Weight and fat loss 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 dietary intake; we base it on our perceptions of portion size, social interpretations of “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods and government guidelines (or worse, magazine and other media recommendations) which, ultimately, may not be applicable to you as an individual.
Whilst using tracking software (like MyFitnessPal) or a food diary can be an incredibly valuable tool and learning resource, it is certainly not for everyone and, for some, tracking may be asking simply far too much from day one.
In this article we’re going to discuss some alternative strategies which you can use yourself (and which we here at OUTWRK use) to either provide an alternative option to tracking entirely, or to use as a “stepping stone” to progress into tracking (which itself should not be a consistently permanent feature of your lifestyle if you’re simply after improving your health - performance athletes may need to rely on tracking slightly more as finer margins can make all the difference on “game day”).
Proactive Portion Management
Behind all the mysticism surrounding weight loss, all the miracle diets, and all the “one trick you’ve not been told” adverts, there lies one eternal truth; our change in weight 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. This article is going to give you some of the most popular and effective methods used by expert nutritionist and dieticians to achieve fat loss (but without the calorie counting).
Portion control is arguably the easiest and most straightforward technique to employ when cutting down on the amount of energy we take in, via food, to lose fat.
If we just eat less than that which we currently take in, the chances are you’re likely going to facilitate fat loss.
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.We’ll discuss the importance of protein in fat loss in a short while.
The other simplistic method of portion management is to use your hands as a reference for portion size.
Precision Nutrition (PN., 2019) use the following rules to determine portion sizes.
Your palm determines your protein portions.
Your fist determines your veggie portions.
Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
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 fat loss campaign.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.
The primary nutrient in our diet which will provide the most benefit in virtually all groups of people is protein.
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 (outside of understanding our calorie intake).
Studies show that, not only does protein help to improve satiation and better regulate blood sugars, but it can also preserve your lean muscle mass when dieting (8). This is extremely important, as the more lean muscle mass you have the greater your metabolic rate will be.
The greater your metabolism the easier it will be for you to maintain your weight loss!
Studies also show higher protein diets to be more effective than low protein diets for weight loss (3,6) and also to be highly effective in maintaining any weight loss, despite age! (3,7)
Fibre is another highly effective weight loss tool. It essentially helps us lose weight 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 (1).
Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a great way to ensure your getting plenty of fibre (as a well as a host of other beneficial nutrients, minerals and anti-inflammatory compounds).
Fruit and veg are 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 promoting fruit and veg intake without necessarily recommending a reduction in total food consumption can lead to improved weight loss and subsequent maintenance(9). A higher intake of fruit and veg is also associated with a reduced risk in all cause mortality and non-communicable diseases (4)!
Time is on your side; another tool for weight loss
One of the more effective strategies for weight loss 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 creates a calorie deficit 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 (2)!
Mindfulness and intuitive eating; Social buzz words, but are they practical solutions?
Many get these two terms confused and believe that they are one in the same.
Mindfully eating and intuitively 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? etc.
Intuitive eating focuses more on physiological cues (hunger signalling) for when you should eat and how much.
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 it’s effectiveness as a tool for weight loss is inconclusive it may prevent weight gain / regain.
Intuitive eating research is still in it’s infancy and may be beneficial for some, however may not be advised for those who are overweight / obese as we know that hunger signalling is disrupted in these people and is generally poorly controlled (11,12).
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 approach to eating may all allow you to shed some fat without the need for tracking.
Our advice; always have a plan in place for when weight loss begins to slow or stops.
What we must do to accomplish fat loss changes as our body changes and it will require a new stimulus or approach (be that through less energy coming from food intake, increased activity or a combination of the two) to guarantee further results.
These strategies we’ve outlined would be a perfect start for anyone looking to accelerate their fat loss efforts and or create a foundation for which they can progress into more accurately tracking their foods.
Anderson, J., Baird, P., Davis Jr, R., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., Waters, V. and Williams, C. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews, 67(4), pp.188-205.
Anton, S., Moehl, K., Donahoo, W., Marosi, K., Lee, S., Mainous, A., Leeuwenburgh, C. and Mattson, M. (2017). Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity, 26(2), pp.254-268.
Astrup, A., Raben, A. and Geiker, N. (2014). The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities. International Journal of Obesity, 39(5), pp.721-726.
Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L., Keum, N., Norat, T., Greenwood, D., Riboli, E., Vatten, L. and Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(3), pp.1029-1056.
Harris, L., Hamilton, S., Azevedo, L., Olajide, J., De Brún, C., Waller, G., Whittaker, V., Sharp, T., Lean, M., Hankey, C. and Ells, L. (2018). Intermittent fasting interventions for treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, 16(2), pp.507-547.
Heidy, H., Clifton, P., Astrup, A., Wycherly, T., Westerterp-Plantenga, M., Luscombe-Marsh, N., Woods, S. and Mattes, R. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), pp.1320 - 1329.
Kim, J., O’Connor, L., Sands, L., Slebodnik, M. and Campbell, W. (2016). Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 74(3), pp.210-224.
Mettler, S., Mitchell, N. and Tipton, K. (2010). Increased Protein Intake Reduces Lean Body Mass Loss during Weight Loss in Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(2), pp.326-337.
Mytton, O., Nnoaham, K., Eyles, H., Scarborough, P. and Ni Mhurchu, C. (2014). Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of increased vegetable and fruit consumption on body weight and energy intake. BMC Public Health, 14(1).
Perry, B. and Wang, Y. (2012). Appetite regulation and weight control: the role of gut hormones. Nutrition & Diabetes, 2(1), pp.26.
Warren, J., Smith, N. and Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), pp.272-283.
Precision Nutrition. (2019). Forget calorie counting: Try this calorie control guide for men and women | Precision Nutrition. [online] Available at: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/calorie-control-guide [Accessed 28 Jun. 2019].