Before the pandemic started in March 2020, I was doing CrossFit four to five days a week extreme forms of intermittent fasting to lose the last five pounds my body had held onto since my son was born eight years earlier. Spoiler alert: the restriction just ate me too much which made losing weight impossible. During the pandemic I was like to bake stressbut I realized I could only win five more. But I was able to lose 11 pounds in two months without restricting my food and without tracking my calories. I ate a large amount of food and never felt hungry. I’ve used the principles of Calorie density I learned that by reading Eat to live and The starch solutionand by joining the Lean on strength Program.

Eating low-calorie foods (with fewer calories per pound) allows you to fill your plate without measuring your food, eat until you are full, and lose weight without trying. I know it sounds like a gimmick, but it’s really true! I’ve been trying to lose weight for so long since I was in school, mostly by restricting my food. Now I eat whenever I want, which is at least four times a day, and I feel energized and happy! And the best part is that I can eat a large amount of these low calorie foods, which doesn’t even make me realize that I’m eating in the slight calorie deficit that I need to lose weight. And because these foods contain more water and fiber, they fill my stomach, leaving me satisfied for much longer than small servings of higher calorie foods.

What foods are low in calorie density? Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and starches – all that good stuff! I’ve mostly eaten whole plant-based, high-carb, low-fat foods that I love anyway since I’m vegan. Animal products, sugar, flour, processed foods, and high fat foods are high in calorie density and those are the foods that I have limited.

Here is a basic breakdown shared by Craig McDougall, MD (Son of John McDougall, MD, the author of The starch solution), in order from lowest to highest, to give you an overview Calorie density::

eat Calories per pound
Starchless vegetables (carrots, broccoli, vegetables, tomatoes) 100
Fruits (bananas, apples, grapes, oranges) 300
Starches (potatoes, winter squash, corn) 400
Whole grain products (oats, rice, millet, quinoa) 500
Legumes (lentils, black beans, chickpeas, peas) 600
Higher fat foods (avocado, chicken, eggs) 700
Beef, tortilla, ice cream 1,000
Bread, dried fruits 1,200
Cheese, sugar 1,700
Cookies, fries, chocolate 2,000-2,300
Nuts, seeds 2,800
butter 3,200
Oils 4,000

Since most of us don’t necessarily measure our food in pounds, here’s a list that compares roughly 200 calorie amounts for common foods.

Let’s be clear: there are no “bad” foods, and I’m not saying you should never eat healthy, higher-calorie foods like avocado, peanut butter, almonds, bread and dried fruit, or not-so-healthy pizzas, brownies, and ice cream. I’m just saying these high calorie foods are easier to overeat, which I did, and that’s why I put on weight.

Take a page from my story about weight loss: Don’t just eat the lowest calorie foods and think you’ll lose weight faster. Eating just raw salads, baby carrots, and apples won’t fill you up, and it will fuel your hunger pangs leading to overeating. You need to balance the vegetables and fruits with the starches and beans to feel full.

An easy way to use this information without weighing your food or counting calories is to: Use the 50/50 plate: Half of your plate is made of starchy vegetables like steamed broccoli, steamed kale, zucchini noodles, roasted cauliflower or lettuce, and the other half is made of starch like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, oil-free air-fried potatoes, or baked sweet potato. You can also add a small serving of beans to your plate, which will help you feel full. If you’re hungry after that first plate, make yourself another 50/50 plate and eat until you’re satisfied but not stuffed. Enjoy two to three fruits a day. I like to eat them as a bookend after lunch and dinner to let my brain know that I’m done with the meal.

If you read on, you can see photos of what plates of 200 calories look like, as well as sample meals I ate to lose weight. These meals were so delicious and physically satisfying. Since I didn’t eat a lot of sugar or processed foods, all of these foods taste amazing! And I love that I now have a healthy relationship with food and that I model healthy habits for my daughter by eating such a nutritious diet. I feel more secure and energetic, I sleep better, I have better mental clarity (thanks, carbohydrates!), And I feel more alive. All because of the calorie density!