Weight Management Without the Calorie Counting
Tracking your dietary intake can be an incredibly helpful tool, giving a much more analytical insight to how much and what of you're actually eating.
Research has consistently shown that we're just not that good at estimating quantity and quality of our dietary intake; we base it on our own biased perceptions of portion size, social interpretations of "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods and government guidelines (or worse, magazine and other media recommendations). The issue with using these strategies as they simply not be what you actually need to achieve your given goal; misinformed eating if you want to give it a name.
Whilst using tracking software (like MyFitnessPal) or a food diary for counting calories as well as learning portions and food content, it is certainly not for everyone.
For some, tracking may be asking simply far too much of them from day one and could completely derail their best intentions of a healthier lifestyle. For others, the counting calories component of tracking can become obsessive and lead to disordered eating.
So, in this article, we're going to discuss some alternative, yet proven, methods which you can use instead of tracking calories, or to use as a "stepping stone" to progress into tracking.
Being a Pro when it comes to Portion Management
There is no mythical dietary unicorn unfortunately and, no matter what your favourite influencer may tell you, they do not have a secret that the rest of the world is unawares of; weight management will always be dictated by the calories we take in vs. the calories we expend.
You can dress it up however you want, in whatever dieting style you'd like, but it always boils down to this one simple principle (it's just that the factors which go into both sides of this principle are immensely complex).
If we can achieve less energy in vs. more energy out then we'll achieve fat loss and vice versa. If we take in as much as we are expending then we'll maintain our weight; simple!
This energy comes from the food we eat and we expend it through; chemical processes, heat production, exercise and even breaking down and using the food we eat.
Portion control is arguably the easiest and most straightforward technique to follow when managing our weight.
Managing portions can be done easily in one of two ways; The first would be simply dividing up your plate. There are numerous iterations of this strategy (from the MyPlate in the U.S. to the EatWell Plate in the U.K.), and a general rule of thumb would be to divide your plate up into; 30 - 50% protein, 20 - 30% vegetables, 20 - 30% wholegrains and 5 - 10% fats.
The other simplistic method of portion management is to use your hands as a reference for portion size. Precision Nutrition have a great set of rules to determine portion sizes.
l Your palm determines your protein portions.
l Your fist determines your veggie portions.
l Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
l Your thumb determines your fat portions
A Focus on Food Types
The foods we eat can also play a very important role in on our weight management efforts. From reducing hunger, to improving energy levels, reducing body fat and even increasing lean muscle, our food choices are arguably just as important as the amount of food we consume.
Protein is arguably the most important nutrient in our diet that would benefit virtually everyone. Most will associate protein with hulking, greased up bodybuilders and larger than life athletes but, when we look past the marketing and sweaty magazine covers, protein is arguably the most highly effective tool we have for weight loss and weight management (outside of understanding our calorie intake).
Studies show that protein is great for fighting off hunger, helping you feel more energetic and preserving really metabolically active lean muscle mass when dieting. This is extremely important, as the more lean muscle mass you have the greater your energy expenditure will be. The greater your energy expenditure the easier it will be for you to maintain your weight loss!
Fibre is another highly effective weight management tool. It essentially helps us better control our food intake as we generally "feel fuller" with increased fibre in our diet. Certain types of fibre will "draw in water" and "bulk up" like a sponge. This can mimic the effects of eating a larger volume of food and trigger a cascade of hormonal signalling telling your brain that you're full.
Other types of fibre form a gel like substance, again transitioning slowly through the gut. These fibres can not only pick off rogue units of dietary cholesterol in your gut but they can also contribute to better regulation of blood sugars. When our blood sugars are better controlled, we feel less fatigued and or "more balanced" (from an energy perspective) and are less likely to snack on things that are packed full of added sugars and typically calorie dense.
Having a predominantly plant-based diet and or increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a great way to ensure you’re getting plenty of fibre (as a well as a host of other beneficial nutrients, minerals and anti-inflammatory compounds). A plant-based diet is also typically calorie efficient, offering a lot of food volume for very little calories (a great way to save on calorie intake!).
Studies show that, even when promoting fruit and veg intake without necessarily recommending a reduction in total food consumption can lead to improved weight loss and subsequent maintenance. A higher intake of fruit and veg is also associated with a reduced risk in all-cause mortality and non-communicable diseases!
A faster way of dieting; fasting and weight management
One of the more effective strategies for weight management is intermittent fasting (IF). IF involves reducing the "window of time" in which you can eat in a day (typically restricted to 4 - 8 hours a day), alternate day fasting or fasting for multiple days a week (usually two).
IF helps us manage the amount we're eating by simply by reducing the total amount of time in which we can eat. Studies have found it to be equally as effective as calorie counting for fat loss, and may also offer plenty of other benefits including; improved blood sugar regulation, increased insulin sensitivity and slowed aging / disease processes!
Mindful eating and intuitive eating; latest fad or your ticket to success?
Many get these two terms confused and believe that they are one in the same. Mindful eating and intuitive eating are two totally distinct eating styles
Mindful eating (i.e., paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgement) is an approach to food that focuses on individuals' sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food.
A method used to avoid mindless eating and overconsumption related to boredom, social cues etc. So, when we start eating, we self-assess as we go along; have I had enough? Do I really want this and not that? Would I feel better for having this? etc.
Intuitive eating focuses more on physiological cues (hunger signalling) for when you should eat and how much. A more intuitive approach supports "honouring" your hunger, eating when you would like to, without restriction and without necessarily focusing on weight loss.
Studies somewhat supports the effectiveness of mindful eating as a tool to use to address binge eating, emotional eating and eating in response to external cues. Whilst its effectiveness as a tool for weight loss is inconclusive it may prevent weight gain / regain.
Intuitive eating has been shown to be incredibly helpful for maintaining weight but, what's more interesting, is its effect on psychological health. Studies have shown that it can help mend the damaged relationship between a person and their diet if they've found themselves entrapped in a cycle of dieting. It's also been associated with a general increase in healthier behaviours; well worth a shot!
Focusing on the amount of food you eat, the times in which you consume it, the actual foods you have and or adopting a more mindful / intuitive approach to eating may all enable you to maintain a healthy weight and mind.
We shouldn't be aiming to diet forever and weight loss should be a personal choice rather than feeling pressured into achieving a given standard for someone else or society's standards; doing it for the right reason can be critical for its successfulness.
Use these approaches, not always with weight in mind, but just to have a healthier lifestyle overall. Food is fuel, but food is also fun at the end of the day and we should never feel like our value is defined simply by a number on a scale.