You have heard the dieting adage, “a calorie is a calorie.” It doesn’t really matter what you put in your mouth: if you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. True, but those trying to lose weight can go mad trying to count every minute morsel of food they eat. Now a recent study published this past winter in JAMA is turning this advice on its head.
Specifically, the study found that people who removed sugar and highly processed food from their diet and replaced it with whole foods lost weight even without the hassle of counting calories. In other words, rather than determining what you should eat based on the number of calories, think instead of choosing high-quality, healthy foods and minimizing your consumption of low-quality foods.
- High-quality nutrient dense foods are low in calories and high in nutrients. Examples include unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein. These foods fill you up while feeding your body for health and performance.
- Lower-quality calorie dense foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. Examples include highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods such as potatoes. They are typically digested very quickly, leaving you hungry and unsatisfied. When you feel and hear that rumbling in your stomach, it is not so much your body’s way of saying “feed me” again, but rather, “nourish me.”
This makes a lot of sense. When you think of why people are successful on any diet, it is typically because they have reduced or eliminated processed foods, and focused more on eating whole, single ingredient foods. These foods leave you feeling satisfied rather then hungry again in a couple of hours, thereby, helping you to consume fewer calories overall. In the end, it is still a calorie in versus calories out equation. However, by making these changes part of your lifestyle, you should be able to obtain healthy and sustainable weight loss without always counting calories.