That’s the big news as a result of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study shows that it does not matter what type of diet you follow (i.e. low fat, low carb, high protein), what matters is the amount of calories you are actually consuming.

If you take in more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight. If you take in exactly how many calories you burn in a day, you will stay the same. If you create a deficit, voila, you lose weight.

Of course, the difficult part for most is figuring out how many calories you need, and then tweaking that for weight loss or maintenance. It is also difficult if you are used to eating a particular way, and then try to change it. And, if you have lived in the U.S. for any amount of time, you have been subject to the immense portion sizes offered up as “normal.”  A summary of the article on MSNBC mentions this interesting point:

“Dieters who got regular counseling saw better results. Those who attended most meetings shed more pounds than those who did not — 22 pounds compared with the average 9 pound loss.”

Getting guidance from trained professionals can definitely help take some of the mystery out of food. I advise clients to start incorporating low calorie, nutrient dense foods into their diet, especially if they are accustomed to eating larger portions. A huge bowl of vegetables before a meal will definitely keep you from overeating some of the more high calorie options.

So, you can still eat large quantities, but, take in fewer calories. A good example is cauliflower. A cup of steamed cauliflower is 29 calories. If you love cauliflower, like me, you can eat a few cups, no problem and it’s less than 100 calories, but, fills you up for quite awhile. Not to mention, cauliflower has lots of nutrients, and almost a days worth of Vitamin C (per cup)

An equal amount of a food like pasta will pack about four times the amount of calories. Of course pasta is delicious, and should be part of any healthy diet, but, this is one of the foods which you’d want to pay more attention to in terms of its caloric impact.

So, in light of this study, if you are looking to lose weight or just not gain, I recommend the following diet tips to get an idea of what your calorie intake is:

  1. Start keeping a food journal or diary – writing down what you eat alone has been proven to improve weight loss
  2. Get an idea of the amount of calories in the foods you typically eat, the USDA’s website has reliable information
  3. Figure out what your resting metabolic rate is, there are several metabolic calculators on the internet, has a pretty good one. But, this becomes the tricky part, because you also have to factor in how much activity you get per day. Some calculators will help you do this as well.
  4. Educate yourself by reading food labels
  5. Consult a registered dietitian or licensed nutritionist to help you with your goals