How To Lose Weight Without Counting Calories

Counting calories is a key part of many diets, and there are plenty of downloadable calorie-counting apps to make tracking your food intake easier than ever.

But is calorie counting the answer to weight loss? Read on to discover whether you can lose weight without counting calories and what you can focus on instead.

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Why calorie counting isn’t necessarily the answer to losing weight

To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, meaning you have to take in fewer calories than you burn. Theoretically, if you can create a deficit of around 500kcal a day, you should lose approximately one pound a week.¹

However, it’s not quite that simple. Different macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) have various effects on the body.

  1. Protein and fat leave you feeling fuller for longer. Simple carbohydrates can cause spikes and dips in blood sugar, creating strong cravings for satiating foods. 

  2. Certain calories affect your metabolism differently. Protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates and fat, so the net caloric value of protein is less than your calorie counter shows.

Calorie counting can be inaccurate, stressful, and time-consuming, and it’s not sustainable for most people in the long term.

What can you do instead of calorie counting?

There are seven simple, sustainable ways you can lose weight without having to track every calorie you eat.

1. Use smaller plates

When you serve your food onto a smaller plate, your mind sees a full plate, tricking it into thinking that you are eating more than you are. It’s a simple strategy, but research shows that it works.

A study by Stanford University gave partygoers at an ice-cream social either a smaller or larger bowl and either a smaller or larger spoon. They were allowed to serve their own ice cream. People who ended up with a larger bowl and a larger spoon ate 50% more ice cream than people who used the smaller bowl and smaller spoon.²

2. Eat from plates, not packages

When you eat directly from packages of food, it’s hard to know exactly how much you are eating. Serving your food onto a plate gives you an accurate idea. It’s easy to think you've eaten less than you have when you haven’t portioned out a serving. 

3. Eat more protein

Protein has major benefits when you’re trying to lose weight. It triggers the release of satiety hormones, leaving you feeling fuller for longer and less likely to snack between meals. Protein also burns more calories during digestion and absorption than fat or carbohydrates: it has a greater thermogenic effect.³

Try adding at least one portion of protein to each meal. 

4. Load up on fiber

Filling your plate with fiber-rich foods will aid your weight loss efforts. Fiber increases satiety, decreases absorption of macronutrients, and alters gut hormone secretion, leading to weight loss and reduced levels of obesity.

Fiber also acts as a prebiotic and optimizes your gut microbiome. Currently, Americans eat less than half the recommended amount of fiber.⁴ ⁵

5. Drink enough water

Staying well-hydrated is a simple and easy way to control your weight. Drinking 16oz of water before each meal can help you eat less, leading to weight loss after 12 weeks.⁶

Drinking 16oz of cold water can increase resting metabolism by up to 30% for up to 40 minutes after drinking. This effect happens because the body uses energy to heat the water to body temperature. It may seem insignificant when you drink a single glass of water, but it adds up when you drink the recommended eight cups per day.⁷

6. Practice mindful eating

If you concentrate on eating instead of focusing on the TV or your phone, you are less likely to overeat. Mindful eating allows you to taste your food properly, which will leave you more satisfied. It’s also easier to listen to your body when you are full. 

7. Limit alcohol

You may want a glass of wine with dinner, but it’s better to swap it with a glass of sparkling water.

Alcohol stimulates appetite, and research has shown that people eat more when they drink alcohol with meals. Many people don’t account for the calories in their alcoholic drinks.⁸

The lowdown

Counting calories can work for some people. However, it causes stress and anxiety for many people, and they find it too much effort to be sustainable. It’s also not always accurate: It doesn’t consider the thermogenic effect of food, the impact that different foods have on appetite hormones, and packaged foods rarely have accurate calorie counts as the FDA allows for a 20% margin for error.⁹

Instead of counting calories, work on sustainable habits such as using smaller plates, adding protein to each meal, and staying well-hydrated to limit how many calories you consume. If you follow these tips consistently, you’ll be heading in the right direction towards sustainable weight loss.

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