chili; lowfat pasta dishes; lowfat stiry fry dishes; large green leafy salad; steamed or raw veggies; fruit; beans; baked or boiled potatoes or sweet potatoes (yams); cooked oatmeal or other hot whole grain cereal; brown rice; barley; seafood; and poultry breast without skin are all excellent choices.

By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN.


1. JAMA 2002;288:1723-7

2. Int J Obesity 2000;24:794-800

3. Nutr Rev 1998;56:347-53

4. J Nutr 2000;130(suppl): 272S-5S

5. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:1461-8

6. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:854-66

7. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:361-8

8. Int J Obesity 1999;23:528-36

9. Am J Clin Nutr 1997;65:1410-8

10. Am J Clin Nutr 1992;55:818-22

11. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999;31(suppl):S573-83

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