Want to lose weight without hunger and keep it off? Protein makes it possible.

Numerous studies have shown that making sure protein intake remains high when cutting calories for weight loss can help prevent muscle loss (which keeps metabolism high), satiate hunger, and reduce cravings and binges. Low-calorie, high-protein plans also encourage the body to tap fat stores rather than muscle to get by on fewer calories, making maintaining weight loss easier over time as well.

Keeping protein intake high when cutting calories also seems to help avoid triggering the starvation response that helped ancient man survive periods of feast and famine by shutting down metabolism and making weight loss harder, not easier.

Some good sources of lean protein include fish, shrimp, shellfish, chicken, turkey, lean and extra-lean beef, eggs, low-fat dairy products, soy, beans, peas, and lentils. Think of them as your weight loss superfoods. You should aim to include a lean protein source with every meal and snack.

Don’t be confused into thinking I am talking about an all-protein or mostly protein diet like some well-known plans advise. While they may work initially, I don’t feel they really help people learn how to eat in a way they realistically can maintain for the rest of their lives.

So, unlike plans that counsel people to eat mostly protein, The Center for Medical Weight Loss protocols espouse a balanced approach that includes protein, carbs, and fat in the proper proportions. This way, when people reach their weight loss goals and go on a maintenance plan, they have learned how to eat real foods in the right combination and can continue to do so going forward.

Of course, a low-calorie, high-protein diet alone is not going to solve a weight problem. That’s why we pair that with physical activity counseling and behavioral changes. What you eat is only one piece of the puzzle. How you live and think are just as important in conquering a weight problem.

So remember, protein is your friend in the battle of the bulge. But in the end, losing weight is about so much more than cutting calories or a number on a scale. It’s about learning a new way to live and eat.