I get this question from people desperately wanting to lose weight but refusing to commit to counting calories. Unfortunately the only proven path to fat loss is through a calorie deficit.
So yes, it sucks having to count calories. But you won’t have to do it for long, and maybe not at all.
Are you willing?
I always suggest that you try it out for one month. Try counting your calories! It is some extra time/effort tacked onto your day, but it does more than just tell you how much you’re eating.
You can download a calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal, which has tons of options already in the app. You’ll likely find your foods in there already, and all you have to do is hit “add” when you eat them. Easy.
Benefits of tracking calories for a month:
- Get to know your diet
I think it’s great when we can really get to know the foods we are eating. Maybe you learn that lentils have tons of protein, or spinach has tons of iron. Maybe you start to realize what foods really aren’t serving you. It’s a great way to learn more about nutrition and what you’re fueling your body with.
- Figure out what you’re working with
You can do the online calorie calculator and plan your week of meals at the caloric level it suggested for you. But it likely won’t go as planned for you the first week. When you track your calories for a month, you know where you’re starting from.
If the calorie calculator tells you to eat 1800 cals per day, but previously you were eating 2800 cals per day, that’s going to be quite the jump, and may be too difficult to adhere to. When you know your starting point, you can make small, realistic changes (for example lowering your target cals to 2200 for 1-2 weeks before going all the way down to 1800). We want long-term results, and that won’t happen if you do a rapid decrease of calories, then find it too hard to stick with, and go back to 2800/day.
- Find foods that will fit your new goals
Once you’ve tracked your calories for a month, you know what foods that you regularly have are high/low in calories. You’ve gotten a feel for certain go-to meals, how calorically dense they are, and can then determine which ones may fit into your goals, and which ones you should save for a diet break.
So maybe you’re not willing
If you’re still completely opposed to calorie counting, you still have a chance. I’ll give my best tips on how to lose fat without counting calories.
Unfortunately we just don’t know your energy balance when you’re not counting calories. But, if you’re not making progress, then we know that you aren’t in a caloric deficit. So if you aren’t losing weight in about a month of consistent diet adherence, you need to reassess and make changes.
Top tips for losing fat without counting calories
These are my top tips for a starting point – adjust as needed!
- Eat 3 meals per day
- Make ½ of the plate veggies
- Make ¼ of the plate protein
- Make the last ¼ your other carbs and fats
This won’t ensure your calories are at their target for fat loss, but it will set you up with a pretty good chance. Veggies are high in fiber, low in calories and therefore leave you feeling fuller, longer. Protein is also filling, and aids in muscle growth.
- Eat 2 healthy snacks per day
- Make sure your snacks are a single serving
- Make sure your snacks are either high in protein, a fruit or a vegetable
Again, this won’t guarantee you’re at your calorie goal. But eating whole foods as snacks and increasing your fruit/veg/protein intake is helpful for a number of reasons, some being micronutrient absorption, lower calorie snacks, and increased lean muscle mass.
- Stop drinking calories
- Juices, pops and other sugary drinks tend to have high calories per serving
- You may not realize how much you’re drinking
- You may forget to include drinks when thinking about your caloric intake
It’s common for people to not really realize/care how many calories are in their drinks because they assume it’s not much. But certain drinks (and obviously alcoholic drinks) have very high calories per serving, and make it hard to stick to your goals. Opt for 0-cal drinks that satisfy your craving for a drink but don’t throw you off track.
- Opt for low-calorie sauces/dressings
- Salad dressings
- Hot sauces
- Dipping sauces
This is another area often overlooked because…how many calories can a sauce really have? Turns out, tons. But there are so many great low calorie options that you’ll be bound to find your favorites and swap them out, and they taste basically the same.
- Be mindful
- Mindless snacking will increase your calorie intake
- Make time to go to the grocery store to set yourself up for success
- Plan out your dinner so you don’t have to hangry-order takeout when you get home
Just being a little bit more organized and on top of your grocery shopping/meal planning goes a long way. You don’t have to do a huge meal prep every Sunday, but think of meal ideas when you’re at the grocery store and give yourself good options to make your plate the correct proportions (#1).
When you wake up in the morning think real quick about what you’ll eat that day. Make a plan for dinner/your snacks. Just being a little bit more mindful of what you’re fueling your body with can help so much. Your goals IS to make progress, right? Keep that mindset.
Don’t beat yourself up
Whether you’re counting calories or not, don’t beat yourself up if you mess up for a few days or a month or a year. The only time you will truly disappoint yourself is if you give up altogether.
Fitness and health can be such a positive, fun and the perfect level of challenging when you do it right. If you’re miserable, you’re not doing it right (and please tell me so I can help you!).
It’s also a lifelong journey and lifestyle, so messing up a few days doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of your life.
Have fun, move around, eat vegetables and be a kind human being.