Diabetes Forecast

With Education, Weight Loss Without Calorie Counting Is Possible

By Matt McMillen , ,

Photo Credit: Brookebecker/BigStock

What to Know

Weight loss ushers in loads of benefits, including improved blood glucose control, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduced inflammation. But dieting often demands a daunting amount of calorie counting. That level of attention to detail, to tracking every morsel that passes your lips, can derail your diet over time. Researchers in New Zealand investigated whether significant weight loss could be achieved on a diet that did away with calorie counting altogether.

The Study

For the 12-week study, researchers recruited 65 overweight or obese men and women, including nine with type 2 diabetes. Their average age was 56. Half of them ate their normal diet. The other half followed a low-fat diet focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, along with daily vitamin B12 supplements. Forbidden foods included animal products, refined oils, and processed foods. The dieters also reduced sugar and salt, but they could eat pasta, potatoes, and other starches. They did not increase their exercise. To help them craft healthy and tasty meals, the researchers enrolled the diet group in cooking classes.

The Results

Though the study period lasted only 12 weeks, the diet group had lost an average of 26.6 pounds after six months, and they kept most of it off for at least a year. The other group lost only 3 pounds. The dieters’ body mass index (or BMI, a ratio of height to weight used to calculate body fat) dropped by an average of 4.2 points, a significant improvement. They also lowered their cholesterol, reduced their use of medication, and lowered their A1C levels by 5 percent on average. In fact, two of the participants with diabetes entered remission by the study’s end. Finally, the diet group reported an increase in self-esteem and in their confidence about making healthy food choices.


This small study showed that a diet that doesn’t focus on calories can be an effective, healthy, and sustainable way to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off, without boosting the time you spend on exercise. Though it does not require that you count calories, it does demand that you limit your food choices considerably. Education was a key component of this study; classroom sessions helped participants learn to prepare meals using approved foods.

The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes.” N Wright, L Wilson, M Smith, B Duncan, and P McHugh. Nutrition & Diabetes, published online March 20, 2017. 7: e256.

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



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