My first paying client weighed 145kg. I was certain that getting him to lose weight would be easy. I was wrong. During our initial consultation, I’d driven home the importance of calories in vs calories out and he was on board with everything. We’d talked about a plan of attack, I’d written up my notes, printed a pdf doc containing everything we’d talked about, and we were ready to go. I remember the feeling when I received the email for his first progress report. I was going to change this guys life and I couldn’t wait to see how much weight he’d dropped. He hadn’t lost a pound.
This carried on for weeks. We’d have a chat and he’d sound excited and ready to crush it, and then there would be nothing. As far as I was concerned, this guy had paid me, so he was going to get everything I could give. More documents were written, meal plans were created, and calories were adjusted. What I didn’t know then that I realise now, is that he didn’t need any of that stuff. He needed something so easy that it would be almost impossible to get bogged down with details or feel overwhelmed. He needed a starting point.
Most of my clients track calories or have done in the past. It’s the best way to truly understand how much energy is contained in the food we eat, and it helps me make adjustments that get people to their goals in as short a time span as possible. But some people need something simpler. When that’s the case, I get them to follow a series of steps. These steps start easy and build in complexity as you go through them. You can choose to start at the very top or jump in at a higher level if you’ve already got a handle on your eating habits. Don’t underestimate any of them, and I recommend giving each one a shot for a week or more before moving to the next step.
Controlling calories to lose weight is non-negotiable, but that doesn’t mean you have to count them. Here are five steps to losing weight without tracking anything.
Step #1 – Eliminate eating between meals
My brother has a pretty simple diet strategy. He stops eating biscuits. It works too, and if he sticks to it, the weight drops off pretty quickly. As with all first steps, we want to start with something easy, and stopping eating anything unless it’s a meal is as uncomplicated as it gets. Also, I have never seen this fail to work.
If you don’t believe something this straightforward can be effective, try this. For the next three days, count the calories in every single thing you eat or drink outside of normal meal times. The coffee on the way to work. A couple of biscuits at 11. The hummus and crisps as you wait for dinner to cook.
All of these things add up; sometimes way more than you think. Not only that, this step is the best for building awareness of what you’re actually eating day in day out. Unlike my brother, you may need more steps than this to get to your goal weight, but don’t skimp on this step, it’s important.
Step #2 – Make sure you’re eating enough protein
Protein is super helpful for weight loss for two main reasons:
- It makes you feel full
- It helps build and retain muscle
A diet where you feel full is one you can stick to, and retaining or building muscle is the best way to make sure that the weight you’re losing is coming from your fat stores and not your biceps. Both of these things make eating protein a no brainer.
As this article is meant to help people who don’t want to track calories or macros, I’m not going to give you recommendations of how many grams you should eat or anything like that; just make sure you get some at all of your meals. If you want a target to aim for, think about a portion of meat or fish as being at least the size and thickness as the palm of your hand. For dairy, about a cup of the stuff is a good bet.
Step #3 – Go big on veggies
One of the first mistakes people make on a diet is reducing the amount of food they eat. Trying to get through the day on half slices of bread and a little bit less rice than normal just ends up making you feel starving. Veggies allow you to eat more and still take in way fewer calories than usual. If you’re cooking at home, I recommend filling at least 50% of your plate with veggies at every meal.
I’ll admit that they might not be too exciting, but you won’t care once you start effortlessly losing weight. Resist covering them in olive oil or cheese, and before you ask, I’m not talking about potatoes; you want to eat the green ones that your nan made you eat when you were little.
For a lot of people, steps one through three will be all you need. Spend some time on these and see how you get on. For those that need a bit extra, the next steps are for you.
Step #4 – Don’t mix high fat and high carb meals
What’s better than sugar? Sugar and fat, that’s what. Think about all of your favourite foods like cakes, doughnuts, and chips. It’s this, nectareous, combo of carbs and fat that makes us want to eat more and more. A risotto without a dowsing of butter and cheese isn’t worth wasting your time on, and a cheeseless pizza is an abomination. But if you want to keep cals lower without massively dropping your portion sizes, then eating meals that are either higher in carbs and lower in fat, or higher in fat and lower in carbs is a great way to keep the calorie content of your meals to a minimum.
- Eat vegetables instead of the baked potato or rice with higher fat cuts of meat or fish like steak or salmon.
- If you’re having sweet potato wedges or baked fries, think about having very lean meat like turkey, chicken, or white fish.
Step #5 – Don’t eat carbs until your last meal of the day
There is no magic here. We are not tricking your body or biohacking anything. Skipping the cereal at breakfast and the sandwich at lunch simply saves you calories, but having some carbs in the evening means that you will at least maintain some sanity. No one needs to be on an, overly restrictive, low-carb diet if they don’t want to be.
As in the previous step, try to avoid higher carb and high-fat foods when you eat dinner. This is not an excuse to go on some kind of eat-as-much-as-you-can pizza binge. All the previous steps still apply. Eat protein, eat veggies, and keep fat lower in this meal, and you will reap the rewards.
You need to take in fewer calories than you burn to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean you have to count them. By using one, or all, of the five steps described here, you can lose weight without losing your mind if tracking calories isn’t your thing.