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What To Eat in a Day To Drive the Most Weight Loss

Here's what dietitians really recommend when it comes to eating a healthy diet.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

The old adage "eat less, move more" for weight loss is ingrained in our heads from an early age. This philosophy has led us as a society to become obsessed with burning more calories and consistently eating less to shed a few pounds. Yet, despite eating less and moving more, we still continue to struggle with weight loss. So, it begs the question: is it really true? What if we told you there was another way to lose weight that had nothing to do with counting calories…would you believe us?

The argument for quantity versus quality has been long-debated. To lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than your body expends. This is the argument for the quantity of total calories. However, there is a flip side to every coin, and the argument for quality calories fits the bill. A high-quality diet begins with real food that has been minimally processed and comes from nature. When making diet changes, eating less processed foods should be a priority.

Consider this: whole foods are naturally easy to portion size or hard to overeat. When was the last time you overdid it on chicken breast, broccoli, and rice? These foods are naturally filling and assist in regulating appetite cues for hunger/fullness.

To put together a plan for weight loss, you will want to source options from each of the following categories. Here's what they are, and for even more weight loss tips, be sure to read up on our list of 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.

Protein: Eggs, meat, and dairy.

fried eggs oatmeal

Each meal should emphasize protein because protein provides satiety. Satiety is the feeling of fullness and satisfaction at meals. Some research shows starting your meal with a few bites of protein first may lower your overall calorie consumption and improve blood sugar throughout the day.

Here are The Best Proteins for Women, According to Dietitians, as well as The Best Proteins for Men.

Produce: A variety of fruits and vegetables

fruits vegetables

Fruits and veggies should be the star of the show on your plate. Shoot for a variety of colors over the course of your day. Work up to five servings of fruits and veggies each day for optimal health.

"The best diet for weight loss includes foods from all food groups, practice portion control for calories dense foods, and enjoy plenty of fruits and veggies. Aim for half your plate to be fruits and non-starchy veggies," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.

Here are the 20 Most Filling Fruits and Veggies—Ranked!

Starchy carbs and whole grains: Rice, quinoa, potatoes, beans, and lentils

quinoa bowl

Carbs that are high in fiber are more filling, lower in calories, and easier to portion size. Shoot for about a cup or a fist-size serving of carbs at each meal and a half-cup serving at snacks!

Here are 8 Ways to Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight.

Healthy fats: Easy-to-identify sources like olive oil, dairy, avocado, nuts, and seeds

Healthy quinoa lunch bowl with chicken as protein avocado as fat and vegetables broccoli and spinach and beans

Fats are often omitted for quick weight loss, but we forget that fats are naturally satisfying and full of high-quality energy! Adding a couple of tablespoons of fat to round out your meals and snacks will keep you feeling full longer and stabilize your energy throughout the day.

Here are 20 Healthy Fat Foods That Won't Make You Fat.

Quality versus quantity: are they one in the same?

sheet pan dinner

You'll notice that quality calories are often lower in total calories than their processed food counterparts. Naturally, by switching to higher-quality calories, you will also switch to a lower-calorie diet!

Kim Yawitz, RD, explains that she always uses a balanced plate method for weight loss with her clients at CrossFit 26.

"One thing I love about the approach is that it fends off cravings," says Yawitz. "Blood sugar fluctuations are a sneaking cause of cravings that can occur when meals aren't balanced. Each meal in the plate method provides a good mix of protein, fat, carbs, and fiber which keeps blood sugar levels steady between meals. I've had clients lose 40+ pounds on the plate method without ever feeling deprived along the way!"

After losing 50 pounds herself by focusing on higher-quality foods instead of weight loss through calories, Lacy Ngo, MS, RDN, says "I stopped focusing on weight and started focusing on nourishing my body. My mostly plant-based diet is full of filling fiber and anti-inflammatory antioxidant foods like leafy greens, berries, whole grains, nuts, and seeds."

While eating as few calories as you can manage in a day may drive weight loss and short-term success, it is not sustainable. Eating balanced meals that are filling and satisfying is the ultimate sustainable diet tool!

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Caroline Thomason, RDN
Caroline is a women's health Registered Dietitian and diabetes educator based in Northern Virginia. Read more about Caroline