“Eat less, exercise more” is a common slogan in the fitness community, but is it how you should go about weight loss?
Creatures Of Habit
People’s behavior is generally pretty consistent from day to day and because of this, the volume, energy content and composition of what they eat and drink stays pretty consistent as well. We use the same plates, bowls (PDF), glasses. The food comes in specific packaging sizes. And there are the same societal norms, individual habits and the body’s feedback systems.
Being aware of these factors allow us to intelligently influence them and adjust how much we eat with less difficulty.
Let’s discuss how the caloric density (CD) of the foods you eat affects your energy balance, even when you are using the same plates.
So What Is Caloric Density?
The caloric density of a food is the amount of energy it contains per serving (for the purposes of this article I’m exclusively using 100 g). For example (from NutritionData): the caloric density of mashed potatoes is 113 kcal / 100 g, while an apple has only 52 kcal / 100 g (since it’s largely water).
Higher in fat generally means higher CD (think olive oil), while higher in water and fiber generally means lower CD (think celery).
So How Does Knowing This Benefit Me?
Since people generally serve themselves based on what they’re provided, and people generally don’t own multiple sets of “everyday” dishes / bowls, you’re pretty much confined to working within that system, and that’s where CD comes in. The size of your plates dictates what you think is the right portion.
When you adjust the caloric density of the food you eat, your portion will contain fewer or more calories. That way you can most seamlessly skew your intake to deliver the results you want, whether it’s to eat at a surplus, or to go into a reasonable caloric deficit.
So How Does One Put This Into Action?
For Weight Loss:
One way is to slowly introduce foods lower in caloric density in small increments (start small, it’s probably half of the amount you‘re thinking right now). At the beginning this won’t make a huge difference in numbers calories, but eventually it’ll “push off” enough of the higher CD foods to do so.
Another way is to swap some ingredients during cooking. In The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet (2013), Barbara Rolls substituted some pasta with sliced vegetables in casseroles. Her test subjects reported the same satiation and level of enjoyment even when the caloric density was lower.
For Weight Gain (exclusively considering energy balance):
Adding additional cheese and /or oils to your meals is an appealing option, since they positively impact the taste of what you’re eating, have high CDs, and are easily incorporated into many dishes.
You can also opt for the whole fat versions of the foods that you eat. While it is true that these versions may only have slightly higher CDs than the reduced ones, it’s still possible that these will push you into a surplus.
Please Leave Your Comments!
Hopefully you guys got something out of this article, and if you have any questions or comments, I’m looking forward to responding to / reading them down below.
Steve is a good friend of mine, currently training as a weight management consultant with a focus on behavioral sciences.
Picture courtesy of John Liu.