While counting calories and exercising is still the best way to lose weight, it can be exhausting when done for the long term. When it comes to losing 10 pounds or more, I focus on the concept of nutrient-dense eating. This can help you lose weight without feeling deprived.

Nutrient-dense eating, or as I like to call it, “the biggest bang for your calorie buck,” compares the quantity and quality of nutrients with the number of calories in an item.

Simply stated, that means emphasizing foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants — and also low in calories. Examples include fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Nutrient density works as a weight loss and weight management tool because it doesn’t feel as restrictive as other approaches may feel. You still get to enjoy your favorite foods by dressing them up with nutrient-dense ingredients.

This helps to increase the amount of food you can eat, while still managing your calories. When you feel full, you’re better able to stick with any meal plan.

Volume and fullness are important factors in satiety. As we start to digest food, our stomach gradually expands. This sends a fullness message to the brain and therefore reduces our desire to eat.

This signal is more pronounced when we’re eating filling foods, usually those that contain fiber, protein, and fat. That’s why this meal plan is heavy on both fiber-rich carbohydrates and protein.

The following meal plan is geared to help you lose 10 pounds in one to two months. That window is provided because everyone experiences weight loss differently. Some of us are able to make a few changes and lose weight right off the bat, while others need more time before the weight starts to come off.

I think it’s important to reemphasize that the timeline doesn’t matter as much as the process.

Making healthy lifestyle changes can take longer than more popular, quick-fix approaches. So try not to get frustrated if it’s taking longer than anticipated. As long as you’re making changes to your diet and being active, you’ll eventually reach your goal.

To make sure you do, you need to combine your new meal plan with a good exercise routine. What does that mean, exactly?

Turn up the cardio and add high interval training a few times a week. This balance focuses on improving cardiovascular health while boosting metabolism. Choose activities that work best for you, as you’re more likely to stick with something if you enjoy doing it.

For beginners, aim for about 30 minutes of cardio three times a week. For those who already exercise on a consistent basis, aim for 50 to 60 minutes of cardio, three to four times a week.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Even if you’re unable to meet this number, you’ll still benefit from any exercise you do.

To jump-start weight loss and increase caloric burn, make it a goal to add interval training an additional one to two days per week. “Interval training” means simply alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.

There are plenty of group exercise classes that follow this format (like spinning, boot camp, and specified interval classes). If you don’t have access to a class, create your own interval workout by mixing 30 seconds to 2 minutes of intense activity, followed by moderate recovery; repeat this cycle for 20 to 40 minutes.

As outlined above, this meal plan focuses on high-fiber, nutrient-dense eating.

Feel free to use substitutes and make changes as needed. For example, if we recommend 1 cup of spinach, you can substitute with 1 cup kale, lettuce, or another vegetable.

Breakfast: Cereal and fruit

  • 1 cup whole-grain, high-fiber cereal, such as oatmeal, with 1 to 2 cups fruit of choice. Serve with 1 cup of unsweetened, low-fat or fat-free milk or dairy-free milk of choice. Other high-fiber cereals include shredded wheat and bran-based cereals. Include some protein or healthy fat to sustain satiety, and choose lower sugar cereal options.

Lunch: Quinoa tabbouleh

  • 1 cup plus one apple and one piece of string cheese. You can make the tabbouleh ahead of time, preparing enough for lunch again tomorrow!

Dinner: Noodle-free pad thai

Snack (anytime):

  • 1/4 cup trail mix or almonds

Breakfast: Veggie-egg scramble

  • Two whole eggs scrambled with 1 cup chopped spinach, one large diced tomato, and 1/2 cup mushrooms. Mix in 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese just before serving.

Lunch: Quinoa tabbouleh

  • 1 cup quinoa tabbouleh (leftovers from yesterday) with 3 oz. of cooked, cubed chicken (or protein of choice)

Dinner: Tomato-spinach polenta

  • One serving polenta with roasted tomatoes and spinach. (Make extra to have for lunch tomorrow.)

Snack (anytime):

  • 1/2 cup baby carrots with 1 tbsp. hummus

Breakfast: Green smoothie

  • Blend together 1 cup almond milk or other milk, 1 cup de-stemmed kale leaves or baby spinach, one large ripe frozen banana, chopped into chunks, 1 tbsp. almond butter or peanut butter, 1 tbsp. chia seeds or ground flaxseed, pinch of ground cinnamon, and two to three ice cubes.

Lunch: Tomato-spinach polenta

  • One serving polenta with roasted tomatoes and spinach (leftovers from last night’s dinner)

Dinner: Skinny lasagna

Snack (anytime):

  • One apple with 1 tbsp. almond butter

Breakfast: Cereal and fruit

  • 1 cup whole-grain, high-fiber cereal with 2 cups fruit of choice. Serve with 1 cup of unsweetened low-fat or fat-free milk or dairy-free milk of choice. High-fiber cereals include oatmeal, shredded wheat, bran-based cereals.

Lunch: Vegetarian Cobb salad

  • Top 21/2 cups lettuce of choice with 1/3 cup garbanzo beans, half of a sliced cucumber, one small chopped tomato, quarter of an avocado, one hardboiled egg, and 11/2 tbsp. vinaigrette.

Dinner: Protein, veggies, grains

  • 3 oz. of cooked protein of choice, 1 to 2 cups cooked vegetables of choice, and 1/2 cup cooked grain of choice

Snack (anytime):

  • One large grapefruit, halved and drizzled with 1 tbsp. honey, and 1/8 cup nuts or seeds

Breakfast: Oatmeal

  • Make 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 2 cups fruit of choice (try frozen fruit to cut down on costs; add when cooking the oatmeal). Serve with 1 cup of unsweetened low-fat or nonfat milk or dairy-free milk of choice.

OR

Breakfast: Green smoothie

  • Blend together 1 cup almond milk or other milk, 1 cup de-stemmed kale leaves or baby spinach, one large ripe frozen banana, chopped into chunks, 1 tbsp. almond butter or peanut butter, 1 tbsp. chia seeds or ground flaxseed, a pinch of ground cinnamon, and two to three ice cubes.

Lunch: Hummus wrap

  • One lavash (or whole grain wrap of choice) topped with 1/4 cup hummus, 1 cup spinach leaves, 1/2 cup red pepper strips, 1/2 cup cucumber strips, and 1/4 cup carrot strips. Roll up and enjoy!

Dinner: Protein, veggies, grains

  • 3 oz. cooked protein of choice, 1 to 2 cups cooked vegetables of choice, 1/2 cup cooked grain of choice

Snack (anytime):

  • One whole foods–based bar such as Larabar or RXBar.

Breakfast: Veggie-egg scramble

  • Two whole eggs scrambled with 1 cup chopped spinach, one large, diced tomato, and 1/2 cup mushrooms. Mix in 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese just before serving.

Lunch: Smoked turkey and white bean salad

  • Top 21/2 cups lettuce of choice with 3 oz. of smoked turkey breast, half of a sliced cucumber, 1/4 cup canned, drained white beans, one small sliced pear, 10 seedless red grapes, 11/2 tbsp. chopped roasted walnuts, and 11/2 tbsp. vinaigrette.

Dinner: Rainbow soba noodles

  • One serving (about 2 cups), which includes soba (buckwheat) noodles, tofu, and plenty of vegetables

Snack (anytime):

  • 1/2 cup steamed edamame in pods

Breakfast: Oatmeal

  • Make 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1 to 2 cups fruit of choice (try frozen fruit to cut down on costs and add when cooking the oatmeal). Serve with 1 cup of unsweetened low-fat or nonfat milk or dairy-free milk of choice, and 1/8 cup of nuts or seeds or protein/healthy fat of choice.

Lunch: Lunch out!

  • For a grab-and-go option, head to Chipotle. Order a burrito salad bowl with black beans, fajita-style vegetables, guacamole, roasted corn-chile salsa, and tomato salsa.

Dinner: Creamy vodka steak pasta

Snack (anytime):

  • One container (about 6 oz.) of plain yogurt with 1/2 to 1 cup of berries mixed in with 1/2 tbsp. of honey

Alex Caspero, MA, RD, is the author of Delish Knowledge. She’s also a yoga teacher and weight management specialist, with a focus on helping you develop a healthy relationship with your food, finding your “happy weight.” Follow her on Twitter @delishknowledge!