Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?

A place to get your questions answered from McDougall staff dietitian, Jeff Novick, MS, RDN.

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Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?

Postby JeffN » Sat Jan 28, 2012 9:18 am

UPDATE 4/5/15 I am reposted this as a sticky in my forum and in the MWL forum as it seems this topic continues to be one of the most important and most misunderstand topics I see in these forums.


I have had a few messages and emails asking me for more clarification in regard to my comments in regard to the topic, "Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?" in the discussion in the following thread, "Eating Between Meals" ... 22&t=26337

The originally question posed was...

Chimichanga wrote:If I'm not mistaken McDougall program says to eat as much as you want , whenever you want till you are reasonably full.

My response...

JeffN wrote:This is a misunderstanding of the recommendations of the program.

The question I have been asked is, "how is this a misunderstanding of the program as don't you and Dr McDougall often say, 'food is unlimited' and that you have both said, 'eat as much as you want, whenever you want till you are reasonably full'?"

Therefore, let me clarify this important point.

First, the issue has been covered here in this forum, several times.

Specifically here, in this thread, "Food Really Unlimited??" where someone is directly asking the exact same question. This thread clarifies the issues and puts it into proper perspective and was posted in this forum about 4 years ago. ... =22&t=6032

This same thread is also listed in this forums Hot Topics thread and is the first one listed under the section, "Calorie Density, Weight Loss, BMI, How Much To Eat."

Here is another recent clarification of the above question..


This is also posted in a thread that comes with the recommendation "Please Read Before U Post" and has been at the top of this forum for 4 years.

The reason this was done 4 years ago is because it was very clear when I first started posting here that there were many misunderstandings of the program and many issues that needed clarity, So, if people wanted to really understand the program, they would benefit greatly from reading the discussions about the program where many topics, which may need clarification, are discussed in greater detail and clarified.

After all, Snyder's Pretzels are on the approved food list.

Chocolate Black Bean Brownies are a featured recipe.

However, hopefully, everyone understands that you can not eat Snyder's Pretzels or Chocolate Black Bean Brownies "as much as you want, whenever you want till you are reasonably full" and be healthy and/or lose weight.

This would also hold true for many other foods and recipes that are allowed and even sometimes served at the program.

In addition, one would also need to take into consideration the individual's health and/or medical issues of the person asking the question.

In the thread in question, it was from someone who was wanting to lose weight and admitting that they were not able to reach the goal they wanted. In such cases, the MWL thread and the additional adjustments to the MWL would be recommended, which are both discussed in this forum going back to its beginnings and in a Newsletter by Dr McDougall 7 years ago. ... ushing.htm

The Newsletter directly address the situation in question and makes it clear, that not all food is "all you can eat" for everyone.

So, as we can see, everything has to be put into proper perspective & context. You can't judge a food by any one aspect and must look at it from a total perspective; just as you can't make a finite conclusion from any one study but it must be put into context and the overall body of literature; and the same holds true for isolated quotes that are not put into proper perspective and context.

All of this was discussed in detail in a long discussion in this thread here... ... 2&t=14185&

So, as we see in the above thread, it is very easy to misunderstand a quote (or two) from a book (or two) and take it out of context.

That is not the problem, and it is easy to see how it can happen.

It is important to then try and understand the quote and how it fits into proper perspective. This forum is full of long discussions helping to clarify many of these important issues.

However, to then continue to take the quote and use it out of context, & insist it is some ultimate truth, is a problem.

Also, misunderstandings of the program is also one of the main points I make in the thread, "Top 10 reasons for failure" which is listed in the FAQ.

As we can see, this point is also highlighted in several of the Top 10 Reasons including

1) Poor Adherence/compliance. Sometimes from lack of application and sometimes from lack of understanding of the principles.

5) Not understanding the difference between something that is "allowed" on occasion in small quantities, and something that is "recommended."

This just happened again this week in regards to my new video, Nuts and Health. In this forum and on my FB page, there were comments from people who both were not "newbies" but who were "surprised" at my recommendations in the DVD. Yet, these are the same recommendations I have made in this forum since its inception, on FB since its beginnings and in my presentations and writings going back about 20 years.

This reminds my of a similar example with the quote, "All Foods Fit" which is often attributed to the American Dietetic Association and to many RD's as supporting the notion that all foods, regardless, really do fit. We can find this quote in many places online and in books being used to imply just this.

Now, I am not a supporter of the overall message of the ADA but in all fairness, that quote is being taken and used out of context.

So, let's clarify.

Here is the original and full quote..

"All foods can fit into a healthful diet 'if' consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity."

So, we have two issues. One, the quote is taken out of context and two, the quote does not apply to the audience it is usually directed at as most Americans do not consume a healthy diet, nor do they consume food in the proper portion size, nor do they engage in regular physical activity.

So, in this case, it is a misunderstanding, a misrepresentation and a misapplication of a quote.

I discuss this in this article,

which was also posted in this forum. ... 22&t=21260

It also reminds me of the famous quote on saturated fat that is attributed to Dr Castelli, which, once again, is often taken out of context on the internet which I clarified here. ... 4&p=259807

So, to not understand the original quote and use it out of context, is fine. Looking to have it clarified and put in proper perspective so one has a better understanding is also fine and the intelligent thing to do.

QUESTION: "Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?"


Now you know!

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Re: Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?

Postby ruupyet » Sat Jan 28, 2012 1:12 pm

When my family and I first started eating this way, I was excited to read that we could eat as much as we wanted! And in those first few months, I think we did. It took time for our bodies to adjust to very low fat foods and feel full enough. I feel as if we now eat normal amounts and have learned to just eat until we are full. I am still in the camp of eating multiple times spread out over the course of the day. It works for us.

About a year into this WOE, a very overweight friend who was on multiple medications approached me after reading some books on the subject. One of the first things she mentioned was that this WOE appealed to her because she could eat all she wanted. It wasn't until that point that I realized that that wasn't true at all.

My family does not have weight issues or medical problems and isn't taking any medication. We also do not eat processed foods (no pretzels, breads, desserts unless it is a holiday, etc). I knew this woman would not eat the way that we do. And I knew that if she ate all she wanted when it came to vegan brownies, cookies, pretzels, and homemade potato chips, she would not succeed. I explained why she couldn't eat unlimited quantities of food but those seemed to be the only words she picked up from the entire book. Needless to say, she didn't lose more than a few pounds and she was convinced this WOE wasn't all it was cracked up to be. She is a very smart, educated woman so I don't think it was a comprehension issue so much as an "I just don't want to give up eating the crap" issue.

I think those that go into this thinking they can eat all they want of anything they want as long as it is vegan are going to fail.
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Re: Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?

Postby JeffN » Sat Jan 28, 2012 1:41 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Sometimes, there is also another issue that comes into play in these situations, which I have seen often...

.. as someone loses weight and gets closer to their recommended weight, the weight loss becomes more difficult because the "margin of error" in the "energy balance" equation becomes much more narrow.

(I will be using certain averages and rules of thumb here to make a point. They are not perfect but they will highlight the issue)

For instance, if someone is around 300 lbs, their Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is burning about 3000 calories a day, even if they just lay in bed all day. Let's also add in about 500 calorie per day of just a basic low level of activity over the day.

Most any attempt to eat healthier will result in a lowered calorie density, lower caloric intake, and weight loss. So, lets say, they are consuming around 1800 on their best day and 2300 on their worst day. While that is a 500 calorie difference, either one would still result in weight loss. Even if they were not very compliant and adherent and had a few more indulgences than ideal, and took in 2500 to 2700 calories, they would still lose weight as they are burning about 3500 calories per day with little to no activity so .it would be hard not to.

As you can see, they have the capacity for a large margin of error in their calories and food intake and could still lose weight. So, even though it is not what is recommended, if it is what they are "hearing," they could actually be eating all the wanted whenever they wanted and still be losing weight.

They are loving it.

But, time has passed and they now weigh 200 and so their RMR is about 2000 calories a day, not counting any activity. They are still not very active so lets give figure around 350 calories per day (as there is much less of them, they burn less at the same activity level), so they are burning about 2350 calories per day.

If they are consuming the same foods, on the days in which they consume 1800 calories, they would still lose weight though it would result in some much slower weight loss. However, on the other days that they are consuming close to 2300, they may not lose any weight and on their days on indulgences, at 2500 to 2700, they wouldn't lose anything and would even see some weight gain.

Suddenly the weight loss slows down and even stops. They dont get it. They are confused, scared and troubled. They start hearing all kinds of myths and tales about why they are not losing weight some actually saying it is them. They ruined their metabolism over the years through a lifetime of yo yo dieting, their in starvation response, they need to kick start their metabolism again, they dont work out enough, and many other damaging statements.

They used to be able to eat any of the healthy food they wanted and even get away with junk foods and some not so healthy food and maybe not even exercise, because their RMR alone was 3000 calories. But now it is 2000. They lost 1000 calories in the equation.

The reality is, what they are experiencing is a very normal part of the process. They have reached a metabolic equilibrium in their energy balance. As some say, a plateau. This is normal, & to be expected during the weight loss process and is something that has a solution.

So, they would now have to make adjustments to the calorie density of the diet to lower the overall calorie density of their intake and to also look at whether they are really understanding the concepts of MWL and Calorie Density correctly. In addition, it may be time to consider a moderate amount of some formal activity/exercise as part of their life.

This would be the same principle if someone successfully went from 200 to 155 and now was having a harder time trying to get below 150.

The margin of error has become very narrow know and it is important to really understand the principles and to be much more compliant and adherent to them.

This is why the last 5-10 lbs are always the most difficult.

There is literally, no more wiggle room ;)

Of course, this is where sometimes people go elsewhere, thinking the program has failed, and as explained in the earlier thread, they may find some new tricks or gimmicks to use, that, in the end, will work only if they end up in helping them to eat less calories. There is no magic.

They could have also just done a very honest and thorough appraisal of the guidelines and principles of the MWL program and calorie density and their understanding and adherence to them.

Then, make the recommended adjustments as needed.

Remember, the program always works because it is based on sound science.

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Re: Can You Really Eat As Much As You Want?

Postby Knut » Sun Jan 29, 2012 4:50 pm

Well put... and it can't be overstated enough...
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