How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories
by Evelyn Valdez·
We've all heard someone say that the quickest way to lose weight is "eat less and exercise more". This idea has been constantly barraged in our minds by nutritionists, health coaches, fitness trainers, etc. It's the reason why calories are the first thing people look at on nutrition labels and why its a deciding factor on food choices for many. As great as calorie counting seems, it's actually very ineffective and can cause you to be over obsessive about how much food you're eating, and overall, it'll create an unhealthy relationship between you and food.
However, counting calories isn't all bad! There are just other, more sustainable ways to achieve your weight loss goals without having to obsessively track everything you eat. The whole counting calories for better fat loss is oversimplified, and it has a lot of pitfalls that can lead to unhealthy habits and yo-yo dieting. It's an idea that can be hard for us to shake off since it was been engraved in our heads, which is why we're going to give you all the details on why you don't need to count calories and how to actually get started – let's get started!
Why you don't need to count calories to lose fat
The answer is simple... counting calories isn't the reason people lose weight, it's the calorie deficit that does. To achieve weight loss, you need to burn more calories than you're consuming, and people find that counting calories is the best way to put them in that deficit. However, it has its downfalls. Many of those who start calorie counting in an effort to lose an x amount of weight or a percentage amount of body fat, tend to focus on calories only. When you focus and restrict only calories and don't take into account macronutrients in food, satiety levels, frequency of food, and more, your body responds by burning fewer calories – making your deficit disappear! This isn't true in all cases, but it's common for those who start counting calories and only focus on the amount of calories they're eating, meaning they eat whatever fits within their daily calorie range. This form of calorie counting is counter productive and it can create unhealthy habits that lead to unsustainable results and possibly even weight gain in the long-run.
Calorie counting can be effective when it's done the right way. That's why there are still many athletes, lifters, and bodybuilders who track their macronutrients and calories when they need to achieve a specific fitness goal. However, the average person who wants to lose a few pounds or tone and build muscle can do so without needing to obsessively track every single calorie they're consuming, and it's an even better approach because it'll help you build a better relationship with food!
How to create a calorie deficit without counting calories
There are several effective ways to get yourself in a calorie deficit without needing a calorie counter on your phone! Unlike restrictive weight loss diets, you'll be able to enjoy a variety of healthy foods that keep you full, are delicious, and will help you curve your cravings. But the best part is, you'll be learning how to eat healthy and build good habits that stick with you for the long-run! This means you'll achieve your weight loss/fat loss goals and maintain your results.
Some of these may seem a little obvious, but let us give you the details...
First things first, if you want to lose weight without counting calories you need to get organized! You won't be spending time inputting and tracking all of your food, but you should spend time creating a meal plan and organizing your kitchen for success. Without having a good plan, you're setting yourself up to make poor decisions, like ordering delivery from your favorite spot after a long stressful day. Neglecting to have a plan makes you more susceptible to letting emotions, like stress, make decisions for you.
The best way to get organized and avoid that from happening is by setting aside time once a week to plan your meals, write a grocery list out, organize your kitchen, and prep your food! Here are a few pointers...
- Meal planning: Planning your meals doesn't have to be complicated, and since you're not focusing on calories you won't have to think about how many calories you need to eat per meal. You just have to plan it out smartly. Do this by keeping things simple and focusing on balancing the macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) on your plate. As you'll see in the next tip, focus on whole foods. Pick a few of your favorite protein sources (meat, fish, tofu), carbohydrate sources, and healthy fats. Then create different meals using those healthy foods!
- Shop smarter: Be smart when you shop! The last thing you want to do is go into a grocery store unprepared, doing this will tempt you to buy the things you crave the most. Instead, write out a grocery list! This is much easier when you have a meal plan because as you plan them out you'll be able to see what ingredients you need. With a grocery list, you'll know exactly what you need to buy which will reduce your chances of buying something spontaneously, like your favorite cookies!
- Set your kitchen up for success: If you know you give into your cravings easily, then organize your kitchen so you don't fall into them. This means keep your kitchen clean and organized in a way that makes it easier for you to reach for healthier foods. For example, keeping the fruit bowl out where you can see it, or organizing your pantry so healthier items are in the front and can easily be grabbed. Another tip, consider swapping out your usual ingredients for healthier ones so you can still make the foods you enjoy! This could be swapping out regular sugar for coconut sugar, or another healthy sugar substitute, swapping out regular flour for whole-wheat flour or almond flour. There are so many healthy swaps you can make that may seem small, but will make a big difference in the long-run.
- Prep your food: Meal prepping isn't for everyone, but simply prepping your food can help make cooking easier for you... and let's face it, you don't want to spend hours cooking in the kitchen. You can do this by simply washing your fresh produce as soon as you get home from grocery shopping, chopping everything up, and storing them in containers. This will make it easier to grab a quick healthy snack, and it'll save you the time from prepping before cooking! For those who work or go to school, prep your breakfast or lunch the day before. If you're going to have a breakfast smoothie, have your fruits and veggies ready. Point is, prepping will make sure that you're actually eating the foods that you spent good money on!
Prioritize whole foods, limit processed foods
This one's the most important tip that should be very obvious, but for some reason, it's often overlooked. Prioritize eating real foods over processed foods. This isn't only about achieving a calorie deficit or a fitness goal, it's about feeding yourself the nutrients your body needs to function at optimal levels. So you can live a long, and healthy life. The upside is that by consuming whole foods you naturally eat fewer calories (and added sugars) because you're eating nutrient-dense foods. For example, complex carbs like potatoes, whole-grains, quinoa, are high in fiber and other nutrients that make them satiating. Add a high-protein food, like red meat or fatty fish and you'll be full for hours! By prioritizing real foods before processed stuff, you'll naturally reduce the amount of food you eat because those foods will keep you full and reduce your risk of bingeing on a bag of chips late at night. Instead, you'll be able to enjoy the foods you love, but in moderation.
It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, we know! But start getting familiar with healthy foods you enjoy, discover new foods, and don't force yourself to eat something you don't like – make it work for you. So, if bagels are your thing, find ways to incorporate it into your breakfast, don't force yourself to have a breakfast smoothie if that's not your jam! For example, instead of having a whole bagel slathered in cream cheese, have half (or a full) whole-grain bagel, but incorporate some vegetables and some type of protein source. You can sub cream cheese for mashed avocado (a great healthy fat), top it with a fried or scrambled egg (excellent source of protein), and add sauteed spinach, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, or any other veggies you like! You'll get to enjoy something you love, but your increasing the nutrient density which will help keep you full and satisfy your craving at the same time.
Aside from losing weight, prioritizing real foods over processed foods will help improve your sleep, your mood, and give you more energy. You'll just feel better overall which is the best health benefit these foods provide! So, bottomline is – focus on real foods, and enjoy processed foods in moderation.
Balance your macronutrients for every meal and snack
We mentioned this briefly before, but the easiest way to get you into the habit of choosing real foods over processed foods is by balancing the macros in your meals and snacks! This means incorporating a moderate amount of protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. Always have a high-quality protein source, aim to have 20-30 grams of protein. This could be eggs, chicken, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, salmon, etc. Then choose your carbohydrates, just make sure it's high in fiber! A few good options are fruits, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, potatoes, quinoa, and brown rice. There are so many more options, but we suggest choosing at least 1-2 veggies to increase your fiber intake! As for your fat intake, simply cooking with a healthy fat like extra virgin olive oil should suffice since some protein sources are high in fat already. Keep your protein intake high (keeps you full and helps with muscle-building), and carbs and fats at a moderate level.
There are so many ways to balance your meals, just make sure that you're hitting the major macros – even when you're snacking! Snacking on a pack of fruit gummies, chips, or a muffin isn't going to keep you full. Your blood sugar will most likely spike and soon after you'll be searching for your next snack! Instead, snack smarter, and balance your macros. If you need something sweet, have a protein shake with your favorite fruit and add a tablespoon of peanut butter for a healthy fat. Don't have time? Have some nuts and a banana! Point is, balance your foods so they keep you full and satisfied for hours.
Put away all electronics while eating
Did you know that distractions, like watching tv or being on your phone, while eating can cause you to eat more?! It's true! This happens because you're more focused on your favorite show or your Twitter timeline than your food. This results in completely missing your satiety signals which leads to eating more food, aka, more calories.
Take away all distractions when you eat, and practice eating intuitively. Eat slowly, and focus on the aroma, taste, and texture of the food you're eating. Halfway through your meal, take a moment to stop and check in on your hunger levels. Ask yourself how full you are, and if you're at an 80-90% then stop. If not, continue eating until you're 80% full. By removing all distractions and focusing on the food in front of you, you'll be able to reacquaint yourself with your body's hunger signals. And in the long-run that will help naturally reduce your food intake and help you maintain a healthy weight – without depriving yourself of essential nutrients!
Intermittent fasting has become extremely popular the last few years. It's a time approached eating pattern (not a diet) that involves fasting for 16+ hours. This reduces your feeding window which naturally reduces your calorie intake... That is if you watch watch what you eat! However, fasting for over 16 hours is a lot for some people. There are other ways to fast that will still help you reduce your feeding window, and let you reap all the benefits of fasting! Some of the benefits include weight loss, increased energy, better insulin resistance, improved digestion, and more.
So, how can you fast without needing to reduce your feeding window dramatically?
Consider doing a circadian rhythm fasting! This involves fasting overnight for only 12-14 hours by timing your meals with the rise and fall of the sun. This method gives your body a break from digesting at the most crucial time – at night! Your body's digestion system works slower at night because most bodily processes are off due to repair and reparation taking place at night. So, fasting at night and only eating during daylight hours forces you to eat when your metabolism is functioning at its highest, and not when its at it slowest (at night). Aside from that, it will improve your sleep and regular important hormone levels, like cortisol (stress hormone) and ghrelin (hunger hormone).
If you want more information on this method of fasting and need help getting started, check out >> Circadian Rhythm Fasting: What Is It and How To Get Started
Focus on creating healthy habits outside of the kitchen
It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle! Instead of looking at this like a weight loss journey, think of this as a healthy lifestyle change by focusing on creating healthy habits. Following the above tips will help you create good eating habits, but don't neglect other aspects in your life! The amount you sleep and your stress levels also play a huge role in your progress because they have a huge impact on your hormone levels. Cortisol levels tend to increase when you're stressed and sleep deprived, and having constant high stress levels has been linked to abdominal fat (belly fat), and other health risks. Poor sleep is just as bad! It can disrupt your hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which increases your hunger and cravings.
So, get your stress levels and sleep in check! Make it a habit it practice self-care to help reduce your stress levels, and set a good nighttime routine to help you get better sleep. Prioritizing your overall health and wellness, not solely the foods and calories you're eating, will help get you better results and improve your life!
Last, but not least, get active! You can lose weight without counting calories, but if you want to maximize your efforts outside of the kitchen, then take part in a physical activity you enjoy. Plus, exercise is great for reducing stress levels! One of the best forms of training is strength training. Despite contrary belief, HIIT and other forms are cardio aren't the only way to burn fat. Lifting weights is just as good (probably even better) at reducing body fat because it helps stimulate muscle growth. And for those who don't know, muscle burns more calories than fat at rest! However, you have to find a workout routine that works for you. Maybe pilates is your thing, running, HIIT, whatever you enjoy – get out there and do it!
In summary, you can achieve weight loss without counting calories. It can be even more effective because you'll be focusing more on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods that your body wants and needs. Follow our tips above and you'll be on track to reaching your goals and building healthier habits will help you sustain your results and improve your overall life!
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