You do need to produce an energy deficit in order to lose fat, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck calorie counting.
We’re looking for ways to naturally reduce our calories without having to do any counting.
Eat More Fruits & Vegetables
One of the best ways to do that is to add more fruits and vegetables.
Most vegetables are low in calorie density, so they fill you up with very few calories.
A cup of broccoli has only about 30 calories.
Apples vary a bit depending on their size, but you’re generally looking at about 80 to 100 calories.
A cup of grapes has about 60 calories. So you can have two cups of grapes with just 120 calories.
Reduce Ultra Processed Foods
These are commonly called junk foods.
I like to call them treat foods because I like to keep a positive spin on the whole thing.
That means most types of fast foods, things like fries.
Then also the sweet stuff like ice cream and chocolate and baked goods including muffins and other pastries most sugar-sweetened beverages, packaged breads, breakfast cereals, processed meats.
Maintaining Balance In Your Diet
Now notice that I didn’t say eliminate ultra processed foods. This is not about a mythical “clean eating” idea. It’s just about reducing the amount of these highly processed foods that are very calorie dense and increasing the amount of whole Foods that you eat (or minimally processed foods).
That of course starts with the vegetables and fruit. Then lean proteins and certain types of dairy products. The minimally processed ones like milk, cheese and yogurt. Particularly the kind without added sugar.
But there is space in your weight loss diet for any food that you enjoy. It’s really about quantity and frequency. Level of processing shouldn’t be the only thing that makes your mind up about a food.
If you’re only having 100 to 150 calories of an ultra processed food, it’s unlikely to cause you much of an issue. What matters is what happens over the course of the day. So if 80 percent of your diet is ultra processed foods, that will be a problem.
They may produce cravings. They’re really easy to overeat. They’re also going to be be lower in nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fiber can be helpful by filling you up. Your body actually expends more calories digesting whole foods than it does ultra processed foods.
Base Your Meals Around Lean Protein
Another way of getting yourself into a calorie deficit naturally is by basing your meals around lean protein.
One palm-sized amount for women and two palm-sized amounts for men for each meal.
Protein & Appetite Management Without Counting Calories
A big part of weight loss is managing your appetite. If you have less of a physiological need for food, then you’re going to eat less. Protein helps manage your appetite and reduce cravings.
Unfortunately that’s not the only reason that people eat. There’s obviously also a psychological component to appetite and I’m going to talk about that a little later on.
Sources Of Lean Protein
In terms of lean proteins I tend to start off with chicken breast. That’s a big component of my diet. I’ve worked out ways of making it interesting and tasty. I put herbs and spices and sauces on it.
Lean ground meats can be a good choice. I particularly like lean turkey but you can also find very lean beef or pork as well.
Egg whites can be a good choice. That’s almost pure protein. I like to combine those with at least one yolk because there are a lot of vitamins and nutrients in the yolk.
Your goal with this is not to completely eliminate fat. It’s just to moderate it and make sure that you’re getting the protein without adding a lot of additional calories.
The Benefits Of Fat
So when we look at dairy products, lower fat dairy is better in general. But that doesn’t mean you always need to do a zero percent or one percent dairy. You can mix it up with a higher fat dairy occasionally. Fat can increase your feeling of satiety and your satisfaction with a meal. We want to make sure that we have enough fat in order for our body to function better.
Fat is involved with our hormone production. The fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K require fat in order for your body to absorb them.
Watch Your Portion Sizes
And that’s sort of a clear move to the next tip, which is to watch your portion sizes.
This particularly applies to fats and oils because one tablespoon of any oil is about 120 calories.
It’s very easy to add that when you’re cooking and not even notice.
Pay Attention To Calorie Density Without Counting Calories
Things like nuts and avocado are quite calorie dense as well. They’re a healthy part of a balanced diet and I definitely don’t want you to eliminate them but you want to watch your portion sizes.
I tend to stick to about a quarter cup of nuts at a time because nuts are very easy to overeat.
When you’re doing something like a stir fry or scrambled eggs make sure that you’re only adding a limited amount of oil. You don’t want to just start pouring oil into the pan.
It’s not unusual to have five or six tablespoons in a stir fry, if you’re not careful.
Dealing With The Challenge Of Eating Out
And this is one of the reasons why it’s quite tricky when you’re eating out and you’re ordering things like stir fries. Or anything with a sauce or oil mixed in. It may be rice but unless you can see that it’s just a steamed rice there is going to be added fats and oils.
You want to be a bit more careful when you’re either ordering take out food or you’re eating out in restaurants.
People who are able to cook at home and are aware of what’s in the food that they’re eating have an easier time managing their weight.
Restaurant meals could easily be a thousand to 1500 calories and for some people that’s close to what they need for an entire day.
Check Portions Of Calorie Dense Foods
I don’t really consider watching portion sizes particularly important for things like fruits and vegetables. You can eat those freely.
But for other things it does make sense to limit your intake of calorie dense foods. Whether they’re healthy calorie dense foods like nuts and avocado or the less healthy treat foods.
You need to watch your servings.
You can lose weight while eating ice cream but you probably can’t have the entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
Reduce Liquid Calories Without Counting Calories
It’s really easy to consume excess calories when they’re in liquid form.
If you have like a big smoothie it could be five or six hundred calories. Small amounts of juice might not be a problem, but you’re much more likely to lose weight if you focus on zero calorie or low calorie beverages like coffee, tea, and of course primarily water.
Your water doesn’t have to be boring either. You can stick some lemon or some orange or cucumber in there just to give it some flavour. Carbonated water can be a good choice for people who enjoy that.
You’re taking in a a lot of liquid keeping yourself hydrated and relatively full but you’re not taking in a lot of calories.
Many of us love coffee or tea. Itcan curb your appetite throughout the day as long as you’re not taking in a lot of additional calories.
Particularly with coffee, people tend to put in cream or sugar a lot of flavorings. And even things like whipped cream. By that point you’re adding a lot of calories. It becomes a snack.
I’m a big fan of tea so I really enjoy just sitting there and sipping my tea and it becomes a form of stress relief which is something I want to talk to you about before we get to the calories out part of the equation.
Manage Your Stress
Stress Management is something that most people ignore but it really can affect your overall calorie intake. That includes getting enough sleep. So our seven to nine hours. That can influence a lot of things that affect your calorie intake.
If you’re stressed you’re more likely to eat those ultra processed foods because you’re looking for comfort. When people are tired and stressed they’re more more likely to overeat. They’re less likely to be physically active.
So if you manage your sleep and your stress levels better you’re going to make it easier to follow the nutrition side of your plan.
Expending More Energy With Counting Calories
Now let’s talk a little bit about calories out it’s really important to remember that you can’t out exercise a bad diet. Running for half an hour might burn off 250-300 calories. It depends a lot on your weight and your speed that’s probably less than the average donut.
But we don’t want to ignore exercise because studies have consistently shown that exercise is a big part of weight loss maintenance.
It may not cause a big change at the beginning but people who exercise are more likely to keep the weight off long term. And I want you to be concerned about not just losing that weight quickly but losing it permanently.
Include Cardio In Your Plan
Cardio for 20 to 30 minutes two to three times a week is pretty much the minimum that you should be aiming for.
Just do whatever makes you feel good.
I really enjoy outdoor activities like mountain biking talking in the summer or downhill skiing in the winter. And that becomes a family thing and an overall part of our active lifestyle.
But walking 20 to 30 minutes every other day is enough for you to at least introduce the little bit of calorie burn and get you moving in the right direction.
Don’t Forget Strength Training!
I also recommend weight training two to five times per week. And this doesn’t have to be a long session either. 30 to 40 minutes is perfectly good.
If you’re a beginner, a couple of sessions a week is plenty. And really even one session a week is better than nothing.
Now weight training doesn’t burn off as many calories as cardio at the time but it does result in what we call excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. So you’re burning off more calories after doing the activity.
Benefits Of Adding Muscle Mass
Adding more muscle can actually slightly increase your metabolic rate as well.
Although recently I’ve found out this is not as much as we might have thought. For every pound of muscle that you put on you’re burning off about 10 additional calories. Even if you put on about 10 extra pounds of muscle (which would be awesome and will take a little while), that would burn off about 100 calories a day. So similar to an apple.
But then when you take into account how much you burn during the time of the exercise and then EPOC. And the additional energy that comes from being fitter and stronger it causes you to move around and burn additional calories. Put it all together and weight training definitely has calorie burning benefits.
Weight Training Benefits For People Over 35
And if you’re like me and you’re over 35 then if you don’t do anything to maintain it. You’re going to start to lose that muscle mass, about half to one percent per year if you’re not strength training. And losing that muscle mass means that your body won’t be burning off as many calories at rest. That’s something we want to pay attention to.
Benefits Of Calorie Counting
Now I don’t count calories anymore but I have done it in the past. Particularly if I’ve been preparing for Fitness competitions. I wanted to make sure that I fine-tuned my diet.
I often check calories and macros on an app for my clients to get a better idea of the typical foods that they eat. That allows me to make more specific recommendations for them in terms of how to modify their current diet.
Counting calories and tracking macros is a great educational tool, especially if you’ve been hearing things like, “as long as you eat healthy you’ll lose weight”. It’s not true.
A lot of healthy foods are very calorie dense and easy to overeat as well. So you have to keep things in balance.
It also means that you can enjoy ultra processed foods in small amounts and you’re still going to be able to lose weight.
Try Tracking Calories For A Short Time
So my surprising tip here is to track your calories and macros for a short period of time. Perhaps a week. Maybe up to a month. You’re going to learn so much during that process.
And of course this doesn’t apply to anyone who suffers from eating disorders or is somehow triggered by calorie counting. Please don’t do it if you know it’s not right for you!
But for anyone who’s just like, “Oh I can’t be bothered it seems like a waste of time.” It really can be very helpful.
You’ll take those skills with you for the long term.
In my online course I actually have two methods: one is qualitative and one is quantitative. So I have an option for people who want to count calories and macros and for those who don’t. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. What works for one person may not work for another.
If you’re having trouble putting this all together my online course can help.