Fat loss relies on one thing: eating fewer calories than you expend. But nobody wants to sit and count calories all day. Most people can learn to track them successfully, but some might need a different strategy altogether. If tracking has given you a headache in the past, consider giving this a try.
Before you give up on calorie counting and abandon your nutritional tracker of choice, make sure you've given it a fair shot:
1. Be patient and don't give up immediately. Tracking calories is just as much of a skill as learning a language.
2. Hit an adequate amount of protein daily. Protein is the most satiating of all macronutrients, which usually translates into more diet success.
Still, we're presenting alternatives because people find diet success in different ways. I've found that those who aren't motivated by numbers might fare better through keeping things incredibly simple. The instructions below allow you to create a satisfactory caloric deficit without the need to count.
Eat Whole Foods With (Relatively) Lean Protein at Every Meal
Have you heard the story about the person who got fat from eating chicken breast and brown rice? Neither have I.
This isn't to say one cannot overeat the food items above, but it's incredibly difficult. By sticking to meals made up of whole, unprocessed foods — with protein at the center — you're likely to stay full and still be in a caloric deficit.
First, determine the amount of protein that you need each day using nutritionist Alan Aragon's formula: your target weight (in pounds) in grams of protein. That means if you are a 200-pound woman who wants to weigh 120 pounds, you'll need to eat 120 grams of protein each day. Don't worry — unless you have pre-existing kidney issues, eating a diet high in protein isn't dangerous to your health.
Next, split that amount evenly between the number of meals that you'll have in a given day. Contrary to popular myth, this number doesn't really matter, so you should base it on personal preference. Some people might want to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Others, like myself, prefer to skip breakfast and just eat lunch and dinner.
Let's say our hypothetical woman eats three meals. She would then eat 40 grams of protein per meal — or the equivalent of 140g of cooked chicken breast. A good rule of thumb here is that 25 grams of cooked protein is the size of a deck of cards.
It's a good idea to keep the protein source relatively lean, because items high in saturated fat will inevitably lead to more calories. This is fine if you're accounting for them, but that defeats the purpose of this method.
Some good sources of relatively lean protein include:
- Chicken (or turkey) breast
- 90%+ lean minced beef
- Lean cuts of beef or pork (tenderloin)
- Egg whites (or "beaters"). Including in a few whole eggs is fine as well.
- Almost all seafood
- Low fat greek yoghurt or cottage cheese
With your choice of protein, it's a good idea to include a copious amount of fibrous vegetables (as much as you want) and potentially a starch. Here are some ideas for fibrous vegetables:
- Fresh green beans
- Rice (brown, white, wild)
- Pasta (wheat or white)
- Potatoes (sweet or white)
- Canned beans
Finally, you may want to include a tablespoon of olive oil, coconut oil or salad dressing for added taste. If you're not used to this sort of eating template, you will find each meal is quite filling. Protein Pow and The Epicurean Bodybuilder (which, full disclosure, also happens to be my sister's site) have recipes that are both delicious and fit this method.
Be Mindful About Fullness
After each meal, you should feel satiated, but never "stuffed". Determining your appropriate level of fullness (or "satiety") requires practising a bit of mindfulness. We'll do this by rating satiety on a scale of 0-10 using this chart:
|0||Absolutely famished. Think of the hungriest that you've ever been in your entire life.|
|3||Hungry, but tolerable. This is about how hungry you should be right before your first meal (if you've been losing weight and have already adjusted to Intermittent Fasting|
|5||Neither hungry nor full. Might eat out of boredom, but otherwise there is no real desire.|
|7||Satiated with no actual physical desire to eat more. You could probably eat more and possibly enjoy it if you really wanted.|
|8||Full, often with bloating, but no actual discomfort from overeating. "Happy full".|
|9||Extremely full with moderate discomfort. Wish you had eaten slightly less.|
|10||Absolutely stuffed to the point of extreme discomfort. Could not take another bite.|
Make sure that you enjoy your meal slowly, because it takes a while for your stomach to register fullness. A good rule of thumb: eat as if you were meeting your significant other's parents for the first time and trying to make polite conversation. Unless you're a complete jerk, you'll probably eat at an appropriate pace.
You should be aiming for a 6-8. If you find that you're at a 9 or a 10, reduce the amount of food that you eat. Conversely, if you're a 5 or below, increase the amount of food that you eat, prioritising items in the following order: fibrous vegetables, then lean protein, and lastly starch or added fats. I personally find that adding a tablespoon of olive oil to my food increases my satiety, but you might want to experiment.
How To Succeed With This Method
Finally, track your weight and waist measurements consistently using our guide. If you find your weight increasing, then decrease the amount of food that you're eating at each meal. On the other hand, if your weight is decreasing too quickly, you may want to increase the amount.
If you're losing a satisfactory amount of weight every week, however, keep doing what you're doing and don't change anything.
Most [diet books] follow a fairly standard organisation (the first chapter always explaining that YOUR FAT IS NOT YOUR FAULT) and, with very very few exceptions, most will tell you that 'calorie restricted diets don't work for weight loss' and that whatever magic they are selling is the key to quick, easy (and of course permanent) weight loss.
Whether it's insulin, dietary fat, the protein:carbohydrate or insulin:glucagon ratio, partitioning or whatever other bullshit, they will make it sound like caloric intake is not the key aspect in whether or not someone gains weight.
Basically, this is Lyle's Rule #1 of Diet books: All diet books tell you that you won't have to restrict calories, and then trick you into doing it anyway.
Instead, we're still incidentally creating a caloric deficit without the usual accompanying BS rationale or the need to track.
You may find this style of dieting is overly restrictive. Remember, you're making a bit of a tradeoff by not counting calories — it's harder to fit other types of food into your diet than with other methods like flexible dieting and tracking calories or macronutrients. Furthermore, this may only work for a short period of time until your weight starts to stall. At this point, you may need to switch back to tracking calories in order to keep progressing. Regardless, some people will see more success through mindful eating and using this method, so consider giving it a try.