The way to eat more and still lose weight is to choose foods that are low in energy density. Foods low in energy density are foods with fewer calories for their volume or bulk.
By eating low energy foods several times a day, you will increase the volume of the foods you eat and consume a lot fewer calories. This is a dieter’s number one tool for weight loss!
When you think about it, it’s not really dieting advice at all. It’s a fact that adding more low energy foods to your normal eating pattern will keep you fuller longer throughout your day which will also help speed metabolism resulting in shedding the pounds.
Basically, energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a specific portion of food. High energy density foods have a lot of calories and you can only consume a small amount. Low energy density foods have far fewer calories and you can consume a much larger amount!
Some examples of low energy density foods are vegetables, fruits, legumes, broth-based soups, and non-processed pre-packaged foods. Fruits and vegetables are high in water and fiber content as are legumes and whole grains.
High energy density foods are pre-packaged processed foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. These include foods with refined grains and refined sugars, such as white flour, white bread, and white rice.
What most people focus on when they are trying to lose weight is the contents of the different foods they consume. In other words, we read the Nutrition Panel to determine how much fat, sodium, carbohydrates, and sugars are contained in the recommended prepared portion. This is fine, except the focus should be LESS on packaged and processed foods, and MORE on raw and homemade foods.
If you have a hectic schedule and don’t have a lot of time to prepare every one of your meals, the best way to ensure that you continue to maintain or even lose weight would be to mix in low energy density foods as often as you can.
One way to succeed in doing this is to eat 3 small meals and 2-3 small snacks per day. The meals should be as close to the prepared portion indicated (if it is packaged). If you have time to make your meal, we’ve all been trained in proper portion size so it’s best to just stick with what you know. Mix in 2 to 3 healthy snacks consisting of fruits, vegetables, low-fat yogurt, string cheese, a hand full of nuts, or a protein bar or shake. The meals and snacks should also be eaten at regular intervals throughout the day.
From a nutritionist standpoint, food should be consumed at or close to the same time every day. For example, if you eat a bowl of cereal and some fruit for breakfast, you should try to consume it at or nearest to the same time every morning. Certainly, there are exceptions, but, try to stick as close to that schedule every day. The same goes for your mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and most importantly, your dinner time.
You see, the body gets used to being fed at certain times throughout the day. When it knows that food is coming at a certain pace, it is less likely to go into starvation mode which results in higher blood pressure, repeated sugar spikes, a weakened immune system, a slower metabolism, and you begin losing muscle mass instead of fat. These factors all contribute to the inability to lose weight and in fact, more often will result in weight gain.
A good rule to follow if you can is the 7-10-1-3-6, rule. I created this rule for the people I used to care for as a CNA and nutritionist. I would devise a meal plan that would include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with 2 to 3 healthy snacks. Each meal would be comprised of a small amount of high-energy-dense foods, and the balance would contain low-energy-dense foods.
The following is an example of a 1500-1800 calorie-a-day meal plan to include both the high and low energy dense foods:
Morning: 1 Cup of Bran Cereal, 1 cup of 2% regular, soy or almond milk, and 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries of your choice. You may use 1 packet (1 tsp.) Splenda or Stevia. You can substitute the Bran Cereal with most any cereal, except ones high in sugar content. Oatmeal is also a great substitute.
(If you are an egg-for-breakfast person, just be sure to have no more than two eggs, and try to stay away from the potatoes or anything fried. You may have toast and a 1/2 cup of fruit).
Mid-morning: 1 low-fat Greek yogurt with a palm full of any nuts; OR, 1 protein bar; OR, 8-10 baby carrots with 2 tbsp low-fat dressing, and 1 string cheese; OR, 1 small apple with 1 tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter.
Lunch: 1 cup of any canned soup, a half of a sandwich of your choice, and 1 small pack of any baked snack such as chips, veggie straws, pretzels, etc.. Try to stick with whole grain bread for your sandwich. Pile on the lettuce and tomatoes and any other low energy foods to make it a heartier sandwich. Be sure to also go light on the cheese and try to use mustard instead of mayo. A great alternative is dijon mustard which combines both mayonnaise and mustard.
(You can change up lunch as often as you like. If you’d prefer a salad with grilled chicken, just limit the additives you know are calorie dense such as cheese, croutons, seeds, nuts, etc., and pile on all the vegetables you can possibly fit on your plate. Also, if you made dinner the night before, eating a small portion of leftovers is better than consuming pre-packaged food).
Mid-afternoon: Same as mid-morning. Again, you can change it up to include one healthy, low energy food and one higher energy, such as nuts, dressing, any kind of cheese, and, any kind of protein bar or even a protein shake.
The reason I recommend the Orgain Organic Protein Powder is because it’s loaded with plant-based protein, low in carbs and calories, and high in fiber. It is also gluten-free, vegan, and soy free. Amazon’s price is the cheapest I have found so far.
Dinner: 1 reasonably sized portion of meat, a small sized portion of a starch (potato, pasta, bread), and plenty of raw fresh or cooked frozen vegetables. Remember to be mindful of the condiments you use, such as salt, ketchup, dressing, butter, etc..
(Think back to what you’ve learned in the past about portion sizes. The hockey puck or the palm of your hand for the meat, and then fill your plate with as much cooked fresh or frozen vegetables. I have learned while helping people change their eating habits that limiting their choices doesn’t work.
Again, the old cliche applies here. Everything in moderation. So, go ahead and add a small baked potato, but, just don’t pile on the cheese, bacon, and sour cream! The best thing to do is to think of condiments in teaspoon fulls. So, if you want butter or sour cream, or even cheese, limit it to a teaspoon size. You’d be surprised how that little bit goes a long way and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve been deprived).
Now, if you are a night snacker and many of us are, remember to think “healthy” and “low calorie” when you head to your cupboards or refrigerator. This could include a handful of grapes, nuts, or a small wedge of cheese. Another great choice is 2 pieces of low-fat graham crackers to satisfy the sweet-tooth.
A small snack is fine at night if it is consumed at least 2 hours before you go to bed. The reason is that your body will have a sufficient amount of time to at least metabolize what you ate before it goes to complete rest and shut-down mode.
Now, reflect back on your day. Can you honestly say you were hungry at any given time? If so, then increase your portions slightly. But, be very mindful of the foods you should increase and the ones you shouldn’t.
Again, this is where high energy versus low energy density foods plays a significant part in your daily eating habits. Trying to maintain a good balance of these foods is a process, but, one well worth it if you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.