A. Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and editor-in-chief of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter answers: “Counting calories is not necessary, and, I believe, not desirable when trying to lose weight. Calories of course matter, but the number of calories we ultimately eat—and burn—is influenced long-term by the types of foods we eat.
“Based on our evolutionary past when food was scarce, humans have multiple powerful, overlapping mechanisms for maintaining weight. A focus on calorie counting can work for short-term weight loss, but eventually these mechanisms for weight control fight back.
“Different types of foods we eat have important influences on these mechanisms. When we eat foods that are more highly processed, rich in starch or sugar, rapidly digested, and nutrient poor—even when restricting calories—our weight maintenance mechanisms are affected in negative ways that make it hard to keep the weight off. In contrast, when we eat foods that are minimally processed, rich in fiber, phytonutrients, and healthy fats, and slowly digested, these mechanisms are affected in positive ways that help us slowly lose weight, and keep it off long-term.
“For long-term success and steady, gradual, weight loss, fill up on foods like fruits, nuts, beans, virgin plant oils, non-starchy veggies, minimally processed whole grains, and fish, as well as yogurt with live probiotics. Minimize foods high in refined starch (most breads, cereals, rice, crackers, granola bars, muffins, etc.); sweets and sugars; sugary drinks and alcohol; and processed meats. Other foods like cheese, poultry, eggs, and, occasionally, unprocessed red meats, can be eaten in moderation.
“Aim to lose a pound a week, or simply to keep weight constant (itself a victory). Focus on making healthy food choices, rather than counting calories. This approach will help your health at any weight.”