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What foods help me lose weight?

Natural foods taht are good for you

If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight, you are likely to have searched the internet for ‘what foods burn fat?’ or ‘how can I lose weight quickly?’

And your interest will doubtless have been piqued by articles and so-called influencers (#eyeroll) who claim to have found the fat-burning superfood that will get you into your swimsuit/wedding suit in three weeks flat, or less.

Unfortunately, all these articles, claims, hints and tips about foods that burn fat and help you lose weight rapidly are complete rubbish. There are no fat-burning foods.

The DEXA scan images below show a man who experienced rapid weight loss – 20kg of fat in five months. Did he eat so-called ‘fat-burning’ foods? Nope!

DEXA scan images for fat loss
DEXA images showing 20kg of fat loss

For you to look great in your bikini or budgie smugglers, you need to understand the fundamental principle of weight loss (which is based on the unshakeable, Einsteinian laws of physics).

For weight loss to occur, you need to be in a sustained energy deficit over time. Which means you must consume fewer calories by way of food and drink than your body uses through exercise, movement and its essential bodily functions.

In other words, ‘calories in’ must be less than ‘calories out’.

(A DEXA body composition scan can help you establish what your ‘starting’ (or ‘maintenance’) calories are, below which you must eat in order to lose weight. The DEXA scan will also provide you with a realistic fat-loss target and a timeline for you to reach your goal.)

If the difference between calories in and calories out is big, then you will lose weight quickly. So if you eat very little you will experience rapid weight loss. Further, if you cut your calorie intake and increase your calorie burn through extra exercise then you will lose weight even faster.

But you can now probably see the main obstacle to losing weight very quickly. The less you eat, the hungrier you will be and the more likely you are to reach for anything to relieve your hunger and so break your diet. You won’t lose weight quickly – in fact, you won’t lose any weight at all.

Also, another side effect of losing weight quickly is this: the faster you lose weight the more likely you are to lose muscle mass and, if you are very overweight, the more likely you will end up with saggy skin and stretch marks, which may only be remedied by surgery. Since muscle mass (along with your internal organs) are responsible for burning the majority of the calories you eat, losing any will reduce your capacity to burn fat even more in the longer term.

A DEXA scan will measure your lean (muscle) mass as well as body fat, and will track both of these precisely over time. If the DEXA scan reveals that you are losing a high proportion of lean mass, then you are (a) taking it too fast, (b) not eating enough protein, or (c) not doing enough resistance training – or all three.

Losing weight quickly (or slowly) all comes down to calories.

At the simplest level it doesn’t matter what foods you eat, weight loss is all about the calories. So long as there is a gap between the calories you consume and the calories you expend, you can eat ice cream, burgers, salads, fish or chocolate.

You just have to make sure the total number of calories in your food and drink is lower than the calories you burn through with exercise.

Knowing the above, you can start to see that whilst no individual food ‘burns’ fat or makes you thin, foods with low calories will help you lose weight faster than those that are higher in calories.

But there’s something else to consider whether you want to lose fat quickly or slowly, which we’ve touched on above. Low-calorie foods might be good candidates for faster weight loss but the big calorie gap could leave you feeling hungry and lead you to temptation.

A DEXA body scan will reveal how many calories you can eat for ‘maintenance’ (ie, for your weight to stay the same, taking account of your activity levels) and therefore a safe and effective calorie deficit to lose weight over a given period of time. A DEXA scan does this quite reliably because it measure how much lean body mass you have, and lean mass is the biggest burner of calories in your body.

How to lose weight quickly – satiety

So the best foods that will help you lose weight quickly must surely be those that are low in calories AND that make you feel fuller for longer. This ‘satisfied’ feeling of feeling full is known as ‘satiety’ and foods are ranked on what is known as the ‘satiety’ index. Here is one instance of the satiety index.

Vegetables, boiled/baked potatoes, protein-rich meat and fish, soups and pulses, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese all appear high on the satiety index.

As well as being good foods to turn to for losing weight quickly, they are also good for you. Specifically, they are much healthier than processed foods, fast food, cakes, chocolate and biscuits, etc, which certainly do not make it onto the satiety index.

Processed food are not high on the stiety index

Let’s look at a day of five meals comprising foods high up on the satiety index and you can see that a diet made up of these foods could help you lose weight quickly without getting hungry. The figures in square brackets are [calories], curved brackets are (grams of protein) – sufficient protein will help you hold on to muscle mass as your weight falls.

A sample food plan that could help you lose weight quickly

Breakfast [117 calories] (3g protein)
100g Greek yogurt [105] (3)
30g Blueberries [7] (-)
30g Raspberries [5] (-)

Mid-morning snack [338 calories] (34g protein)
2 x poached eggs [156] (12)
1 x small slice wholemeal [92] (2)
Whey isolate shake [90] (20)

Lunch [308 calories] (29g protein)
120g chicken breast [190] (26)
120g boiled potatoes in butter [118] (3)

Afternoon snack – 229 calories (40g protein)
55g (half tin) of tuna [60] (13)
75g cottage cheese [79] (7)
Whey isolate shake [90] (20)

Dinner – 208 calories (28g protein)
120g chicken breast [190] (26)
100g mixed vegetables [18] (2)

Total calories for five filling meals – 1200 calories (134g protein)

Now, whilst you’ll probably want to add a cup of coffee, a spread of butter, a dash of oil and maybe even a glass of wine to the mix, you can see that these foods give you a very good starting point, with five filling meals totalling just 1200 calories.

Remove the two snacks and keep the shakes and you have a ‘base’ diet of just 880 calories and 100g of protein. Many women’s fat-loss diets are around 1300-1500 calories, and many men’s are between 1500-1900 calories.

So, whilst no foods burn fat, if there are indeed foods that help you lose weight more quickly, those high on the satiety index are the best candidates.

I want to lose weight quickly – how fast can I go?

As we stated above, you can lose weight quickly by reducing your calorie intake substantially. But for success, and to keep the weight off, we recommend a maximum rate of weight loss for most people of half a kilo (just over a pound) per week – equivalent to a daily deficit of about 550 calories. Faster than will represent perhaps a 25% or more reduction in daily calories, and that sudden shift could lead to diet-breaking hunger pangs. (A kilo a week is an 1100-calorie daily deficit, which could mean cutting consumption in half.) The slower you go, the more your diet becomes an incremental change in lifestyle rather than a disruptive 180-degree about-turn.

Whatever the deficit, we do not recommend long-term calorie targets of below 1200 calories a day for a woman, and 1400 calories per day for a man.

Foods that help you lose weight quickly – protein

We have already seen that high-protein foods appear high on the satiety index and make you feel fuller for longer.

As we discuss here, another positive attribute of high-protein foods is that it takes more energy to digest protein than it does carbohydrates or fat, so a calorie of protein is not quite on a par with a calorie of fat or carbs.

High protein is important when you are eating in a calorie deficit as it will help you hold on to more of your lean body mass (muscle), so that most or all of your weight loss comes from fat. Resistance training (weights in the gym) will play a large part in retaining muscle mass too. Bodyscan clients who engage in resistance training during weight loss maintain significant amount s of lean body mass. The result below shows rapid weight loss of more than 21kg in just five months, of which 20kg was fat and only 1kg was lean mass!

DEXA result for high protein weight loss

Also, if you were to over-eat (ie, be in a calorie surplus), a high proportion of protein in those calories would see some of your weight gain made up of muscle mass. Surplus calories that contain low or no protein would likely all be stored as fat.

Drinking more water may help you lose weight quickly!

You may not think of water as food or a nutrient, but we can’t live without it. And drinking plenty of water can decrease hunger pangs. Sometimes we think we’re hungry when we are actually thirsty. Drinking a glass of water before a meal can help us feel fuller and reduce hunger. Sparkling water in particular is good for quenching hunger pangs and is recommended during fasts and time-restricted eating. And of course water has zero calories. So, to help you lose weight quicker, drink a lot of water.

A summary of how to lose weight a bit faster

To lose weight you need to be in a sustained calorie deficit over time – simply eating and drinking fewer calories than you burn.

Therefore it follows that to lose weight faster you need to create a bigger calorie gap between what you consume and what you use.

As for foods that will help you lose weight, there are no foods that burn calories (as exercise does), though it is true that high-protein foods take more energy (calories) to digest than the macronutrients carbohydrate and fat.

To help you create and sustain a calorie gap, choose foods that are not only low in calories but that also give you a feeling of satiety (fullness). If you feel full, you won’t have to fight the desire to eat.

Drinking plenty of water between and immediately before meals will help you consume less, leading to a sizeable – and sustainable – calorie deficit, the fundamental requirement of weight loss.

A DEXA scan will equip you with everything you need to start your weight loss journey. We will reveal how much body fat and lean mass you have now, how much fat you should lose and a realistic timeline for doing it based on an agreed and agreeable number of calories.