Calorie Density 101: How to Eat More to Weigh Less

by | Jan 19, 2015

Weight loss seems simple (“just consume fewer calories than you burn!”) yet we still find ourselves in an ongoing struggle, dieting only to gain back the lost weight. The “diet mentality,” or the cycle of going on a diet, losing weight, then gaining it back, is partially to blame. We believe that if we cut things out of our diet — from carbs, to fat, to gluten — we will lose weight. And there’s a constant stream of infomercials, best sellers, and restrictive diets reinforcing that belief. More often than not, though, these diets just don’t deliver.


The Reason?

The main principle behind dieting is deprivation; deprive yourself of something yummy and delicious in order to lose weight. The reality, however, is that deprivation simply isn’t sustainable. When we restrict ourselves from having something, we crave it more. While restrictive diets may achieve weight loss in the short term, dieters normally gain back the lost weight — often with a few additional pounds as a souvenir.


A New Way of Eating

If losing weight and becoming healthier is your goal, “dieting” isn’t the answer. You need to adopt a long-term approach instead of a quick-fix diet mentality. And that’s what Noom helps you do. The Noom eating plan is not a diet — it is a long-term, sustainable lifestyle change.


How it Works

To be successful at lifelong weight management, it’s essential to be able to feel full and satisfied while eating foods you enjoy (no “diet” foods). So what types of food should you choose? The majority of your plate should be filled by foods that are naturally rich in water such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and cooked grains as well as lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans. These foods are known as low-calorie dense foods because they provide a small amount of calories in a large volume of food. On the opposite end of the spectrum are high-energy dense foods; foods that provide a large amount of calories in a very small volume, like nuts, chocolate, and alcohol.


Why water-rich foods?

Water dilutes the calories in a given amount of food so you can eat more for the same amount of calories. Take raisins and grapes — the same food with different water contents. If you eat a cup of raisins, you will be consuming about 500 calories — that’s more than some meals. But for the same volume of grapes, you would only be consuming 62 calories! With foods with low calorie density, you can eat more food for the same calories. If you’re worried that a small 62 calories will not be filling, consider this: studies have shown that satiety is independent of calorie count — volume is what leaves us feeling full and content. This means that you will feel the same amount of satiety from 500 calories worth of raisins as you will from 62 calories worth of grapes.


Eating Towards a Healthier You

In order to use food volume to your advantage, you should begin adding filling low-calorie foods into your diet while reducing calorie-dense foods. For example, if you’re eating one and a half cups of cereal with whole milk each morning you’re consuming about 250-300 calories. To reduce calories, replace calorie dense foods (like whole milk) with low calorie foods (like skim milk). Reduce your cereal to one cup and add a half cup of fruit. Your meal will be more filling and will top out at about 200 calories.


Any of your meals can be remade by adding low-calorie dense foods. If you have a hankering for Mexican food, reduce the amount of beef and add in onions and peppers. Pasta lover? Make your bowl more filling by adding in colorful veggies.

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If you’re having trouble applying this to your daily meals, don’t worry, you don’t have to figure this out on your own. Every food in the Noom database is divided into three categories: green, yellow, and red. Noom green foods are the least calorie dense; they fill you up for fewer calories. Green foods are all you can eat — so make sure to fill up your plate with these guys! Noom yellow foods include meats and low-fat cheeses — filling foods that should be included in your diet in moderation. Finally, Noom red foods are the most calorie dense — including chocolate, nuts, and red meats.


No food is off limits

The best part of this lifestyle? No food is off limits. Energy-dense foods are not bad or forbidden. Your favorite foods, no matter what their calorie-density, have a place in your diet. But portion control will play an important role. In order to continue to eat your favorite foods, pair low-density, filling foods with high-density foods to satisfy cravings. If you can’t imagine your life without chips, have a serving size bag as a snack, but make sure to pair it with something filling, like a low-fat piece of cheese, an apple, or sliced deli-meat. Most importantly, do not take this way of eating to extremes. This is not a diet. It’s a way of life.