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Calorie Restricted Diets  Cause the Most Hunger

Calorie Restriction is a Constriction of Life.jpg

with Mark Holland MD

Calorie counting alone often falls short in sustainable weight loss. This approach overlooks the impact of food quality and nutrient composition on our bodies. A comprehensive diet considers these factors, harnessing the power of food to nourish, satiate, and support weight loss, fostering a healthier, more satisfying relationship with food.

Weight Loss Hinges on a Fundamental Truth

To shed pounds, you must burn more calories than you consume over time. This is an immutable fact. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that a diet focused solely on counting calories is the optimal solution. In fact, both numerous studies and my own 32 years of experience in weight loss medicine suggest that diets based purely on calorie counting are among the least effective.

So what do I mean by a "pure" calorie counting diet? I'm referring to a dietary approach where calories are the only factor under control, without any consideration given to the quality of food. In essence, a pure calorie-counting diet is simply your regular eating habits with reduced portions. You could eat exactly as you usually do but cut every portion size in half. This type of diet, while simple in concept, is actually the most challenging to adhere to.

Why is this? The primary reason is that pure calorie restriction leads to more hunger than any other diet type. It doesn't take advantage of the unique properties of certain foods that can help you consume fewer calories, often without even realizing it and, most crucially, without feeling hungry. By ignoring these advantageous food properties, pure calorie-restricted diets end up causing the most discomfort and hunger.

Here's a closer look at these 'weight loss friendly' properties of certain foods or food types:

Food Calorie Density

This refers to the number of calories a food contains per unit of weight. For instance, an apple has significantly fewer calories per ounce than a donut. You can feel full on apples long before you've consumed the same number of calories found in a donut.

Macronutrient Calorie Density

The three macronutrients—carbohydrate, fat, and protein—have different calorie densities. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein each provide just 4. This means you consume less than half the calories from an equal weight of carbohydrates or protein as you would from fat.

Macronutrients and the Thermic Effect of Food

Our bodies don't convert all macronutrients into body fat with the same efficiency. Protein, for example, is the most challenging to convert, with only 70% of its calories potentially turning into fat. For carbohydrates, the conversion rate is 10%, and for fat, it's a mere 2%. The efficiency of calorie utilization varies significantly across different macronutrients.


Chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain. Certain foods can trigger inflammation, while others can reduce it. By understanding this, we can eliminate inflammatory foods and create a more sustainable and enjoyable diet.


Not all calories are equally usable by the body. By incorporating ingredients that are poorly absorbed, we can make a diet more manageable and less restrictive.

In summary, pure calorie-restricted diets tend to be the least effective for weight loss because they overlook our modern, scientific understanding of how different foods and their components impact our bodies and our weight. By not leveraging this knowledge, we miss out on potential benefits that could make our weight loss journey more manageable and successful.

At Holland Clinic, instead of focusing solely on calorie counting, we teach principles of diet that take into account the quality of your food and how your body processes different nutrients. This not only enhances the effectiveness of your weight loss efforts but also contributes to overall health and wellbeing.

I caution most of my patients against embarking on a pure calorie-restricted diet. Although there are a few exceptions—which are discussed in other sections of this website—most individuals would be better served by a more comprehensive and nuanced approach to dieting. This involves considering not only the quantity of calories but also the quality of the food, its nutritional composition, and its impact on the body's metabolic processes.

At Holland Clinic, the best diet for weight loss isn't merely about counting calories—it's about understanding and harnessing the power of food to nourish your body, keep you satiated, and support your weight loss goals. By taking a more comprehensive approach, you'll not only have a more successful weight loss journey, but you'll also enjoy a healthier and more satisfying relationship with food. This is why you should choose a weight loss program based in modern science.

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