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Want to cut the calories? Eat more, not less!

Slimming World

7 min read Partner content

New research shows that following a diet based around lower energy dense foods such as fruit and veg, lean meat and rice allows people to reduce their calorie intake while eating more food – not less.

  • Research published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that it is possible to reduce your calorie intake by eating more food rather than less
  • The study, from the University of Leeds and Slimming World, showed that eating low energy dense foods left participants feeling less hungry and more full despite consuming fewer calories
  • Slimmers reported feeling more in control of their food choices and more motivated to continue losing weight after following a low energy dense diet for 14 weeks
  • Slimmers following a weight-loss plan centred around low energy dense foods and providing group support lost nearly twice as much weight as those using a traditional calorie counting method.

    The findings bust the long-held myth that you have to be hungry and deprived in order to lose weight.

    The Solutions for Weight through Psychology, Satiation and Satiety study, led by the University of Leeds and published in the Journal of Nutrition, has found that eating a diet based around low energy dense foods – foods that contain fewer calories per gram – is more effective for weight loss than traditional calorie counting.

    Eating lower energy dense foods, which include fruit and vegetables, lean meat, fish, pasta, rice, pulses, eggs, fat-free dairy and more, enables people to consume a larger volume of food while reducing their overall calorie intake. The research showed this allowed slimmers to feel more satiated and less hungry, being hungry typically leaves people feeling unable to sustain weight-loss attempts.

    Slimmers following a plan based around low energy dense foods for 14 weeks – as well as attending a weekly Slimming World group where they weighed in and received support – also reported increased feelings of control around their food choices and a greater confidence in their ability to stick to their weight-loss plan, as well as losing significantly more weight than calorie-counting counterparts – a ‘clinically significant’ 6.2% body weight compared to 3.8%.*

    The research is in line with a call from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence for scientists to identify the components of weight-loss programmes that contribute to successful weight loss.

    Psychologist Dr Nicola Buckland, the lead author, said: “The findings show that a commercial programme based on low energy density foods helped people to feel more in control of their food choices, and that more than likely made the process of losing weight more effective.

    “A lot of people give up on diets because they feel hungry between meals. Our research shows that eating low energy density foods can help overcome that problem. Gram for gram, low energy dense foods contain fewer calories than high energy density foods, so people are able to eat a larger volume of food for the same (or lower) calorie intake, leading them to feel much fuller. For example, someone would have to eat around 250g of carrots to consume 100 calories whereas it would take just 20g of chocolate to achieve a similar calorie intake, yet the greater volume of carrots is likely to make you much fuller.”

    The study compared women following Slimming World’s Food Optimising eating plan, which is based around low energy dense foods, to another group of women following the NHS Choices Live Well programme, centred around calorie counting and a calorie restriction of 1,400 calories a day.**

    All participants attended four laboratory test days at the University of Leeds’ Human Appetite Research Unit, eating low energy dense meals for two days and high energy dense meals for the remaining tests to allow researchers to assess their impact on appetite and calorie intake.

    Both groups reported feeling less hungry, fuller and having less desire to eat more food after eating low energy dense meals. Despite eating a much larger volume of food on these days – on average 1.2kg more – than when consuming high energy dense meals, their total calorie intake on the low energy dense meal days was lower at an average 1,901 calories compared to 2,958 on the high energy dense days.***   

    The two groups, who were equally matched for age and Body Mass Index, were also monitored over a time period of 14 weeks to explore the longer-term effects of eating a plan based on low energy dense foods and getting weekly support, including any weight-loss implications. While the Slimming World members attended weekly group support sessions, the group following the NHS Live Well diet had access to online tools such as a website and forum.

    Over the 14 weeks the Slimming World members’ food intake was significantly lower in energy density than the NHS Choices’ dieters****. The Slimming World group lost more weight (an average of 5.8kg/6.2% body weight compared to 3.3kg/3.8%), and were more likely to report finding the plan easy to stick to than those counting calories. They also expressed increased feelings of control over their eating and food choices, and greater motivation and confidence in continuing with their weight-loss attempt than their NHS Choices counterparts.

    Dr Jacquie Lavin, Slimming World’s Head of Nutrition and Research, says: “This study provides clear evidence that calorie counting and eating smaller portions are not the answer when it comes to weight loss. We might think we need to be overly strict with ourselves when we’re losing weight – counting and measuring all our food and reducing portion sizes right down – but this type of restrictive approach ultimately leaves us feeling more hungry and deprived. These are the top reasons many people ‘fall off the wagon’ and this, in turn, leaves us feeling guilty and ashamed often leading to a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting. 

    “By filling up on low energy dense foods people can eat a larger amount of food and feel more satisfied while they lose weight so they feel better able to stay on track, and they never have to feel guilty about what they’re eating or how much is on their plate. Slimming World has promoted this approach for decades. Our members can eat freely from a long list of low energy dense foods without restriction, as well as enjoying measured amounts of higher energy dense foods, like chocolate and alcohol, to ensure they never feel deprived. Combined with powerful group support, which allows members to share problems and solutions, this helps people to develop realistic healthy habits that they can keep up for life.”

    Kim Street, 47, from the Isle of Wight, lost 4st 7lbs in 1999 and has maintained her target weight for 18 years. She says: “I tried so many ways to lose weight over the years, from tiny and unappetising ready meals to calorie counting, which I would only ever stick to for a couple of weeks. I have a large appetite and there was simply never enough food. I would lose half a stone before throwing in the towel, going back to my old habits and gaining the weight back – and often more. I would feel dreadfully guilty because I’d let everyone down…again. It was soul destroying.

    “Slimming World’s Food Optimising eating plan was completely different. Being able to fill up on lots of foods, like fruit and veg, lean meat, pasta, rice, eggs and more – which we call Free Food – was a godsend for me. I can have homemade fish and chips one night, curry another, roast dinners, Chinese – the list is endless, and I can honestly say that in 18 years I’ve never felt deprived.”​


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