Can I really lose weight by eating more?
What if you could lose weight by eating more? For many dieters, losing weight equals eating less: smaller portions, fewer meals, and less good food. But is this strategy actually effective at producing lasting weight-loss results? While calorie restriction can certainly lead to short term weight loss and health benefits, it rarely is a strategy that can be maintained for the long haul. Most people that try this approach end up eventually gaining the weight back and many gain even more extra weight than before. But what if there was a way to eat more food and get the same benefits.
Calorie restriction via calorie counting has been a leading weight loss strategy for years, but more recent research has challenged this approach suggesting that eating more may be the better path to health.
Is it really possible to eat more food and lose weight over the long term?
One study put this question to the test dividing overweight subjects into two groups. The first group were told to eat five cups of navy beans, chickpeas, split peas, or lentils every week. The second group was told to cut 500 calories a day from their diet. At the end of the study the group who was instructed to eat more beans had lost just as much weight as the group told to restrict their calories, but the group who ate more had extra health benefits. Only the legume group improved their cholesterol and insulin regulation. Other studies have also shown that eating legumes is inversely associated with metabolic syndrome and that conditions promoted by increased glycemic stress, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, are reduced in individuals who eat more beans (Hosseinpour-Niazi, 2012; Hutchins, 2012).
These studies show that a healthy diet is not always defined by the quantity of food, or the number of calories, but should be defined by the quality of the food eaten. Whole plant foods rich in fiber and other nutrients fills us up, satisfies our stomachs, and helps us achieve a healthy weight while improving overall health for those suffering from diabetes or heart disease.
Calorie Density Matters for Weight Loss
An important concept for those wanting to lose weight to understand is calorie density. Calorie density refers to the number of calories per weight of food. For example, 100 grams of lettuce has 15 calories, there are 60 calories in 100 grams of mango, and 100 grams of peanuts contains 567 calories. It is easy to see how eating a large bowl of lettuce may deliver less calories than eating a much smaller bowl of peanuts. But, you ask, will the large bowl of lettuce be satisfying and enough? While most people would add other plant compliments to their lettuce, it is helpful to look at it by itself for simplicity sake. The lettuce contains an abundance of water and dietary fiber. The lettuce-based meal thus not only provides hydration and nutrients, but also bulk that fills up our stomach and helps trigger satiation. While you may want to add a tomato and sprinkle of vinegar and nuts to your salad, you will still benefit by filling up on the bulk of the nutrient-rich, fiber-rich, water-rich lettuce. By putting lettuce, or any other low calorie-density food as the center of your meal, you will be able to eat more, a much larger meal, and still be consuming fewer calories than are found in a fatty fast food meal.
Fill Up On Whole Plants
Most of us are used to hearing that we should eat everything in moderation. Just eat a smaller portion to control you weight, we’ve been told. Weight-loss wisdom says when you go out to eat to take half your meal to-go for a meal at home later. But while this advice is practical considering a calorie-dense diet centered around animal foods including dairy products, meat, cheese, and eggs, the advice regarding a plant-based diet is different.
When you eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, you do not need to moderate your intake of greens or whole fresh fruits. Eat these foods in abundance. Pay attention to calorie density, and if you have a weight loss goal, choose foods lower on the calorie-dense scale. Remember that not all foods are equal, and portions should take into account the nutrients and caloric density of the ingredients. Go light on fat-rich nuts and seeds and fill up on an abundance of fiber- and water-rich greens and veggies like cucumbers, celery, and carrots. You get a lot more on your plate when you choose a diet of whole plant foods. Simply by eating the natural foods that human physiology is designed for, you truly can eat more to weigh less.
REFERENCES: 1. Hosseinpour-Niazi S, Mirmiran P, Amiri Z, Hosseini-Esfahani F, Shakeri N, Azizi F. "Legume intake is inversely associated with metabolic syndrome in adults." Arch Iran Med. 2012 Sep;15(9):538-44. PMID: 22924370. 2. Hutchins AM, Winham DM, Thompson SV. "Phaseolus beans: impact on glycaemic response and chronic disease risk in human subjects." Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 1:S52-65. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512000761. PMID: 22916816. 3. Mollard, R C et al. “Regular consumption of pulses for 8 weeks reduces metabolic syndrome risk factors in overweight and obese adults.” The British journal of nutrition vol. 108 Suppl 1 (2012): S111-22. doi:10.1017/S0007114512000712