Calorie counting is not an exact science. The margin of error is just too high for the average person. So, what should we look for in food when we don’t want to overeat? It might be easier than you think. If you understand how your brain reacts to the foods you eat, you will know what to eat to stay lean.

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Calorie density is a big deal

Almost all modern processed foods have one thing in common. They are very calorie dense. For example a large apple weighs around 200 g and packs roughly 100 kcal, one Kit Kat bar weighs about 41,5 g and contains 210 kcal. That’s more than 10x as many calories per gram for the Kit Kat bar. Most of our modern foods are very calorie dense compared to traditional wholesome foods. They are deceptively small and therefore make it easy for us to eat more of them than we need.

Look for filling and satiating foods

Humans love eating and taking in calories. From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense. Eat as much as you can now because food is scarce and you don’t know when the next meal is going to come. That’s why the human body learned to recognize when it’s full. One thing is food volume, the more bulk we have in our stomach the less hungry we get. But we also rely on hormones and nutrient receptors to tell us if the bulk inside of us contains what we need. It turns out that foods that make us feel full and satiated the most contain a lot of protein, fibre, and water. That’s again something that modern foods lack.

Your brain just can’t get enough

Some foods are just way more attractive to us than others. I’m sure you are intimately familiar with most of them. They are all full of sugar, fat, and salt and have just the right texture – you know, like pizza, chocolate, cookies, ice cream, or chips. Your brain’s rewards centre lights up like a Christmas tree when you eat those “hyper-palatable” foods. This reward (the same you get for sex, alcohol, and drugs) makes us prefer those foods to others and changes our behaviour to want them more, even when we feel full.

Real foods for natural calorie restriction

Studies have shown that people who reduce the palatability of their diet are more likely to succeed and keep the weight off in the long-term. So, instead of focusing on calorie math, consider the palatability and ability to satiate of the foods you eat. But you probably already know the foods that make you overeat. Don’t keep those at home or at work. Surround yourself with real wholesome foods and there will be less space and craving for those big offenders – calorie dense, hyper-palatable refined foods.

Next up in Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work series

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