Should you cut calories or eat healthily to lose weight?

Burning energy is an important part of any weight loss program, but it's not the only factor

Person counting calories
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's a lot of contradictory advice when it comes to weight loss. Some suggest that calorie counting gives the best results, while others switch up their diets to drop pounds.

We all know it's a good idea to eat healthily, but in practice, it can be hard to pinpoint precisely how to make the changes you need to lose weight and keep it off.

Fortunately, we have some authoritative guidance thanks to a review published in the journal Healthcare. The authors analyzed previously published studies for the most effective weight loss diet.

When discussing the findings, the team noted that the "most effective strategy to achieve long-term weight loss and good cardiometabolic health is shifting to a healthy dietary pattern, compatible with individual food preferences and lifestyle habits."

Sadly, this means there's no single meal plan that'll work for everyone. But there are still plenty of tips you can follow if you're hoping to lose weight. The analysis found that hypocaloric diets, where you burn more energy than you consume, are "safe, healthy, and modestly effective."

That's why calorie-counting is at the core of most weight-loss diets. However, for the past few decades, this led to fairly extreme low-calorie diets, which promote consuming less than 1000 calories per day. 

According to the research, these are "the most effective strategy to achieve substantial and rapid weight loss but are indicated for specific subgroups of patients and intended for short-term use."

This is backed up by guidance issued by the National Clinical Guidance Centre, which notes that very-low-calorie diets should only be used in medically-justified circumstances for up to 12 weeks under healthcare supervision and counseling. 

Instead, the review found that the Mediterranean diet is one of the most effective weight-loss diets and provides "benefits for overall health due to its balanced composition and diversity of health-promoting micronutrients."  

Mediterranean diet foods

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish
  • Potatoes
  • Whole grains
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs and spices

Interestingly, the study concluded that "a healthy diet is a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products and high-quality proteins," which sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet too. 

Ultimately, they found that "the best diet is a diet that people can [stick] with." But it's important to couple dietary changes with exercise too. 

Working out is an excellent way to drop pounds, especially if you use the best exercises for weight loss in your routine. But it also helps protect your heart, mind, and body, especially as you age. 

As the colder weather kicks in, outdoor workouts seem less appealing. To stay active without venturing outside, it's worth adding the best exercise machines to lose weight to your home gym setup. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.