This is something that comes up a lot with my clients! There’s a fear of eating and gaining weight, something like: “If I eat a slice of pizza, it takes me a week to lose that weight”.
What they’re actually telling me is that they are currently in a big restriction and that while it FEELS like restriction, the reality is the the amount of food consumed is above the needed for weight loss.
Here’s what we do:
1. Take a step back
Let’s look at the actual eating patterns and work on how can we eat more food for less calories. A way this happens a lot is with heavy restriction from Monday through Friday, then on the weekend it all goes downhill. This happens all the time, where we’re very “good” during the week and then the weekend comes and we just can’t keep it up. The same can happen in a day, restrict until dinner and then go have dinner feeling ravenous.
2. Discover what you REALLY need
It’s important to get an assessment of what your calorie needs actually are. For the vast majority of women, 1200 calories is not enough food for you to lose weight healthily. So the first thing you need is to figure out your target calories. You need to figure out how much you need to eat to reach your goals.
There are different ways to do that, the most reliable being having someone qualified to do the math for you (you can have this service for a small fee here, by the way). Apps are notoriously unreliable, there are some reasonably reliable calculators online (in the one linked, you don’t need to worry about the macros). Don’t rely on apps. They tend to give you lower calories than you need.
3. Figure out your protein target
So after you’ve determined what your calorie target is, the next thing is figure out how much protein you want to aim for. Every single cell in your body uses protein all the time. Your body is 24 hours, seven days a week. Your body is breaking down and building up protein and you need a lot of it.
Most people are actually eating less protein than they need. So you really want to try to hit that that protein target. Also, you want to eat protein because it helps you stay fuller longer. Eat enough protein. It helps you feel satiated.
The absolute bare minimum protein that you should consume is one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. So one kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. Get your weight in pounds, divide it by 2.2, that’s your minimum protein target. Aim for about 1.5 times that number. If you don’t eat a lot of protein, start with your first number and work up.
Now, is it possible to lose weight without counting calories?
Yes. Yes, it is. And these tips are one way to do it. But knowing your calories, that’s just a good thing. To learn and to hit that protein target is really going to help you. What you eat in terms of carbs and fat doesn’t make a difference. We have many, many, many studies to support that when calories are equated and when proteins match how you balance of carbs and fat, that’s just personal preference.
Here are some suggestions.
1. Choose foods you enjoy
If you hate lettuce, there are other green things that you can eat. You don’t have to eat lettuce. So don’t make yourself go after foods that are supposed to be “healthy”, “clean” or “better”. Eat things that are enjoyable to you.
2. Eat foods lower in calories and higher in volume
This is super important when you’re in a fat loss phase because you want to feel satisfied. You want to literally fill your stomach with food. You just want it to be low calorie food.
An example is an apple and a slice of bread. A plain slice of bread. You’re not putting any honey, butter, spreads, nothing. Just a slice of bread and a medium apple are roughly the same amount of calories. Now, when you eat those, first of all, you eat the bread much quicker. Secondly, the bread takes up a lot less space in your stomach than the apple. So calorie per calorie eating the apple is going to give you a lot more fullness and is going to stretch out your eating time. So you’re eating for a little longer and you’re eating a little slower than the slice of bread. Not to mention that the minute you put anything on top of your bread, depending on what you put on your bread, you’re looking at the equivalent of maybe two or three apples, actually, depending on how you doctor that slice of bread.
What we always want to try to do is increase the volume of food and at minimum keep the calories the same, at best we’re lowering the calorie count.
3. Stop drinking your calories
It is so easy to consume massive amounts of calories with drinks. So switching to low calorie or sugar free drink alternatives is a great way to decrease calorie intake. Switching from sugar to sweetener in your coffee, switching to diet soda instead of regular, zero calorie energy drinks or sports drinks, drinking less alcohol, etc. That’s really going to help you cut calories from your day to day.
4. Having one big salad a day.
This is a big one. I highly recommend you have at least one big salad for one of your meals. This is going to be massive for you. So instead of having the potatoes or the pasta or the rice in one of your meals every day, switch to a salad. Just do a nice big salad and have that be one of your meals every day. Don’t go crazy on the dressing and toppings. Just aim for protein, greens, veggies and let no more than 20% of your plate be dressings and high calorie extras.
5. Drink water before you eat
Have some water before you eat. It’s a good practice to have a glass of water before you eat. NOT chug five glasses of water so that you fill your stomach with water and you don’t eat. No, that is an eating disorder. Just drinking a cup of water.
6. Prepare more of your meals at home instead of eating out
You will have more control especially over the fat and sugar content of your meals. The way restaurants make something so delicious is because the amount of things that they put in it. Now, a long ingredient list is great. It’s delicious, but you don’t need that every day. And of course, the less things that you’re putting in your food, the less calories you’re consuming. So eating out less is a big step for cutting down your calories.
For example, fast food. If you eat the burger and fries at home, you could bake the fries, which are going to turn out delicious. And that’s a lot fewer calories than if you’re eating fried fries. You can get a burger that is not as full of fat. And you can also maybe buy a smaller bread or buy a bread that has more whole grains so that you get a little more fiber in and you help your digestion out.
Remember that there’s nothing wrong with eating out. It’s delicious. It’s wonderful. We love it. We do it. If most of your meals are prepared at home, you’re just controlling that intake a lot more.
7. Choose leaner meats
When you eat meats, just choose leaner cuts. Also watch your portions, you need the protein, but a great tip is to always pair your lean meats with plants, especially vegetables.
8. Increase your plant consumption
Look at your day and see how many vegetables you consume to eat more food for less calories. Try to double that and try to halve your starch consumption, not fruit, your starch consumption. So think potatoes, think pasta. Think of rice. Think bread. Try to double how many vegetables and fruit you eat in a day and half how many starches you eat in a day.
9. Slow down
One thing to help you stay fuller longer and eat less is to stop rushing your meals. Stop eating like you’re in an eating competition. Sit down. Give yourself time to eat slowly. Put down your fork in between bites. Talk to people at the table. Don’t talk with your mouth full. And then you’ll have to chew and swallow and talk to people and then take another bite. So really just eat mindfully. Take time to enjoy your meal and try to learn some of your body cues.
Try to stop eating when you’re feeling satisfied. If you’re trying to lose weight, try to stop eating a little before you’re satisfied. That means “I could still eat a little more, but I can stop”. Getting to 80% and stop eating compulsively until all of that food is gone? Until you’re feeling stuffed and you have to unbutton your jeans. Just slow down. Really slow down with your food. That also makes a big difference.
10. Find lower calorie recipes of what you love
Try to find lower calorie recipes of the foods that you love to make at home. These are abundant nowadays. It is so easy to find low calorie recipes of everything.
I DO NOT mean obsess with calories and finding low calorie things. That’s not it.
However, weight management comes down to energy balance. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than your body is using. If you want to maintain weight, you need to eat as many calories as your body is using. And if you want to gain muscle mass or gain weight, you need to eat more calories than your body needs. That is not going to change regardless if you count calories, macros, containers, portions, hands, plates, however you do it. This is an absolute truth. It is going to happen in your body. This isn’t negotiable. It doesn’t matter if you like this or not. Energy balance rules your weight management.
So if you are trying to lose fat and you have some foods that you love, try to find an option that doesn’t have as many calories. Using yogurt instead of creams, lower fat cream cheese, halve the sugar in a recipe or use a sweetener, etc.
I hope you enjoy these and try some out!