Let me be the first to say; if you want the maximal return on your nutritional investment, there is NO substitute for weighing your food, tracking your calories and fine-tuning your macronutrient intake (macros). PERIOD!
The tradeoffs for this level of precision, effort and dedication are unparalleled results. You will maximize your athletic performance and achieve body composition levels usually not seen otherwise. Not to mention, this level of discipline also affords you the freedom to include some foods that might normally be considered taboo. That is, as long as they are weighed and they fit your calories/ macros.
Still, that level of precision can seem cumbersome or even a bit overwhelming for some. Especially for those just starting their journey toward better health and fitness. Because of this, I am often asked “what are some strategies or habits I can implement that will help me lose weight without tracking calories”. The good news is, there are some VERY effective yet simple PROVEN habits that you can adopt that will yield pretty respectable results as well.
10 HABITS TO MASTER BEFORE TRACKING CALORIES AND MACROS
1. Set Your Environment up for Success:
This one seems like common sense. But, as they say, common sense is not always common. As the title suggests, by making changes to your environment (this includes home, work and anywhere else you keep food and/ or spend a large amount of your time) you will set yourself up for success by removing temptations. ‘Willpower’ is like a battery. When it’s drained from that long, stressful, emotional day, you may not have the mental resources to make the best decision. So, the best solution is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and to restock your environment with healthy alternatives.
Begin at home with the pantry. This is where you will find the majority of your processed foods like cereal, crackers, chips cookies, refined grains like white bread flour and plain ‘ol pasta. You can throw these foods away. Or, if you feel guilty about being wasteful, many shelters will take packaged foods that have not been opened. The fridge/ freezer, is next. Though not as guilty as the pantry; most of the foods in the fridge/ freezer are perishable/whole foods; you’ll still find things like sugary condiments, sodas, juice, adult beverages, ice cream and that leftover casserole.
Replace the foods mentioned above with whole food alternatives. Here are a few examples:
- Whole grains like whole grain bread, pastas, raw oats, quinoa, rice
- Beans & Lentils (canned or raw)
- Raw, unsalted nuts (almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, etc.)
- Chia seeds
- Green Tea bags
- Lean meats (grass fed preferred)
- Grass fed butter or Ghee
- coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil
- Fresh fish like Salmon
- Omega-3 Eggs
- Nitrate Free Deli Meats
- Dairy: non-fat greek yogurt, low fat cottage cheese
- Fresh fruit and vegetables in a variety of colors
- Lean Meats (grass fed preferred)
- Fresh fish like Salmon
- Frozen fruit and vegetables in a variety of colors (frozen produce go great in smoothies)
- Lastly, just because you removed these items doesn’t mean you can’t ever have them again. When you feel like having a treat, ice cream for example, go to the grocery store and buy a SINGLE SERVING size to enjoy. When it’s gone, it’s gone and what’s left is nothing but healthier choices that lead to success!
2. Eat mostly whole foods
Because PROCESSED FOODS ARE ENGINEERED TO MAKE YOU EAT AND BUY MORE! Yes, that’s right. They are designed by food scientists/ engineers to compete for you dollars and your taste buds. They are developed with excess salt, sugar and fat. The trio does the opposite of fill you up. It leaves you wanting more and manufacturers know this.
Whole foods are not only more filling, they also have a higher Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). This means, they have a greater effect on raising your metabolism simply in order to digest them. This is relatively easy to understand; whole foods take more work to break down and digest. Processed foods generally take less work to digest. This means fast digestion and feeling hungrier again sooner.
I define whole foods in this way – “If it was once alive, it is a whole food”. So, simply stated PLANTS (fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds) AND ANIMALS (fish, poultry, pork, beef etc.). Where do you find these foods? On the perimeter of the store. The produce section, the deli and the butcher are all on the perimeter. All the processed boxes, cans and bags are in the aisles. There are a few exceptions being frozen fruits, veggies and meats.
3. Eat slow and without distractions
The benefits of eating slow are numerous. They include improved digestion and hydration, easier weight loss or maintenance, and greater satisfaction with your meals. One of the most important benefits of eating slowly is that it gives your body time to recognize that you’re full. In today’s fast-paced society, setting aside 20-30 minutes to eat is hard. Let alone without distractions. But distracted eating is one of the most common ways people end up eating too fast and, in turn, too much. Simply put, eating slow helps you eat less calories!
It takes 20 minutes for the stretch receptors of the stomach and peptide hormones such as (CCK) to tell your brain that you are full. Most people do not take this long to finish a meal and they “overshoot” the runway. This leaves you feeling stuffed end eating more calories than you should. This is why you should slow down and pay attention while you eat and stop when you are about 80% full. When you actually eat distraction free, you will usually eat slower and be able to pay more attention to the satiety signals. So, really, the way this works is; it slows down your eating and you get full faster. And, once again… eating slow helps you eat less calories!
The obvious solution… set aside 20-30 minutes for your meals and take the whole time. Don’t rush through meals. Other simple things like putting your utensils down between bites. Chewing your food longer or, giving yourself a predetermined number of chews per bite (example: every bit needs 20 chews before swallowing). Chose to eat with other slow eaters. At work, leave your desk. Get away from your computer. Put down your phone and be present and enjoy your food. Don’t try to do your work and eat at the same time. Try to compartmentalize meals as activities deserving of their own attention and presence. You deserve a break anyways! At home, turn off the TV. Stop the movie, pause Netflix. Close your laptop and put your phone on do not disturb. Enjoy the company and practice all the slow eating strategies above.
4. Increase your protein intake
Protein is one of the 3 MACROnutrients (protein, carbs, fats) that make up the food we eat. Protein is used to build and repair all the cells in your body. Not only is protein considered an essential macronutrient (our body cannot make it) but it cannot be stored and used later. So, if we are short on protein, our body begins to break down parts like our muscles to strip away needed protein. Not to mention, protein can increase your metabolism for brief periods after ingestion. And, it is the most satiating of the 3 macros
Some studies show that protein requires about 25% of protein calories for digestion. That means, when you eat 100 calories from protein, 25 of those calories are used to simply digest the protein. So, in theory, a high-protein snack will boost your metabolism a little more than an equal snack of carbs or fats. Protein may be able to influence your weight and energy level by making you feel less hungry or more satisfied. Protein in the diet also stimulates the production of dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain) which may help you feel more alert and focused.
As a general rule of thumb, Men should aim for 2 palm-sized servings of protein spread out over 4-6 meals per day. Women should aim for 1 palm-sized serving spread out over 4-6 meals per day. Number of meals is based on body size, goals and personal preference.
5. Increase your fiber intake
The average American consumes only 15g of fiber per day. This is LESS THAN HALF of the recommended daily intake. Yet, 73% of individuals with a fiber intake below 20g per day think the amount of fiber they get is adequate. Fiber’s many benefits include: cutting the risk of colon cancer in half with a fiber intake of more than 30g per day compared to an intake of less than 15 g per day. On the contrary, A LOW fiber diet is associated with many health problems including cardiovascular diseases and high blood lipids. Fiber can influence blood sugar insulin and body fat. Fiber contributes to satiety, increases dietary bulk, decreases energy density and reduces energy intake. Bottom line, higher fiber intakes lead to less food consumed and therefore less calories ingested.
Dietary fiber is a complex form of carbohydrate which gives plants their structure. Fiber is indigestible chains of carbohydrate present in all plant foods, is categorized by its ability to dissolve in water. There are two main types 1) Soluble fiber 2) Insoluble fiber. We need both in our diet. Although, some some may not tolerate forms of fiber from, wheat, grains and beans. Suddenly increasing your fiber intake may result in gas and bloating. So, slowly work your fiber intake up to higher levels. You were warned. LOL!
To get more fiber simply eat more plants! Excellent sources include fibrous veggies, leafy greens, fruits – specifically berries – and avocados, beans and legumes, whole grains, oats, bran as well as nuts and seeds. Adequate fiber intake should be 14g per 1,000 calories. This equates to approximately 25g for women and 38g for men per day based on 2000 and 2500 calorie intakes respectively. Fiber should come from whole foods. Fiber supplements, or fiber enriched foods don’t provide the MICROnutrients found in whole food. A diet centered around the foods in the infographic should get you well above your fiber intake needs.
6. Decrease your (processed) carb intake
Processed carbs like bleached white flour, white bread, kids’ cereals, regular pasta, crackers, cookies etc. are extremely palatable, tasty and easily over consumed. As discussed in the whole foods section, the food manufacturers know this and are perfectly happy with you eating more of their products. And, that’s the problem. It’s not the ‘carbs’ as much as it is the source of the carbs. Because like the commercial says… “I bet you can’t eat just one”.
Another reason processed carbs pose a problem is because they lack MICROnutrients. So, there is little nutritional value contained within. Additionally, these processed carbs have very little fiber to slow digestion. This means they are digested very quickly thereby entering the blood quickly raising blood sugar quickly. This usually means a drop in blood sugar that is equally fast. The end result more hunger! NO BUENO!
The solution can be found in all the other tips in this section. Set up your environment for success and remove the processed carbs. Eat mostly whole food carb sources – fibrous and leafy green veggies, fruit, beans, legumes and whole grains such as oats, quinoa, barley and wild rice. As previously stated, this doesn’t mean you have to omit these food items for ever. Let’s just be smart about it. Instead of buying a WHOLE BOX of oreos, buy a single serving pack to have at home in your new, ‘safe’ food environment. When they’re gone, they’re gone. 🙂
7. Use Meal Replacement Shakes (or bars)
Meal replacements (MRs) have proven to be an extremely effective tool in weight reduction. Also, in just about every study, MRs prove to be MORE effective than conventional methods of dietary restrictions alone. Additionally, MRS have stood up well against studies comparing dietary restriction combined with pharmacological therapy. That’s HUGE! And most importantly, continuous use of MRs, even after you reach your goals, has been shown to be one of the the most effective strategies when it comes to maintaining weight loss long term.
Meal replacement bars have taken the guesswork out. They are prepackaged with precise calories and macronutrients already. So, controlling portions is much easier. Use of portion controlled meals (such as MRs) has proven to yield greater weight loss and more accurate calorie counts when compared to having to estimate the calories of self-prepared or unmarked meals.
Additionally, they’re great for on the go situations, while traveling, or for a good pre/ post workout option. Furthermore, most Meal Replacements (MRs) have higher protein – (benefits of higher protein previously discussed) and higher fiber (also previously discussed). Most of the carbohydrates used in MRs are complex forms and slow digesting. This keeps blood sugar stable and hunger low.
MRs should be used to replace one or two meals a day and allow the individual complete freedom for their remaining daily calories. Check out our blog on supplements which includes a section for “Weight Loss” supplements and the LEAN MR Shakes
8. Reduce/ Eliminate liquid calories
OK. Once again, this one seems like common sense, but…. you know the rest. You’d be surprised how many times I hear potential clients say “I don’t eat very much. I am not sure why I can’t lose weight.” Then, after some meticulous food recalls we discover… they’re telling the truth! They really don’t EAT very much at all. However, they drink their weight in calorie laden beverages. And, at the end of the day, to lose weight we need to consume fewer calories than we are burning – this includes liquid calories too. 😉
Some of the most obvious culprits would be regular sodas and alcohol (yes, you can drink diet soda and still lose weight as there are zero calories) . Some of the less obvious suspects include the morning rituals such as coffee and/ or juice. Juice is marketed and sold as “healthy”. Though, the truth is, all the goodness has been stripped away and you are left drinking a malnutritious sugary laden high calorie liquid. Now, when I say coffee, I am not referring to black coffee. In fact, black coffee can aid in weight loss and contains virtually zero calories. I am talking those Starbucks, Dutch Bros, (Insert Coffee shop name here), coffees. You know the ones. They’re filled with syrups, creams and pretty much anything you can think of. You know the ones.
Now the last offender is not so obvious. And, this one has been marketed and sold to you as not only “healthy” but necessary. I am talking about sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water etc. You know what they say, “You need to replace your electrolytes… replenish your carbs… blah… blah… blah…” BS! First of all, there’s not even a fraction of the electrolytes you need to help rehydrate after intense exercise. Second, there’s enough sugary carbohydrates to refuel Michael Phelps after a 4 hour workout. But, us mere mortals need not consume such high amounts of sugar to replenish our fuel post-workout. So, we’ve been duped!
The solution is to find calorie free or low calorie options. For sodas, I prefer to have Zevia. First of all, there are no artificial ingredients, so it’s colorless. I know… weird! While you’re pouring a Dr. Zevia (Dr. Pepper replacement) and it is coming out clear – weird! Second, it’s calorie free. And, they use the natural plant based Stevia (hence the name Zevia) as the sweetner. For alcohol, look for the light beers with the fewest calories. For liquor, enjoy it ‘neat’, ‘straight up’ or ‘on the rocks. If you prefer a mixer, go with a low cal/ no calorie mixer (i.e. soda water, sugar free cranberry, etc.).
For caffeinated beverages, I like Green Tea, Coffee with sugar free creamers etc. And, if you HAVE to have your Starbucks fix, there are MANY lower calorie options out there. Heck, there are even entire Instagram accounts dedicated to just that. And as for the sports drinks, if you like the taste, they also offer calorie free options. But, if you are drinking them for the benefit of recovery from exercise, stop. A water with a salt tab and some fruit juice (see where I added this one) would serve you better. 😉
9. Improve your sleep
According to research sleep deprivation IS correlated with weight gain. However, it is also important to remember that correlation does not imply causation. The bottom line is excess weight gain is caused by eating more calories than you burn.
It appears as though sleep deprivation alters hormones involved in appetite control and metabolism. So, this could be why we see weight gain associated with sleep deprivation. Whatever the reason, what seems to be clear is that sleeping 7-8 hours each night could help prevent weight gain associated with sleep deprivation.
In a study that followed more than 68,000 U.S. women for 16 years, researchers found that those who slept more each night tended to put on less weight during middle-age. Here are some quick facts from the study:
- Women who slept only five hours were 33% more likely to have a substantial weight gain (33 pounds or more) during the 16-year study.
- Sleep-deprived women were 15% percent more likely to become obese as they grew older.
A more recent study done over 6 years showed similar findings:
- Short sleeper (<7 hours) of sleep = 35% more likely to gain weight and gained 124% more body fat than the average sleeper.
- Average Sleeper (7-8 hours) = showed lowest correlation with weight gain
- Long Sleeper (9 – 10 hours) = 25% more likely to gain weight than average sleeper
Lack of sleep does seem to be one of many contributing factors to obesity.
Here are some tips for improving your sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
- Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
- Turn off electronics – TV, cell phone, computers and dim the lights
- Get a full night’s sleep every night (7-8 hours)
- Avoid caffeine or any other stimulants within 6 hours of your bedtime
- Be worry-free at bedtime.
- Don’t go to bed hungry, or too full.
- Avoid vigorous exercise within 6 hours of your bedtime.
- Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little cool.
10. Reduce Stress
Not everyone gains weight when stressed. In fact, it’s quite common to see people lose weight when facing high levels of acute stress. Acute stress usually is seen with a loss of appetite.
However, over the long haul, chronic stress seems to interfere with aspects such as mood, patience, focus, energy levels, appetite, sleep, emotional desire for comfort foods. Disturbances to these factors can contribute to excess weight gain caused by eating more calories than you burn.
Stress also interferes with hormones. Cortisol is a hormone very important in regulating blood sugar and blood pressure. Under stress, cortisol is secreted in excess and can result in abnormal fluctuations to blood sugar levels. This is likely the main reason that chronic stress can increase and alter appetite leading weight gain caused by eating more calories than you burn. One of the best remedies for stress is exercise. Exercise delivers the ‘trifecta’ to combat weight gain under stressful conditions.
First, exercise burns added calories you may be consuming. Second, exercise has been proven to be a better strategy for treating depression than any drug on the market. It has been shown to naturally de-stress. Third, exercise has a hormone altering effect including the release of endorphins that take place during and following exercise, which can give a mood-lifting feeling of euphoria.