Kim Yawitz, RD, is a registered dietitian and gym owner in St. Louis, Mo. In addition to coaching fitness and nutrition clients one-on-one and in small groups, Kim also shares her expertise with national media outlets. She enjoys cooking, reading, and spending time with her family.
I’m a weight loss dietitian, but I’m also human. If I could eat all the cheeseburgers and fries I wanted without compromising my health and body weight goals, I’d do it. But life doesn’t work that way.
The reality is, weight loss (and weight maintenance) involves tradeoffs. It’s a balancing act of figuring out how much of your favorite foods you can eat while working toward your goals.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a free pass to eat anything you want without getting fat. But I can help you feel less deprived in your quest to maintain or lose weight.
In this post, I’ll share twelve foods I recommend to my coaching clients that help them get the results they want without feeling deprived.
But first, let’s talk about why certain foods are more likely to make you gain weight than others, so that you know what types of food to eat more and less of.
Table of Contents
What Foods Make You Fat?
Weight gain occurs when you take in more calories than you burn, day in and day out.
In theory, any food can make you gain weight if you eat too much overall. This is true even when a food is very low in calories.
But some foods make you much more likely to gain weight than others.
Ultra processed foods typically have more fat, sugar, and salt than less processed foods. This crave-worthy combination makes it easier to overeat and, therefore, to gain weight.
Case in point: In a large 2021 study, normal-weight adults who ate the most ultra-processed foods were 15 percent more likely to become overweight or obese than those who ate the least (1).
Less processed foods, on the other hand, tend to be more filling and lower in calories. Compared to processed foods, you can eat a lot more minimally processed foods without gaining weight.
Some minimally processed foods could even help you lose weight!
12 Foods You Can Eat a Lot of Without Getting Fat
Which foods are your best choices if you’re watching your weight?
It always helps to choose foods that are low in calories, of course. But low-calorie foods that are also filling are even better.
Foods that contain a lot of fiber, water, and protein help you feel full faster, leaving less space in the belly for additional calories. These foods are sometimes higher in calories than, say, celery, but they can help you to eat fewer calories throughout the day.
Here are twelve great options to get you started.
If you’re looking for a low-calorie food that’s also filling, cauliflower fits the bill. An entire head contains just 146 calories (not that I’d recommend eating that much in one sitting)!
Calories aside, cauliflower is incredibly versatile. It’s great roasted or raw, and you can also swap riced cauliflower out for any recipe that calls for regular rice (like this Surf n’ Turf Paella Recipe).
Nutrition facts for ½ cup chopped cauliflower: 27 calories, 0.3 g fat, 5 g carbohydrate (2.1 g fiber), 2.1 g protein
How’s it possible to eat a lot of cucumbers without gaining weight?
Once again, it comes down to calorie math.
A medium cucumber will only set you back about 30 calories. You could eat three of them and still consume fewer calories than a serving of chips!
For this reason, I often recommend that my clients snack on cucumbers.
Nutrition facts for one medium cucumber: 30 calories, 0 g fat, 7 g carbohydrate (1 g fiber), 1 g protein
Unfortunately, you can’t eat a lot of noodles without gaining weight.
You can, however, eat a lot of zoodles.
Zoodles are zucchini noodles, which are made by slicing zucchini in a spiral formation.
It’s a great stand-in for pasta when trying not to eat too many calories.
One cup of zucchini noodles contains just 20 calories and is also very filling. By contrast, one cup of cooked spaghetti has 221 calories, and most people eat far more pasta than that (2).
Nutrition facts for one large zucchini: 55 calories, 1 g fat, 10 g carbohydrate (3.2 g fiber), 4 g protein
Is it a good idea to gorge yourself on potatoes when you’re watching your weight? Probably not.
But as long as you bake or boil them (and aren’t eating too many calories in general), you could potentially eat a serving of potatoes every day without gaining weight.
Potatoes rank very high on the Satiety Index, which means they’re very filling. In one study, they were more satating than every other food tested (3).
In theory, this could help you eat less when you eat meals containing potatoes, and it can also help keep you satisfied until your next meal. Just be sure to eat the skin–that’s where you get the most fiber.
Nutrition facts for 1 medium potato with skin (2 ¼ to 3 ¼ inch diameter): 163 calories, 0.2 g fat, 37 g carbohydrate (4.7 g fiber), 4.3 g protein
Do you know that old rhyme about beans being good for your heart? They’re also pretty great for your waistline.
Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas (all types of legumes) are excellent sources of fiber and protein–both of which can help you maintain and even lose weight.
In a 2022 study, eating more legumes was the biggest predictor of weight loss among overweight adults following a plant-based diet (4).
And in a different study, adults who ate nearly two cups of beans and lentils a day lost four times more weight in six weeks than adults who didn’t eat as much (5).
So go ahead, eat a lot of legumes, but start slowly. Increasing your fiber intake too quickly can lead to bloating, gas, and other digestive issues.
Begin with ¼ to ½ cup daily, and increase by ¼ cup every few days as tolerated.
Nutrition facts for ½ cup black beans: 114 calories, 0 g fat, 20 g carbohydrate (7 g fiber), 8 g protein
Craving something sweet?
You can eat a lot of strawberries without gaining weight. One cup of halved strawberries has only 49 calories, with 3 grams of fiber!
For reference, that’s about the same as a single Chips Ahoy cookie (and good luck eating just one of those).
Subbing strawberries for your dessert is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without packing on the pounds.
Nutrition facts for 1 cup strawberries, halved: 49 calories, 0.5 g fat, 11.7 g carbohydrate (3 g fiber), 1 g protein
With just 52 calories per serving, grapefruit is a low-calorie fruit.
Eating a lot of it won’t set you back many calories. There’s even some evidence that grapefruit may even help you lose weight.
In one study, for example, adults who ate grapefruit before meals lost an average of seven percent body weight in twelve weeks (6).
But before you make a beeline for the produce aisle, there’s something you should know.
The only thing magical about grapefruit is its incredibly high water content, which can make you feel fuller. If you’re not a fan of grapefruit, drinking a big glass of water before meals would likely have a similar effect.
(Note: Grapefruit interacts with dozens of medications, making some less effective and others too strong. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before adding it to your diet.)
Nutrition facts for ½ medium grapefruit: 52 calories, 0.2 g fat, 13 g carbohydrate (2 g fiber), 0.9 g protein
Craving a snack that isn’t, say, a cucumber?
You can eat a lot of air-popped popcorn without gaining weight.
Popcorn comes in at 31 calories per cup, so you won’t do too much damage even if you eat more than you planned.
Unlike many snack foods, popcorn also provides a bit of fiber. This can help you meet your daily fiber quota (something most Americans fall short on) while also helping you to fill up faster.
Nutrition facts for 1 cup air-popped popcorn: 31 calories, 0 g fat, 6 g carbohydrate (1 g fiber), 1 g protein
High-protein foods are more filling than high-carb or high-fat foods.
You can (and should) eat lots of high-protein foods because It’s difficult to overeat them, and because they can also help you consume fewer calories from other sources.
According to one study, fish is more satiating than other protein sources (3).
You can eat any fish you like, as long as it’s not fried or covered in high-calorie sauces or toppings.
Eating fatty fish twice weekly has also been linked with a decreased risk of heart disease, so consider adding salmon to your menu at leaast a couple times per week.
Nutrition facts for 3 ounces of salmon: 177 calories, 11 g fat, 0 g carbohydrate, 17 g protein
Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
You could eat a LOT of cottage cheese without gaining weight.
Nearly half of its calories come from protein, which has many attributes that promote weight maintenance and weight loss.
As we’ve discussed, protein is very filling.
But compared to foods that are high in fat or carbohydrates, protein-rich foods may be less likely to be stored in the form of body fat, even when you eat a little too much of them (9).
When paired with resistance training, high-protein diets also promote muscle growth. This can help you look leaner and also burn more calories at rest.
Of course, other high-protein foods (like meat, poultry, and fish) could have similar benefits. But because it’s incredibly versatile and convenient, cottage cheese is addition to your grocery cart if you’re watching your weight.
Nutrition facts for 1 cup low fat cottage cheese: 183 calories, 5 g fat, 11 g carbohydrate (0 g fiber), 24 g protein
Nuts are higher in calories and fat than many foods on this list, so you might be surprised that you can eat lots of them without gaining weight.
But studies suggest that nuts don’t make you fat, even if you eat them daily (10).
There’s even some evidence that adults who eat more of them weigh less and have smaller waists than people who don’t eat as many (11).
That being said, it’s never a bad idea to measure out your servings. It’s easy to underestimate portion sizes when you eat straight out of the bag, making you more likely to gain weight.
Nutrition data for one ounce of nuts: 172 calories, 15 g fat, 6 g carbohydrate (2 g fiber), 6 g protein
Need additional proof that high-fat foods don’t make you fat?
You can eat avocado every day without having to buy bigger jeans.
In fact, avocado might even help you slim down.
In a 2021 study, researchers divided overweight adults into two groups. Both groups followed similar diets and ate the same number of calories each day. The only difference is that one group ate a fresh Hass avocado daily.
After twelve weeks, women in the avocado group lost significantly more visceral (deep abdominal) fat than those who didn’t eat avocado (12).
And in another large study, adults who regularly ate avocadoes had higher-quality diets than those who didn’t (13).
Rest assured, adding that guacamole to your burrito will unlikely give you a belly.
Nutrition facts for one Hass avocado: 227 calories, 21 g fat, 12 g carbohydrate (9.2 g fiber), 2.7 g protein
Just to recap, any food could make you gain weight if it’s contributing to a calorie surplus.
But some foods are more helpful than others at keeping your calorie intake low enough to maintain or lose weight.
The best choices are minimally processed or unprocessed foods that are low in calories and very filling.
Higher calorie foods can sometimes be eaten more often or in larger amounts if they contain a lot of fiber, protein, or water. These foods fill the belly and help you take in fewer calories over the course of the day.