How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories: A Complete Guide

How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories 

When it comes to losing weight, calorie counting can be an effective solution to staying on track towards your goals. Though this method does prove to be beneficial, it’s not the only pathway toward successful weight loss. 

In its simplest form, the basic requirement for weight loss is a calorie deficit. Keeping this in mind, there are plenty of great strategies and healthy habits that can help you lose weight without counting calories. Read on to learn more. 

What Is Calorie Counting?

Calorie counting has been around for many years. As a popular method for tracking food intake, counting calories is commonly used to help individuals lose weight. However, many people also use it to support their weight gain goals as well. 

For most people, counting calories is a way to help bring more awareness to the foods we eat every day. It can help us identify harmful eating patterns, motivate us to stay active, and keep us on track to achieve healthy weight loss. 

The Science of Weight Loss

At some point in our lives, we have heard about calories as being a “bad thing”. In reality, calories describe the energy our bodies consume from food and the energy we expend during activity [1]. 

One of the essential components of weight loss is being in a calorie deficit, meaning that the total number of calories we consume is less than what we expend during rest or activity. In other words, optimizing our “calories in” vs. “calories out” is essential to help us burn fat and lose weight [2].

So, how do we achieve a calorie deficit? Well, this can be done in one of three ways: 

  1. by eating fewer calories per day than we need to function,

  2. by burning more calories during exercise or movement than what we consume, or

  3. using a combination of eating fewer calories and increasing activity levels

Keep in mind, having an excessive calorie deficit from either extreme dietary restrictions or intense exercise can cause our body to break down muscle rather than body fat. This is why it’s crucial to practice safe weight loss strategies that target fat loss without compromising muscle mass [3] – all of which is possible without a calorie counter!

 

9 Tips for Losing Weight Without Counting Calories 

Gone are the days of weight loss apps or food tracking calculators! Here are our top 5 recommended tips on how to lose weight without counting calories. 

Tip #1: Focus more on nutritional value rather than fewer calories

Instead of looking at how many calories you're consuming vs. expending, it’s more important to consider the quality of the nutrition you’re getting. 

Focusing on good overall nutrition can be more beneficial to help you shed excess weight, keep you feeling fuller for longer, control blood sugar, and create fewer cravings. Unlike processed foods which are loaded with saturated fats, sugar, and salt, whole foods are made with nutrient-dense ingredients that are more supportive of weight loss [4]. 

Some of the best whole foods are those that are high in fiber to help slow digestion and keep you satiated for longer. As an added bonus, many of these foods are also packed with essential and nonessential vitamins and minerals to support physical and mental functioning. 

Some examples of nutrient-dense foods that contribute to weight loss include:

  • Whole grains (i.e. brown rice, rolled oats, barley, buckwheat, etc.) 

  • Healthy fats (i.e. fatty fish, avocados, olive oil, etc.) 

  • Fruits and vegetables 

  • Nuts and seeds 

  • Tuberous roots (i.e. sweet potatoes) 

Tip #2: Incorporate protein in every meal  

Did you know that not all calories are made the same?! 

During digestion, our body breaks down food into tiny pieces to be used for immediate energy. However, how the body uses the energy depends on the macronutrient that we consume [5]: 

  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram

  • Protein provides 4 calories per gram

  • Fats provide 9 calories per gram

Surprisingly, compared to carbs and fats, protein is shown to be the most satiating macronutrient. A diet high in protein can help reduce hunger, support metabolic health, and boost weight loss. In fact, research has proven that compared to low-protein diets, high-protein diets lead to the consumption of 30% fewer calories [6, 7]. 

For weight loss purposes, the diet should consist of anywhere between 10-30% carbs, 40-50% protein, and 40-50% fat. Though these values depend on individuals' needs, lifestyles, and specific weight loss goals, studies have found that controlling both calorie intake and protein intake are two important factors for weight loss success [8, 9]. 

Some of the top protein-rich foods include: 

  • Chicken (27 grams of protein*)

  • Beef (26 grams of protein)

  • Salmon (20 grams of protein)

  • Eggs (13 grams of protein)

  • Peanut butter (25 grams of protein)

  • Cottage cheese (11 grams of protein)

  • Lentils (9 grams of protein)

  • Quinoa (4.4 grams of protein)

*protein content per 100-gram serving size 

Tip #3: Be mindful of portion size

Although food quality is certainly important to help support weight loss, the quantity of food matters too! Having a good understanding of proper portion sizes can help you eat the right amount of healthy whole foods without the need to count calories. 

A simple tip to eyeballing portion sizes is by using familiar items as a guide: 

  • 1 cup = 1 baseball or the size of your closed fist (for vegetables) 

  • 3 ounces = a deck of cards or the width of the palm of your hand (for protein such as meat, fish, or poultry) 

  • 2 tablespoons = a lipstick or your thumb (for healthy fats such as avocado, peanut butter, or other nut butters)

  • 1 tablespoon = your fingertip (for unsaturated fats such as olive oil or coconut oil) 

Tip #4: Eat your meals slowly 

In order to lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories. However, one of the problems many of us overlook is the speed at which we are consuming our food. 

Mindful eating habits help us to refrain from consuming too many calories in one sitting. 

According to a recent study, researchers discovered that slow eaters were 42% less likely to suffer from obesity compared to fast eaters. What’s even more impressive is that regular speed eaters were 29% less likely to be overweight as well [10].

When we eat slowly, our bodies are more likely to recognize the satiety signals in the brain that let us know we are full and it’s time to stop eating. As a result, we are more likely to eat fewer calories per meal. 

A great tip to help you slow down while eating is by minimizing meal-time distractions. For example, eating at the dinner table rather than in front of a television can help keep your brain on high alert when the body is sufficiently full. 

Tip #5: Prioritize resistance training over cardio

While the first  tips covered specifics on caloric intake, it’s time to dive into the importance of calorie expenditure. When it comes to weight loss, exercise plays a fundamental role in helping us lose fat without counting calories.

Oftentimes, people assume that resistance training causes us to gain weight in the form of big, bulky muscles. For this reason, people tend to steer clear of the weight racks. 

In reality, resistance training has been shown to increase our basal metabolic rate which helps boost total daily energy expenditure and promote weight loss. Studies have also found that weight training can help you burn more calories hours after your workout has ended [11, 12]. 

As an added bonus to lowering our body fat percentage, resistance training is also shown to help build a leaner physique which is oftentimes desired while losing weight. Check out our guide to attaining a lean physique here.

Tip #6: Drink plenty of water (and avoid empty calories) 

Water is an underrated supplement that can be used to help us lose weight without counting calories. Drinking water helps to reduce appetite and minimize our daily calorie intake. 

That’s not all! Drinking 500ml of water has also been shown to increase the calories we burn at rest and elevate our resting energy expenditure by 30% within 10 minutes [13]. Similar to weight lifting, this can help to burn more calories for longer throughout the day, even while at rest! 

Unlike other beverages that are high in liquid calories and can contribute to weight gain, water is a calorie-free option that supports our metabolic health, digestive functioning, and other physiological processes that contribute to weight loss. 

Tip #7: Manage your stress levels 

Stress can sneak up on us in our daily lives. Though not all stress is harmful, it’s important to manage it before it gets out of hand.

Cortisol, which is associated with our “fight or flight” response, is released into our bodies causing us to store fat for safety. Since our body can not discern between certain types of stress (running away from a bear vs. preparing to write a final exam), chronic levels of stress can lead to progressive weight gain, mental health issues, or even chronic health conditions (i.e. heart disease, type II diabetes, etc.) [14]. 

Many ultra-processed foods with high sugar and salt tend to spike our cortisol hormone levels, raise our blood sugar, and increase our food cravings. For this reason, it’s important to engage in stress management exercises such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing techniques as well as eating a well-balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense foods to assist in your weight loss efforts [15].

Tip #8: Get more sleep

Sleep is an integral part of our health and well-being. In order to function well on a day-to-day basis, humans need at least 5-8 hours of sleep every night. Without it, you may be at risk of disrupting various hormones that help to manage your weight.

According to recent studies, insufficient sleep is shown to trigger changes in our appetite and hunger hormones such as increasing our ghrelin levels and decreasing our leptin levels. As a result, poor sleep can lead to increased appetite, patterns of overeating, and unhealthy dietary choices [16, 17].  

Prioritizing consistent sleep will not only improve your energy but it can also keep you on track to losing weight. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for healthy adults between 26-64 years old. 

Here are some helpful tips for getting a better night’s sleep:

  • Keep your bedroom as a sanctuary for sleep rather than for eating, working, entertainment purposes

  • Maintain a consistent bedtime schedule (i.e. go to bed and wake up around the same time on a daily basis) 

  • Avoid eating heavy meals right before bedtime 

  • Reduce your screen time as you approach evening hours and shut down all computers, televisions, and cell phones an hour before bed

  • Turn out the lights or use black-out curtains to help increase the release of our sleep hormone melatonin

  • Calm your mind before bed to help induce sleepiness (i.e. take a warm bath, read a book, meditate, etc.) 

Tip #9: Experiment with cold exposure 

You may have heard about the cold plunge technique that athletes often use to help address muscle soreness and restore function following an intense bout of exercise. Well, there is research to support the use of cold exposure to boost weight loss too! 

Our bodies have a type of fat known as “brown fat” which is activated when we are exposed to cold temperatures. As a result, brown fat produces energy in the form of heat release (also known as thermogenesis) to help restore the body’s internal temperature under cold conditions [18]. 

Ramping up brown fat activity through cold exposure such as with cold showers, ice baths, or cold plunges is shown to boost metabolic rate, burn calories in the form of fat, and assist with weight loss.

Use our TDEE Calculator to Determine Your Calorie Needs

For those who are wondering how to lose weight without counting calories, rest assured that it’s certainly possible! In its simplest form, you can lose weight by optimizing your calorie intake (i.e. eating nutrient-dense foods with more protein and fiber) and your calorie expenditure (i.e. resistance training). Other effective strategies that help you achieve weight loss success include mindful eating, portion control, water intake, stress management, sleep quality, and cold exposure.

Even if you don't plan on counting calories in the long run, it's good to establish a baseline of how many calories you need to lose weight. Our TDEE Calculator makes it a breeze!

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