This Shift in Thinking Helped People Lose Up to 60 Pounds—Without Counting Calories

Foods that can help you lose weight

Experts agree, keeping tabs on the calories you consume can help you lose weight. But unless you’re weighing your food, it’s not an exact science. And food tracking can get tiresome. So if you’re trying to lose weight, but hate counting calories, you can finally exhale a deep sigh of relief and stop obsessing over every bite. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests it’s possible to lose weight by focusing more on what you eat and less on how much you eat.


The researchers of the study from the Stanford Prevention Research Center compared the effect of a healthy low-fat diet to a healthy low-carb diet in over 600 overweight and obese people over 12 months. “Healthy” meant whole foods or minimally processed foods. “We told everyone in both groups to eat as little white flour and added sugar and as many higher-fiber vegetables as possible,” says lead researcher Christopher Gardner, PhD, professor of medicine at Stanford University. Gardner and his team also set out to investigate whether the participant’s genes or insulin levels had any impact on their weight-loss results.

Gardner discovered that it didn’t matter if the participants went low fat or low carb. By simply focusing on eating healthy, whole foods both groups lost roughly the same amount of weight—an average of about 12 pounds in a year—with some participants losing up to 60 pounds.

“Participants weren’t instructed to count calories or stick to a prescribed number of calories per day, yet collectively they lost more than 6,500 pounds,” says Gardner. “It’s not that calories don’t matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, without realizing it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger.”

Interestingly, neither genes nor insulin levels predicted which diet was better for which people either. Fitbit advisor David L. Katz, MD, MPH, founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, isn’t surprised by the results. “We’re a common species and should all be eating basically the same wholesome foods,” he says, “Personalization is the icing on top. The fundamentals of healthy eating is the well-baked cake.”    

How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories

The advice the registered dietitians in the study gave the participants was simple: Avoid ultra-processed foods made with added sugars and refined carbs, like sugary beverages and snacks, bagels, white bread, and refined flour. Instead, participants were taught over the course of 22 educational sessions how to eat nutrient-dense, minimally-processed whole foods and cook at home more often. Still wondering what a whole-food diet looks like? Pick the approach you find most appealing and put these foods on your plate:

The Low-Fat Approach: Eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, quinoa, beans, lentils, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, and fresh fruit.

The Low-Carb Approach: Eat foods like avocados, olive oil, salmon, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods. Learn more about How to Go Low Carb the Healthy Way.

Researchers found that successful participants also developed other winning habits, including not eating in their cars or in front of a screen and sitting down to enjoy meals with their family or friends. Basically, practicing some mindfulness around mealtimes.

The Bottom Line: Eating Healthy Food Naturally Cuts Calories

It’s clear that it’s time to put to bed the great debate about whether low carb or low fat is superior—both eating styles work. The best “diet” is one that’s loaded with vegetables, limited in added sugars and white flour, and filled with healthy foods you love to eat. And although calories still matter, you don’t necessarily need to meticulously count them. By listening to your body and choosing wholesome, nutritious foods, there’s a good chance you’ll naturally eat fewer calories, lose weight, and improve your health.

For more ideas check out:
7 day Meal Plan with (Almost!) No Added Sugar
What a Plant-Based Diet Really Looks Like

6 Comments   Join the Conversation

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thank goodness for this article been thinking this for ages and now this study backs up my hunch… your body needs good whole foods to curb the hunger pangs

  • What if someone combined both? Added an egg to their oatmeal? Tuna salad with mayo on whole wheat bread? Roasted chicken (with skin) with salad (homemade ranch dressing) and fruit? That is, what if someone mixed the foods from the “good” list of both low carb and low fat? Is it still a healthy meal? Or is there a “magic” about either combination? The study started people at very low levels of fat or carb. Then people were allowed to drift to their comfort levels. Was there a difference between fanatics and dilettantes?

  • wow! this blog is very informative and makes me motivated in a way. i used to do workout after my working hours but now a days i’m using weight loss pill of(phentermine online pharmacy)in my working hours. its also help me out to gain my desire body shape and help me to burn fast.

  • ver well written and informative for people like me who are going through a hectic routine to get rid of overweight..
    Thanks for sharing such an informative post

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