Q: I am trying to lose weight and clean up my eating habits, but I dislike counting calories and keeping a food log. What can I do instead?
A: Many health and fitness professionals, including myself, advise some of their clients who are trying to lose weight to track their eating habits and macronutrient intake for at least the first few weeks of a program. With so many iPhone apps and software packages available to log daily nutritional intake on the go, keeping a food diary has never been easier. One app I recommend checking out is MyFitnessPal, which lists a lot of local dishes, including many hawker food favorites. That said, it can be complicated to figure out exact portion size and to have to scroll through a slew of food options every time you sit down to have a meal or snack. Some people just don’t have the patience for it and if it’s not a habit that you feel you can adopt for the long haul, there’s really no point in trying to force yourself. Fortunately, you can still lose weight without counting calories. Here are five alternative strategies that will help you slim down and shape up without the food journal:
Adopt a Low Energy-Dense Diet: Studies show that people who adopt a diet comprised of low energy-dense foods (foods high in micronutrients and water, higher in fiber, and low in fat) are able to lose weight successfully without having to keep tabs on the caloric content of their meals. Low energy-dense foods include unprocessed carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans) and lean protein sources (lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs and egg whites, low-fat dairy). A low energy-dense diet is typically more satiating and higher in total volume of foods consumed due to the high water and fiber content. Increased bulk leads to a greater feeling of fullness after eating, which prevents overeating.
Eliminate Packaged and Processed Foods: One tip I pass on to all my clients is to skip the middle aisles of the grocery store- where all the processed food hangs out- and only shop at the perimeter. Processed foods typically contain many harmful ingredients and are filled with empty calories that will do little for your body other than expanding your waistline. Trans fats contained in many processed foods like cakes and crackers contribute to tens of thousands of premature heart disease deaths each year. Additionally, processed foods do not require as much energy to digest as compared to whole foods, and do not stimulate the metabolism in the same manner. A recent study found that people burned 50 percent more calories eating whole foods than they did processed foods. Processed food is bad news- skip it!
Increase Protein and Decrease Carbohydrate Intake: It is well established that a high protein, low fat diet increases thermogenesis (creation of heat in the body, which burns calories), promoting greater weight loss than a more typical high carbohydrate diet. High protein diets (30% protein, 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat) are shown to increase energy expenditure by 80-100 calories per day when compared to a normal diet (10% protein, 60% carbohydrates, 30% fat). Many people simply don’t eat as much protein as their body needs. Additionally, protein will make people feel fuller for a longer period of time by triggering glucose production in the small intestine. Protein is also known to reduce appetite overall.
Read Food Labels: Ask yourself this: on a daily basis, do you have any idea what you’re actually putting into your body? Do you eat food items that have ingredients you can’t pronounce? Reading food labels and doing the homework to research the items you’re not familiar with will encourage a greater awareness about the relationship between food and your body, as well as tipping you off to items that may not be so healthy after all. For instance, are you eating BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), a very common additive found in nearly every packaged food item? It’s linked to cancer and can cause liver damage, as well as being used to make jet fuels and embalming fluid. How about high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener found on many food labels? Studies show that it contributes to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. Getting to know your food will lead you to make healthier choices.
Develop Meal Mindfulness: When we sit down to eat, we often don’t take the time to enjoy our food; to consider its origin, production and nutrition quality; or to pay attention to how it feels on our tongue and in our bellies. Mindful eating is the practice of being fully and deliberately aware of the experience of eating, from the very first thought about food (“I think I’m hungry. I want something salty”), to the sensation of chewing, to ruminating about the journey that particular meal or food item had to take in order to arrive on your plate. Mindful eating is paying close attention to the textures, smells, sights, sounds and flavors of your food. A growing body of research shows that mindful eating can assist in weight loss, reduce emotional or “stress” eating, and help people make better food choices over time.
Do you count your calories on a regular basis? If not, have you adopted one or more of the strategies listed above? What has your weight loss experience been like so far? As always, I’d love to hear from you! If you have a fitness or wellness-related question, or would like direct weight loss assistance, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.