Tracking Calories: NOT the Only Way to Lose Weight!

I’m a huge proponent of information and awareness. Regardless of what the problem or task is, having usable information and building awareness around the situation is paramount to success. Whether trying to solve the issue of bullying, world hunger, or in the case of many people I work with, trying to lose weight, the answer is almost always about gathering information and building awareness around the problem.

Without awareness of an issue, it’s difficult to understand first that there’s an issue to begin with, but second, where the issue actually lies and what solutions are available. This is why gathering information is so important, because it gives you tangible data to analyze and work from when trying to adjust and make changes. 

When it comes to dieting the same holds true. The need for awareness and information about an individual and their specific needs is a major component of any successful fitness and nutrition plan. This allows you to understand where the person comes from and gives you the ability to better help them get where they want to go. Without this background information, it would be like trying to hit a dart board in the dark, there’s going to be a lot of misses. 

As part of the gathering information and building awareness stage, I require clients to track and log their food over a 3-7 day period, usually with a food journal app like MyFitnessPal. This satisfies my need for information, by letting me know exactly what they eat during a short period of time, and increases their level of awareness about their eating habits and food choices that will be valuable going forward. 

While I don’t require clients to track their food beyond the 3-7 information and awareness period, I always recommend them to do so for several reasons. First, they will build a better understanding of portion sizes, and nutrition labels, allowing them to make smarter choices when preparing and eating food. Second, tracking their food gives me up-to-date information on their current habits, allowing me the ability to make more informed and accurate adjustments to the clients nutrition plan. Finally, and this is truly just my opinion, but one that many share, tracking is the most efficient way to lose weight, specifically fat. You can certainly lose weight without tracking calories, I myself recently lost 15lbs over a 5 week period without tracking or logging a single bite of food, but tracking makes the process so much quicker and more effective. 

As much of a supporter of tracking food and using a food journal I may be, I understand that it’s not for everyone. I too have to take a break from tracking food after doing it for extended periods of time, so I understand that tracking can seem or become tedious and difficult to do consistently. In these cases, it’s important to have other strategies and tools to help clients achieve their goals in an efficient fashion. 

If you’re looking to improve your health, and/or lose some weight, without the use of a food log or tracking everything you eat, check out the strategies listed below that will 

Portion Control

This is one of the best strategies as it’s something that will serve you regardless of what or how you eat. Learning proper portion sizes and how to adjust those to fit your needs and goals is a very beneficial skill to have. It works great on it’s own, or in unison with other styles of eating, including tracking calories and/or macros. Understanding portion sizes is a skill that I work with each one of my clients to hone so that they are well equipped to make healthy and smart choices when eating. 

If you want to improve your ability to estimate portion sizes, you first need to practice estimating portion sizes. This means either weighing and/or measuring your foods and matching it to what your thought or estimated, or simply using your hand as a basic guideline for portion sizes. If you’re interested in how to use your hand as a portion control guide, check out the graphics below: 

Low Calorie Alternatives

Low calorie and macro conscious foods are a rapidly growing and hugely popular industry right now. With obesity becoming the norm in many countries, including our own, companies are finding ways to make dieting easier and more enjoyable. As part of this movement, many companies are releasing lower calorie, health conscious versions of many of the foods you love. Foods like bread and tortillas, dairy products like milk, yogurt, and various cheeses, as well as many other options, are now available in lower calorie, and often times higher protein and fiber options which are perfect for the health conscious and/or diet-minded individual. 

Think about it. You don’t have to change anything you do as far as what you eat, you just have to swap it out for a lower calorie, healthier alternative. Without changing much about what you eat, you can easily slash upwards of 500 calories daily and put yourself comfortably in a calorie deficit working towards weight loss. This is a huge benefit for those looking to lose weight, but also for those looking to maintain weight who have a large appetite. It works on a principle called volumizing.

Volumizing is the process of eating more food in terms of overall weight and density, for less calories than before. For instance, I make french toast with 35 calorie per slice bread versus the traditional 70-100 calorie per slice bread, and it not only saves me hundreds of calories in that meal alone, it also allows me to eat 8-10 pieces of french toast, rather than 3-4 for the same amount of calories. This is a huge bonus when dieting, or when you simply have a crazy appetite and struggle to feel full because the eyes are a huge portion of how full and satisfied we are after a meal. The more food you eat in terms of visual size, the fuller you will feel afterwards, regardless of overall calories. It’s for this reason that I use this strategy of switching to lower calorie options year round, regardless of whether I’m working to gain, maintain or lose weight. It allows me to eat and enjoy far more food than I otherwise would be able to, and makes dieting much more enjoyable as a result. 

If you are interested in some low calorie swaps, some of my favorites include:

  • butters, cream cheese, yogurt, milk. Kroger has an entire line of dairy products called Carbmaster that is low in carbs and most products are lactose free.
Kroger CARBmaster, a dieter’s best friend
  • bread, buns, tortillas and other baked goods. These usually come packed with additional fiber as well, an added bonus to your health.
This brand is not only low calorie, they also taste GREAT
  • various meats. Swapping to leaner cuts and versions of meat, including beef, chicken, lamb, pork, etc, will save hundreds of calories, usually in the form of reduced fat. 
This can save you tons of calories and also increase protein intake in many cases
  • egg whites are a great option for reducing calories while still maintaining high protein content. There are many health benefits to the egg yolk, but it comes at the cost of an additional 45 calories. If calories are tight, stick to egg whites. 
Packed with protein and useful in a variety of recipes, egg whites are great to have on hand

Fasting

Restricting the amount of time that you can eat, aka your eating window, can be a big help in reducing calorie intake

Fasting, and intermittent fasting (IF), has garnered a lot of attention, especially over the last year or so. Many people claim that it’s a magical weight loss formula, and while it shows promise for certain health benefits, when it comes to weight loss it works on the same principle as everything else: calories in vs calories out. Fasting is just a tool that can be used to make creating that calorie deficit easier. 

There are many ways of fasting, which will be included in my next blog post which will cover everything you need to know about fasting and whether or not it’s right for you, but for now I’ll go over the most popular and promising versions. 

Easily the most popular version of intermittent fasting, the 16:8 protocol is used often because it fits so easily and naturally into people’s lives. The 16:8 protocol is when you have an eating window of 8 hours, usually from 10am-6pm, or something in that realm, and then fast for the remaining 16 hours. By limiting your eating window, or the amount of time you allow yourself to ingest food, you limit your chances of overeating. It’s much more difficult to overeat in an 8 hour period, than it is to overeat in a 12 or 14 hour period. With this variation all most people need to do is to skip breakfast, or your first meal of the day, and then avoid snacking or eating past a certain point. For most people, this is the easiest form to implement because of the simple and easy to follow guidelines. 

Another popular and promising form of IF is the 5:2 protocol. This involves eating ad libitum (whenever and however you feel) for 5 out of 7 days of the week, with 2 of the days being either fully fasted, or very low calories (500-600). This has been shown to be a viable and useful option for those who prefer to be extremely restricted for a couple days, followed by complete freedom on the remaining days during the week. These are just two of many variations of IF and can be used as a tool to help you control how much you eat, thus assisting in weight loss.

Cutting Out a Food Group 

It doesn’t matter which “team” you’re on, eat in a way that works for you

If you’ve ever eaten low-fat, low-carb, Keto, Atkins, or anything resembling these diets, you’ve implemented cutting out a food group as a way to lose weight. As much as people want to argue semantics over which food group is most important to eat or not eat for weight loss, beyond calorie control and adequate protein, it really doesn’t matter. The reason that diets like low-fat, Keto and others work, is because they cut out an entire macronutrient group almost entirely, making it more difficult to overeat their total calories.

Imagine you were from a family where you ate tons of carbs, pasta, bread, cakes, etc and every meal had some sort of calorie dense, carb portion. If you decided to one day switch to a low-carb diet, a large portion of your overall calories would be removed instantly. This could be very useful when trying to reduce food intake and/or the overeating of specific foods, those foods we like to call “trigger foods”. 

If you want to use this strategy to lose or maintain weight, the first question you should ask yourself is, “can I keep this up long-term?”. If the answer is yes, then you’re going to do just fine switching to a diet where one food group is removed. If the answer is no, you then have to ask yourself if you can consistently eat in this way to reach your goals, however long that may take, and then be able to transition under control back to a more balanced nutrition program. If you feel confident in your abilities to slowly introduce those foods back into your diet, without making drastic changes all at once, you’ll have a better opportunity to maintain the progress that you’ve made and the weight you’ve lost (or not gained), rather than have a negative rebound effect that many people experience after reintroducing a macro group to their nutrition program. 

While I will always require clients to record 3-7 days of food logs during the initial stages of any nutrition program, and will often push for them to continue logging for more efficient results, I understand that tracking food, calories, and macros isn’t for everyone. It’s important that those who don’t “click” with tracking their foods have alternative strategies they can use to make dieting, nutrition, and losing weight easier and simpler. The strategies listed above are great options to help you in improving your eating habits and losing weight, but they’re not exhaustive and there are plenty of others. You probably use many of them in your day to day life without even realizing it. This week take note of the choices you make on a daily basis regarding nutrition and eating, and figure out what you’re already doing to save calories that you didn’t realize at first.