Understanding Calorie Density: The Secret to Eating Well and Losing Weight

They say “diets don’t work”. I say, that depends on what “diet” means. For most people, “going on a diet” means eating smaller portions and feeling hungry all the time until you can’t take it anymore, and then you resume the same eating habits – and weight – as before.

Of course that pattern isn’t sustainable, so they are right to conclude it doesn’t work.

But that’s not really what a diet is. Put simply, a diet is just the foods you consume every day. And if done right, not only does it work – it’s the only thing that really works.

Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

So a “diet” is not necessarily about eating less, but about what you are eating and why.

And in fact, it could even translate in to eating more.

It comes down to a concept called “Calorie Density”. Let me explain.

Calorie Density refers to how many calories are in a given food. As it happens, vegetables (even starchy vegetables like potatoes), fruits, legumes, and whole grains are low in calorie density – they don’t contain many calories.

In other words, you can eat your fill of these foods all day, and you won’t gain weight. And funnily enough, because these foods contain a lot of water and fiber (bulk), they fill you up very quickly. It’s almost impossible to overeat on them!

Whereas animal foods, refined sugar and flour, and junk foods are much higher in calorie density. With so many calories, these are the foods that cause weight gain, unless they are balanced by rigorous daily exercise (such as by professional athletes). And unfortunately, because they are so lacking in bulk (containing almost no water or fiber), they are easy to overeat – you have to eat a lot of them before you feel full.

In fact, junk food almost never fills you up – it’s designed to melt in your mouth. What usually ends an event of junk food eating is not a feeling of fullness, but an empty bag or bowl – the food is gone.

Even foods that might be considered healthy, such as nuts, seeds and some oils, are at the highest end of the calorie density spectrum. This shows how adding just a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of oil to a salad can bump the number of calories in that salad way up – which can be helpful if you are an athlete or a growing child and you need the calories, but something to avoid if you are trying to lose weight.

The concept is explained in detail in Jeff Novick’s lecture (which is also where I pulled the chart above), and which I recommend watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CdwWliv7Hg

But the concept is basically this: you can eat til you’re full and still lose weight. You just have to cut the CRAP (Calorie Rich And Processed) foods, and replace them with the real foods that are truly serving you.

Photo by Serge Le Strat on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *