08 Jan Hate Tracking Calories? Try These 10 Habits Instead
So you want to lose fat without counting calories? I don’t blame you.
Even though I’m a competitive bodybuilder and no stranger to the process, I hate tracking my macros, too. Sure, it’s a powerful short-term nutritional tool.
But after years of coaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that meticulously tracking macros 100% of the time doesn’t work for 99% of people.
On the flip side, tracking is far and away the most efficient method when it comes to losing fat and preserving muscle mass. So what’s a dieter to do?
Well, your best bet is to build a foundation of solid habits and create a few personal nutrition rules that address your needs on a personal level.
The (Super) Power of Habits
The handy thing about habits is that once they’re cemented, they become close to automatic. You don’t need to consciously spend as much energy and willpower in order to stay consistent.
Imagine counting calories is like wearing a tie or dress shoes. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but it makes you look damn good. So you put up with that short term discomfort in order to look your best for whatever you may be preparing for.
Even though you only dress up now and again, that doesn’t mean you go around being a total slob the rest of the time, right?
You have habits like doing your laundry or visiting the dry cleaners. You know: the essential actions that keep you from looking like a hobo who rolled in off the street.
Nutrition works similarly.
You may not always be on your best eating behavior, but if you have solid habits to fall back on at least 80-90% of the time, you’ll be just fine. The following guidelines will help you do just that, but don’t expect perfection from yourself right off the bat.
Habit #1 Record Your Weight Every Morning
Do this after using the bathroom and before getting dressed. While our goal is to avoid the pain-in-the-ass that is tracking calories, you still need to be taking some kind of regular measurement to know what the hell is going on with your body.
Does your scale weight tell the whole story of body composition? No, of course not, since the scale simply shows total weight and is unable to distinguish between muscle and fat.
The key to making this data useful is maintaining consistent conditions when weighing yourself. This is why the best to time for most people is first thing in the morning after using the bathroom and before getting dressed (clothes are heavier than you might think.).
If you want to take your efficiency/laziness a step further, you can get a scale that connects with your phone and automatically records the weight in an app for you.
When assessing your progress, use the average from a week’s worth of weigh-ins. Don’t worry if you miss a day here or there, but be sure to get at least three weigh-ins each week.
The more you consistently weigh-in, the more you’ll become aware of how your bodyweight is constantly fluctuating and thus realize the need for using an average. A recording app that can graph your weigh-ins visually and provide a general trend line will help you navigate these fluctuations best. Even though it’s primarily an app for tracking calories, I prefer MyMacros+ for it’s simplicity and ease of use.
Habit #2: Walk More and Track Your Steps
Use a device actually designed to measure steps (translation: not your phone). While none of these devices are perfectly accurate, it will you give you a handy ballpark estimate of your daily activity levels. If you are not already hitting an average of 10,000 steps per day, aim for that. If you are already netting 10k aim for 15k. I don’t recommend aiming for any higher than 20,00o unless you have a lot of extra time on your hands and a bunch of podcasts to listen to.
Habit #3: Make Lean (>90%) Protein the Anchor Point of Every Meal
Lean protein needs to be the star of every meal. Celebrate that shit and learn to love it. It will love you back with less hunger, better recovery, and more muscle.
Aim for two servings the size of your closed fist. If you are routinely finding yourself extremely hungry, add another serving as a snack before the regular onset of said hunger. Good examples of lean protein include: Poultry, fish, seafood, lean beef, egg whites, protein powder, low-fat dairy, etc.
Habit #4: Eat a Shitload of Vegetables
Don’t worry, I’ve done the math for you. A shitload comes out to approximately two handfuls of fibrous or leafy green veggies at every meal. If you eat breakfast and are having trouble mixing veggies in, try having some fruit instead. Both fruits and vegetables are chock-full of nutrients and their fiber will keep you feeling full.
Learning to enjoy your vegetables is one of the best things you’ll ever do for your dieting efforts. But most people avoid them because they simply don’t how to prepare them. Upping your vegetable cooking skills is definitely the way to go in the long run, but will take some time to master. For now, make sure your freezer is fully stocked with microwaveable vegetable steam bags. It’s hard to make an excuse for avoiding your veggies when cooking them takes less than five minutes and zero effort.
Habit #5: Eat Additional Carbs on Days That You Train
Here’s a super simple rule-of-thumb for controlling your carbohydrate intake:
If it’s not a training day, forego the starchy carbs and limit your daily intake to 1-2 servings of fruit. Apples, bananas, oranges, berries, and kiwis are all solid options.
If you trained that day, add two cupped handful of carbs to one of your meals. Based on your preferences, these carbs can take the form of potatoes, rice/grains/legumes, pasta, bread, or simply more fruit.
Habit #6: Drink a Full Glass of Water Before Every Meal
Give yourself a blanket rule like 1 glass before each meal and an additional glass during. This practice will not only help prevent overeating, but will also keep you properly hydrated which comes with its own slew of benefits.
If need be, you can liven up your H20 experience with calorie-free flavorings, such as Mio or Kool-aid Liquids. You’ll be surprised how much more water you can drink when it tastes like orange soda, lemonade, or watermelon Jolly Ranchers.
Habit #7: Eliminate Dieting Kryptonite From Your Food Environment
While it is best to avoid a good/bad mentality when it comes to food, it’s a good idea to remove trigger foods from your food environment. There is a 0% chance of messing up if it isn’t in your house to begin with and while your intentions are good, your willpower is finite.
When it comes to the workplace, you may not have control over the environment. So you’ll need to practice politely saying “no” or make a rule for yourself such as “no break room snacks.”
Habit #8: Eat Slowly and Stop When You’re About 80% Full.
This one will be hard at first because you’ll need to practice building some awareness in order to identify what 80% full feels like. Eliminating distractions like your cell phone or Netflix and actually being aware of what you’re stuffing in your face will help. The best way I can describe 80% for most people would be that moment (usually right before ordering dessert) when someone says
“I’m pretty full…but I could eat more.”
Make a habit of asking yourself “how full am I?” regularly when eating. It will be hard at first and you’ll struggle to put a number on it, but it’s worth the effort. Learning to feel out your fullness is an invaluable tool that will aid in preventing episodes of overeating. Plus, it’s a skill you can make use of in just about any eating situation from buffets to holidays.
Habit #9: Limit Eating Out At Restaurants (and Ordering In) To Once or Twice Per Week.
Yes, this means preparing more of your own food, but that’s the point. Generally restaurants aim to make their food delicious, not low in calories. This means you’ll be taking in hundreds of unnecessary extra calories from a combination of cooking oils, large portion sizes and fattier cuts of meat. Not to mention you’ll have to resist the temptation of appetizers, drinks, and deserts.
Habit #10: When You Do Go Out For Food, Relax and Enjoy It!
Regardless of whether it’s a work event, social obligation, or something you actually want to attend, you won’t always have control over what’s being served. Don’t let dieting turn you into an antisocial hermit or one of “those people” who makes everyone else suffer due to their personal nutritional choices.
Instead, take a deep breath and enjoy having an “off-plan” meal.
“Off-plan,” however, does not mean “off the rails.” The name of the game here is moderation. Do your best to get some lean(ish) protein and vegetables in there. Try to choose foods you are familiar with so that you have idea of how much you’re intaking.
Don’t feel pressured to finish your food just because you paid for it, instead use it an opportunity to practice stopping at 80%.
Curious to see how these nutritional practices fit into the fitness paradigm of looking like a superhero?
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