Sometimes, yep, people want to lose weight. Whatever your reason is for doing so, you’ve probably considered counting calories at least once. And while calorie counting results in temporary weight loss for some, for others, it can bring about obsessive thoughts, stress and, involves annoying math all day, says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. That said, there are plenty of ways to lose weight without counting calories. If you’re intrigued, keep reading.
“Just focusing on the [calorie] number can get all of us, especially women, hung up. And that can make anyone feel out of control,” says Isabel Smith, RD. That’s why, if weight loss is a goal, it’s important to figure out what dietary method works for your body, your needs, and your mental health.
While it is possible to lose weight by counting calories, says Karen Ansel, RD, calorie counting doesn't teach you to listen to your body's hunger and satiety signals, "especially since we don't have the same calorie needs every day," she says. For example: If you run five miles one day, you need more calories to fuel your body than if you sit on the couch watching shows all day the next.
In its simplest definition, weight loss occurs when you’re in a calorie deficit. That’s why the following are 20 tips and ideas about losing weight without counting calories—though by incorporating a combination of these healthy habits into your routine, you can remain in calorie deficit with less stress and no number crunching. Read on for advice from expert dietitians *and* real women who have done it.
Make A Balanced Plate
“I like people to start with what I call 'the plate method,' ” Gans says. “When you create a balanced plate, naturally your calories tend to fall into place.” So, nope, there’s no counting here. All you need to do is take a look at the way your meal is broken down which, according to Gans, should look something like this: Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, a quarter of your plate should be your protein, and then the final quarter of your plate should be carbohydrates.
Take it from Alexis Tizano, who lost 72 pounds by watching her plate makeup. “I watch my portion sizes,” she told WH. “I try to fill my plate with half veggies, 25 percent rice, and 25 percent meat.”
Focus On Protein Choices
Protein is indeed an important part of your dietary needs. That said, not all proteins are processed by the body the same, and if weight loss is your goal, there are certain proteins you should try incorporating more into your diet for the best results, Gans says.
“I suggest going for lean protein when choosing meat for your meals,” Gans says. “Lean proteins are meats that are lower in fat.” (And yep, lower in fat typically means lower in calories.) Gans encourages going for meats like skinless chicken, poultry, or ground sirloin.
Add More Seafood To Your Diet
Fish can be another important protein that you should definitely incorporate into your diet if you’re looking to lose weight without counting calories, Gans says. “Seafood is a leaner protein, especially if you’re choosing a less fatty fish,” she says. One great option? Shrimp. “Shrimp has less fat and is lower in calories,” notes Gans—and it pairs great with veggies and grains alike.
Measure Your Meals
While the best amount of food to eat varies from person-to-person, Gans suggests checking out the recommended serving sizes and doling them out for your meals and foods *before* you eat. Measuring your food can help you gauge how much of it you’re actually consuming, and soon it will become like second-nature to know how much you need to be full.
Use Your Fist As A Measuring Tool
If using a food scale or measuring cups isn’t your thing, try using the hand method instead. “Your protein serving should be around the palm of your hand,” Gans says. “For carbs, think about your fist size, or about half a baseball. Just eyeball it.” If you gain a better understanding of portion sizes and use easy methods like your hands or common objects to measure, by default you’ll be eating a little bit less, Gans explains.
Don’t Eat Straight From The Bag
“Be conscious about not eating snacks directly from the big bag or jar,” Gans says. Instead, portion them out in a bowl, dish, or snack baggie. Regardless of what you’re eating, exactly—potato chips, pretzels, nuts, and the like—you’ll have a more visual representation about how much you’re eating overall, which should ultimately lead you to eat less than if you were taking handfuls from the bag, Gans says.
Keep An Eye On Condiments
Be aware of how heavy-handed you are when you’re pouring dressings, Gans says. “Are you pouring half the bottle or are you drizzling?” Trying the drizzle method will help you consume less calories while still allowing you the flavorful taste, Gans says.
Pro tip: Pour a bit of dressing into a cup first and *then* drizzle, to avoid accidentally dumping the whole bottle onto your lunch (been there).
Make Your Calories Work For You
“You don’t need to eat as much when you’re making your calories work for you,” Gans says. Ask yourself: Are you choosing carbs that are higher in fiber? Are you eating whole grains as opposed to white flour-based carbs? Doing so will not only help you earn nutrients toward a healthy daily fiber intake, but it will also keep you fuller for longer, Gans says. (Fiber is a satiating nutrient that helps you digest food more easily.)
Check Your Coffee Order
Sure, it’s fine to add a little milk and sugar to cut the taste of your black coffee, Gans says. If you can avoid the fancy drinks and added sugars or creams when you’re doing your daily Starbucks order, it’ll help you unconsciously cut down on your calories while still allowing you to enjoy that boost of caffeine, Gans says. If you’re looking for alternatives to your usual order, try adding creamy oat milk and Stevia to your mug instead. (*Chef’s kiss*)
Don’t Skip Dessert (Really!)
There’s no need for you to be skipping out on dessert entirely because you’re trying to lose weight. The key is to be mindful when you are eating those desserts, Gans says, specifically by monitoring your portion.
“Choose your sweet, but then just don’t overdo it,” she says. “Consciously give yourself the right to eat it, make room for it, and then move on.” Have a piece of chocolate, a scoop of ice cream, a bowl of Cool Whip and berries, but then try not to go back for more which, in turn, would increase your caloric intake.
Another area in which you can be calorie conscious (as opposed to a calorie counter) is by taking a look at your drink sitch. Gans recommends asking yourself the following: Are you ordering a large (as opposed to a medium or small) when you hit the drive-thru? Are you getting drinks with tons of sugar syrups and whipped cream? Are you ordering sweetened beverages? If so, you may want to rethink your go-to while trying to lose weight, opting instead for unsweetened teas or sugar-free seltzers.
Eat Protein First Thing
Pro tip: Having a big dose of protein at breakfast is a hack for weight loss without counting calories. Take it from Maggie Fiero, a new mom who lost 30 pounds in 2016. “I began starting my day off with a huge protein smoothie,” she told WH.
Experts support the concept. “There is a lot of research that suggests higher protein intake overall helps people with muscle building and satiation,” explains Erica Zellner, MS, LDN, a health coach at Parsley Health in California. “I tell people to aim for 30 grams of protein at a minimum for breakfast,” Zellner says. Noted! (Time to whip up eggs and turkey bacon!)
Try To Get Plenty Of Sleep
“You want to make sure you’re getting a good quality and quantity of sleep each night,” says Zellner. Why? Poor sleep will actually increase your cravings the next day, Zellner says, making you more inclined to want foods that are higher in sugar and carbohydrates, since those nutrients act as quick energy for the body (which is what your bod craves when you're sleep deprived.)
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
“Hydrating is so important toward weight loss and weight maintenance, but it’s usually undervalued,” Zellner says. Several studies monitoring overweight people have shown that drinking a minimum of one to one and a half liters of water daily for a few weeks can lead to significant reduction in body weight, BMI, waist circumference, and body fat.
Pro tip: Sip slowly rather than chugging your water, Zellner says. It’ll stop you from having that constant need to pee.
Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable
One way to keep yourself full, satiated, and energized is by making sure you keep your blood sugar in check, Zellner says. “I recommend that people create blood sugar balanced meals and snacks where they have fiber, fat, and protein present,” Zellner says. “This slows down digestion and increases the satiation, which would make you eat less. It also tends to increase the nutrient value in that meal.” TL;DR, filling your plates with lots of carbs and sugars *only* can make your blood sugar crash, which leads to less satiation, more food, and less energy. (No thank you.)
Count Colors Instead Of Cals
“Instead of telling people to count their calories, I tell them to count their colors,” Zellner says. That means making sure you have all kinds of shades on your plate: from dark leafy greens to bright red apples to zesty oranges and bright yellow peppers.
This method has you looking at things from a nutrient-perspective instead of a calorie one. “When we are nutrient-rich, we're in a place of abundance, our body doesn't need anything, it has everything it needs to do all its processes. When we're nutrient-devoid, we’re eating processed foods, foods that don't have high nutrient value. The body will then send the hunger signal more strongly because it's looking for nutrients,” Zellner says.
And if you need more evidence, check out Melinda Wood, who lost 10 pounds by refocusing to a nutrient-rich mindset. “Instead of counting calories, I think about the nutrients I'm gaining from food,” Melinda told WH in 2016. “I concentrated on sticking to whole foods regardless of their calories.”
Be Friends With Fiber
“Soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel in our body," Zellner explains. "It helps a specific set of bacteria in the digestive tract and creates a fatty acid called butyrate." Butyrate promotes digestion and fullness, which help with weight management. “Supporting butyrate and bacteria in the gut is a really great way to keep the body in balance,” Zellner notes.
Listen To Your Hunger Cues
Don’t eat if you’re not hungry. Simple, right? “When we have healthy blood glucose, a healthy digestive system, and we're eating regularly, then we can trust our hunger and satiety signals a little bit more,” Zellner notes.
TL;DR: Once you feel you're self-regulating (i.e. noticing when you *actually* feel hungry versus when you’re just craving a taste) you can base your meal decisions off of just that. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t. No calorie counting necessary.
Assess Your Hunger Before Each Meal
“Tune out of emails, social media, and work, and spend a couple of mindful minutes just grading yourself,” Zellner says. Then ask yourself: How hungry am I at the moment? What am I craving? What is my body asking for? “Trust those signals as you’re creating your meal,” Zellner says.
Yes, this thought process can work. “I practiced mindful eating by paying attention to hunger and satiety cues,” Wood adds. “Learning to eat intuitively took some adjusting, but each week it became easier, and I found my cravings for those high-sugar foods diminished.”
Don’t Skip Meals
It’s easy to think that you need to skip meals in order to lose weight. (Less meals = less calories, right?) That’s actually *not* the key to long-term weight loss, though, and doing so can just cause you to go through periods of bingeing and overeating as a result, Gans says.
Sandy Lam, who lost 35 pounds, told WH that she would get anxious any time she went to a restaurant and didn't enjoy eating. “I stopped skipping meals, though, and on my new meal plan I cook a lot more,” she says. In short, don’t let the fear of calories stop you from eating. Your body literally needs food to survive, and your health will be better in the long term if you resist the urge to skimp.