Caloric Density: A Game-Changer in Fat Loss

When it comes to weight loss, you’ve heard it all, right? From this diet to that diet, and from this food to that food.

But there is one factor you are likely not focusing on that can be the game-changer – the single, most unrecognized factor in efforts to get and stay lean: caloric density.

Caloric density (also called energy density) essentially describes the number of calories in a given volume or weight of food; how packed that food is with calories. And understanding how it works can significantly boost your weight loss success.

Okay, so you know that eating fewer calories is key to weight loss, but don’t you just eat less of those that are high calorie, and doesn’t it all even out in the end? Uh, no.

Many studies have shown that people who eat low-caloric-density diets also eat fewer total calories per day. Other studies found that those whose diets are made up mostly of high-caloric-density foods have a higher risk of weight gain and obesity. Why?

It’s About Hunger
Low-caloric-density foods typically provide less fat and more water and fiber. And that is what makes you feel full and shuts down your hunger. By contrast, a large percentage of high-caloric-density foods are highly processed to make them more palatable and therefore promote overeating.

One of the ways you stop eating is a mechanical feedback system between your stomach and brain. Whole foods that have low-caloric-density swell your stomach and shut off hunger faster than highly processed and high-caloric-density foods.

In one study, people ate an average of 425 more calories when given the high-caloric-density meal than when given the low-caloric-density one!

Your Plan
Perform an online search on caloric density charts. (Research is getting better and better, and the charts are very complete now.) Make note of those foods you like at the low-caloric-density end and begin to add them to your meals.

2. Look closely at those foods at the high-caloric-density end. If you tend to eat foods in that range, space them out and break them up into small portions.

3. Start to recognize your feelings of hunger. When you do eat, eat until you are comfortably full. Avoid starving yourself and stuffing yourself.

4. Sequence Your Meals. Try to start every meal with soup or a salad.

5. Dilute! Dilute high-caloric-density meals by filling 1/3 of your plate with fruits and vegetables, 1/3 of your plate with whole grains, and 1/3 of your plate with lean protein.

Eat More
Foods that have a low-caloric density:
Meat and fish
Fruits (especially berries)
Milk and yogurt (no added sugar)
Potatoes, legumes, and other root vegetables

Do not refrain from high-fat foods completely. Just make your intake of healthy high-fat foods, such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil, moderate.

Eat Less
Limit high-caloric-density foods, such as:
Candy and chips
Pastries and cakes
Fast foods, processed foods
High-fat dairy (butter, cream, and cheese)
Fatty meats
High-fat condiments (mayonnaise, pesto, and ranch dressing)
Sugary drinks.

About the Author: Bob LeFavi

Bob LeFavi, PhD, is a professor of sports medicine and Dean of the Beaufort Campus at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. He has been department head of health sciences and sports medicine at Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University, Savannah, GA. Bob won the bantamweight class at the IFBB NorthAmerican Bodybuilding Championship and was runner-up at both the USA and National Championships. He also competed in the CrossFit Games as a Master’s athlete and has written over 750 articles in the popular press on training, diet, and fitness.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.