The Truth About Counting Calories

Counting calories is often the wrong way to lose weight. That’s because counting calories leaves many of us feeling hungry and deprived most of the time.

“We need to free ourselves from chronic hunger,” counsels Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. “Long-term success at losing weight means being able to fill up. It means enjoying satisfying amounts of food throughout the day.” In this article, learn how.

Smart eating is not about counting calories and feeling chronically hungry.

Smart eating is not about counting calories and feeling chronically hungry. It’s about putting more good food on our plates, like our Pritikin chefs' grilled chicken breast in sweet chili sauce with farro and garden vegetables.

There is a basic biological truth: When you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you lose weight.

The problem is, we in America do not know how to spread our calories out. That’s in large part because we live in a hyperprocessed society. Most of our food does not come straight from the soil. It comes from factories, juice bars, and restaurants that churn out products that are jammed, unnaturally so, with sugars, refined flours, fats, oils, and yes, calories.

The upshot? In just a few swallows (long before our stomachs are saying, “we’re full”) we’ve taken in huge amounts of calories.

How huge? Check out the 7 calorie whoppers below, plus Pritikin-recommended alternatives.

What’s sadly ironic about these 7 calorie whoppers is that they’re often touted by the food industry as “health” foods. Keep reading. You’ll discover what’s truly healthy and waist-slimming.

The calorie density solution

Success at shedding weight is not about counting calories. Success is paying attention to the calorie density of the foods we eat, point out the doctors and dietitians in their wellness education workshops at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

Learn to Count Calories at the Pritikin Weight Loss Resort

Want a complete education in losing weight and living well? Consider a health vacation at the renowned Pritikin Longevity Center. This year Pritikin is celebrating its 40th anniversary of teaching healthy living skills to thousands worldwide.

Calorie density is the concentration of calories in any given weight of food. Certain foods have more calories packed into them – bite for bite or pound for pound – than others. Fresh tomatoes, for example, have about 90 calories per pound. Bagels pack in more than 1,200 calories per pound. (It’s obvious that the bagels are higher – a lot higher – in calorie density.)

To lose weight, you want low-calorie-dense foods. You want to take in 5 to 20 calories per bite, not 50 to 200-plus. It’s the best way to ensure that you’re eating plenty of satisfying food throughout the day, food that actually fills you up and keeps hunger at bay.

“When you’re keeping hunger at bay, you’re more successful at keeping temptation at bay, which means your weight-loss efforts have a fighting chance,” sums up Dr. Jay Kenney, PhD, RD, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.

There are several classes at the Pritikin Center on how to use the calorie density solution in everyday life. Often, the faculty at Pritikin point out two simple rules of thumb:

The Calorie Density Solution – Rule #1
Steer clear of foods that are fatty and/or dry.

Most of us know what fatty foods are, and what they can do to our waistlines, but we’re often unaware that dry foods like cold cereals, breads, muffins, dried fruit, pretzels, and even so-called “healthy” snacks like veggie chips and dried green beans can lead to bulging waistlines, too.

Especially damaging, very often, are foods that are fatty and dry, like croissants, donuts, chocolate bars, cookies, energy bars, granola cereals, cheesy breads, and potato chips. They all pack a lot of calories into very small amounts of food.

The Calorie Density Solution – Rule #2
Fill your day with foods that are naturally rich in water and fiber.

Foods that tend to be naturally rich in water and fiber are whole foods – that is, foods that you can actually recognize as having coming from the earth, like fruits, vegetables, and potatoes (not dried fruits, dried veggies, and dried potatoes, a.k.a potato chips).

Also low or moderately low in calorie density are cooked whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta, and legumes like pinto beans, garbanzo beans, peas, and lentils. When cooked, they’re not only water-rich, they’re fiber-rich.

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Other low- to moderately-calorie-dense choices include nonfat dairy foods and lean meat like fish, white poultry without the skin, and game meat like bison.

“With food choices like these,” sums up Pritikin dietitian Kimberly Gomer, “there’s no need for counting calories anymore. You’re just naturally keeping your calorie intake under control. You can eat whenever you’re hungry and shed excess weight.”

There’s another big bonus: You’ll be enjoying foods that are naturally rich in good nutrition.

We’ll help you get started. Use the arrows below.

On the left are high-calorie-dense choices. (Stay away from these choices.) On the right, for the same number of calories, are lower-calorie-dense choices. The right side (the Pritikin side) is all about eating more, and weighing less.

In calories…

Calorie Counting: Granola vs Oatmeal
Calorie Counting: Smoothie vs Fruit
Calorie Counting: Soup vs Nuts
Calorie Counting: Veggie Chips vs Vegetables
Calorie Counting: Greek Yogurt vs. Protein Bar
Calorie Counting: Pumpkin Seeds vs. Yams
Calorie Counting: Breadsticks vs Salads

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