Fad diets all claim that by eliminating certain types or categories of foods you’ll somehow boost your body’s metabolism and start burning fat like a furnace. But the truth is that when you cut out those foods, whatever they may be, your calorie intake automatically drops, and in the case of high-protein diets, so does your body’s water content. The loss of the water content leads to the quick shedding of a few pounds, and if you stick with the diet long enough and don’t simply eat larger portions of the “allowed” foods, then that running calorie deficit will cause you to lose some fat as well.

What you might find surprising, is that science says it doesn’t matter what type of diet you follow – as long as you reduce your calorie intake below your calorie output, you will lose weight. Indeed, journalist Jeff Wilser demonstrated this when he ate nothing but processed junk food for one month and lost 11 pounds. How did he do it? By carefully tracking calories and eating small portions of those high-calorie foods. In fact, in this excerpt from his book, he says that in order to keep his calorie intake at a level where he could lose weight, the serving sizes had to be so small that he never really felt satiated after a meal.

This suggests that a junk food diet is not only unsustainable due to numerous long-term health consequences, but also because most people could never stick with it over the long term. Even if your body was getting enough calories you’d feel hungry all the time, and humans don’t like to feel hungry all the time. Eventually, you’d end up eating more calories than you burn.

But what if there was a diet that could guarantee weight loss without counting calories? There is, but it’s not a name-brand fad diet. Essentially, it’s the opposite of Wilser’s junk food diet – one that maximizes both the volume of food and nutrient intake while minimizing calories. It’s as simple as eating whole foods, but to ditch calorie counting altogether and still guarantee weight loss, it’s necessary to know exactly what “whole foods” are.

We often think of whole foods as anything that’s not packaged, but actually some packaged foods are whole foods, and it’s only processed foods that you need to avoid. For example, 100% whole grain bread is not a whole food, but canned beans or frozen cut vegetables are. Beans and frozen vegetables come in a package, but they have essentially retained their original form, someone else has merely done the prep work for you. The bread, on the other hand, contains a number of ingredients, one of which (the whole grains) has been processed (in this case, milled into flour). While 100% whole grain bread is less processed, and therefore a healthier choice than white bread, it’s still not a whole food. The milling of those whole grains into flour means that your body will digest them in a completely different way than it would if they remained whole or very minimally processed (like wheat berries, bulgar, steel cut oats, etc.). For instance, when you eat the bread your body’s insulin response will be different and the quick breakdown of starch into sugar can cause you to crave more food, even if your stomach is actually full. But most importantly for weight loss, you can take in a lot more calories from the bread than you could from the whole grains before you start to feel full. The grains will also take longer to digest, so you’ll feel full longer than you would if you ate the bread. That’s the real advantage of whole foods over processed foods, even ones we consider to be “healthy.”

Here’s a short list of some foods that people think of as healthy, but that are, in fact, processed:

  • Oils (including olive, canola and coconut oil)
  • Milk, Yogurt and Cheese (all varieties, even plant-based ones)
  • Bread, Tortillas, Wraps, etc. (even 100% whole grain varieties)
  • Sweetener of any kind other than sugars naturally occurring in whole fruits, grains and vegetables
  • Juice of any kind (even in the case of 100% vegetable juices and blends, it’s always preferable to get your nutrients from whole foods)
  • Chocolate, yes even very dark chocolate

Of course, there is a much longer list of unhealthy processed foods that have no place in a healthy diet and are disastrous to your weight loss effort. These include cookies, crackers, chips, processed meats (including plant-based varieties), baked goods, candy, soda, alcohol, and many other things.

If you want to lose weight, optimize nutrition and feel energized and alert without counting calories, you can easily do so by eating a whole food, plant-based diet.

Everything you put into your mouth should nourish your body by providing not only carbohydrate, protein and essential fats, but it should also offer an array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The best part about a diet like this is that you don’t need to follow a specific plan. If you need recipe ideas, there are lots of great resources available (I’ve listed a few below), but you shouldn’t feel bound to any particular “diet.” Instead, you should focus on this one simple rule: Eat a variety of whole plant foods, and avoid processed foods and nutrient-poor animal foods. The more closely you follow that rule, the faster the pounds will come off.

Here’s that list of whole food recipe resources:

Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live Cookbook
Forks Over Knives, The Cookbook
Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen App (FREE!) iTunes & Android
The Campbell Plan