You probably already know that losing weight is about calorie restriction. There is a simple fact that to lose weight, you have to take in fewer calories than you burn through your daily activities. If you consistently take in fewer calories than your body needs, you create a calorie deficit. Over time, the result is weight loss. Sounds simple, right? The trick is how to do that while still enjoying food and feeling satisfied. Restrict calories too much, and you’re hungry and miserable. Eat too many, and the scale doesn’t budge. I never liked calorie counting, but I do love food! How did I achieve a calorie restriction consistently enough to lose more than 60 pounds? I ate a whole-foods diet.
The two important concepts here are calorie deficit and consistency. You can achieve a calorie deficit using many different types of diet plans. I’m not a registered dietitian, so I don’t recommend specific diet plans. I also don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all food plan that works for everyone. Many factors, including age, genetics, underlying medical conditions, cultural food preferences, mindset, readiness and lifestyle, play a role in achieving success with any diet plan. I recommend you speak to your doctor to help you understand your options.
Instead of focusing on the specifics of which food plan to choose to achieve a caloric deficit, I’d like to talk about an important principle found in almost all food plans—and one that guides my daily food intake: eating whole, unprocessed foods consistently. The research on the value of this approach is clear.
What are whole foods?
Whole foods are foods that you eat in their natural state. They are not manufactured, altered or refined in a factory. They don’t have added ingredients such as sugars, starches or flavorings. They are not packaged, processed foods. Here’s a list of whole foods:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Milk and some dairy products
- Meat, chicken and seafood
- Minimally processed foods (e.g., washed salad, sliced fruit, dried fruit, roasted nuts, frozen fruits/vegetables, canned tuna)
What’s not on this list?
- heavily processed foods (e.g., soda, candy, frozen meals)
- most prepared and ready-to-eat foods (e.g., deli meat, potato chips)
- refined carbohydrates (e.g., convenience snack foods, sodas, white bread and pasta)
- foods with added sugars (too long to list, since sugar comes in many forms and is added to almost every processed food)
Basic rule: if it has a label, it’s not a whole food. If it’s grown in the ground or eaten in its natural state without being handled by a factory, it’s probably a whole food.
Now, let’s talk about how to plan meals using whole foods. While this isn’t complicated, it can be challenging to find convenience foods without added fat and sugar. I recommend starting by preparing simple, whole meals like these as your staples, then you can branch out to other menus once you get a core group of whole foods meals in your routine.
- Fruit smoothie (with no added sugar)
- Plain yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts
- Eggs (great with a side of fruit, avocado or some black beans)
- Tofu scramble (soft tofu, onions, mushrooms, spinach, spices)
- Fish (steamed shrimp, canned tuna) and salad
- Hummus and veggies
- Rice and beans
- Fruit salad and omelet
- A big salad with healthy fats (e.g., avocado, nuts/seeds, home-made olive oil dressing)
- Fish (broiled salmon) and broccoli
- Chicken and veggie stew
- Mashed, boiled green bananas with black beans and bok choy (check out my recipe)
- Curried red lentils with potatoes, collard greens and brown rice
- Rice and beans with sautéed garlic kale (topped with fresh salsa)
Consistency, Not Perfection
Do I eat whole foods exclusively every day? No, but I did eat them exclusively for seven months to lose my first 40 pounds. Read my weight loss story. After that, I slowly added some processed foods back into my diet and began learning how to eat them in moderation. I lost an additional 20+ pounds this way. While I’m not perfect at eating a whole foods diet every day (and that isn’t my goal), there are many days when I do eat only whole foods. Stringing those days together consistently has resulted in my weight loss, has reduced my cravings for sweets and processed foods and stopped my premenopausal heart palpitations. I do believe that food is medicine, and if that’s true, then eating whole foods is the best way to follow that prescription!
Comment below, or connect with me on social media, and let me know how you’re doing as you add whole foods into your diet.
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