“You don’t have to count calories to lose weight, but calories still count.”
Counting calories as a way to control your intake may very well work in the short term and help you lose weight, but as a longterm solution for weight loss and maintenance, it isn’t great. Eventually it can start to feel like a chore and you don’t want to measure your food anymore. There are many flaws and it doesn’t really address any behaviours or habits that are contributing to unhealthy eating.
It is true that you will need to consume less calories than you burn to lose weight, but you can do this without actually counting how many calories you consume! There are many issues with relying on just calorie counting to control your intake including: food labels aren’t 100% accurate; we tend to overestimate how many calories we burn; and calories tell us nothing about the quality of the food (which nutrients it contains). Additionally, not all foods have the same impact on our body or metabolism, and some foods fill us up faster or give us more energy – calories won’t tell you this. It can lead to feeling restricted in terms of what you eat, when really, losing weight and eating healthier is not about depriving yourself.
So, instead, here are 10 behaviours and habits that you can actually sustain long term and can help contribute to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. You may still need help determining what your individual needs and portions are which a Registered Dietitian can help you with. However, here are some things to consider doing if not already.
- Slow down at mealtime. Rushing through meals is something I see all too often but it is a major contributor to overeating. Eating quickly without giving your meal a second thought has become the norm, but its so important to try to slow down and dedicate time to just eating. Eating at a table without distractions will allow you to pay attention to the amount of food you are eating, be in tune with your hunger cues and your level of satiety (fullness) as the meal goes on. Additionally, its helps you to be fully present and savour your meal. How many times have we finished a meal and thought, “I don’t even remember what that tasted like!” or didn’t even realize the meal was already done! It takes about 20min for the brain to get the signal that you are full. So how can we actually slow down at meal time? Here are some tips:
- Put away your phone, turn off the TV and computer. When you’re distracted you are more likely to eat quicker.
- Put your fork down between bites and don’t pick it up until you chew what’s in your mouth. Often times we are already scooping up the next bite before fully chewing and swallowing what’s already in our mouth.
- Ask yourself “Am I Truly Hungry?” before eating. There are many times we may grab something to eat without a second thought. It may be reaching for food out of habit (for example right when we walk in the door from work), having something to eat just because its sitting in front of us, or because we are tempted by a treat a coworker brought it. Take a moment to stop and ask yourself if you are truly hungry before eating. It may just be a craving. Cravings are typically brought on suddenly and are for a specific food. Hunger is more of a gradual onset and any food will do. Pausing to ask yourself this and the behaviour in #1 can help you to become more mindful with your eating.
- Get Enough Sleep – Sleep deprivation, characterized by less than 7 hours a night, increases our appetite and makes us more likely to consume foods high in sugar and fat. If you have issues sleeping, some things that may help are: Cutting back on caffeine or stimulants close to bedtime, exercise regularly but not too close to bedtime, turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before going to bed, and try to stick to a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up.
- Load up half your lunch and dinner plate with vegetables and have vegetables as part of at least one snack. Vegetables are low in calories but full of fibre to keep you full. They also contain lots of vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients that help to keep us feeling energized. Filling half your plate will help you to portion size the starch and protein at your meal (make each 1/4 of your plate). Aside from the starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, and peas, have as much of the other vegetables as you like!
- Eat protein at every meal and snack – Protein will help to keep you feeling more satisfied at your meal and having enough will help to maintain your muscle mass as you lose weight. This doesn’t mean you have to eat chicken or fish all day long. Greek Yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, small handful of raw nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes are some other protein rich foods to incorporate.
- Don’t skip meals during the day. Skipping meals or under eating during the day makes you more likely to overeat and succumb to cravings in the evening. Planning and prepping food ahead of time is often necessary to help you make sure you are eating well-balanced and healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. Pack your lunch and bring healthy snacks with you if you are out of the house for a long period of time.
- Clean up your fridge and kitchen – Some research has shown that having a cluttered kitchen with countertops filled with random junk or with food, can actually cause you to eat more than if your had a clean, clutter-free kitchen. It could be due to the stress caused by seeing the mess, or a lack of room to prepare foods. Try keeping a tidy kitchen. Keeping your fridge neat as well can allow you to store healthier foods near the front and at eye level so you are more likely to eat those.
- Drink water throughout the day – Staying hydrated keeps you energized, helps to fill you up. Sometimes we think we are hungry when we are actually thirsty. Try keeping a water bottle with you, or drink herbal teas, sparkling water or flavour your water with lemons and limes if you really can’t handle the taste of plain water.
- Always have some cut up veggies in the fridge– Even with all of our good intentions, vegetables that are in the fridge but not prepared usually end up rotting before we get to them. When you’re hungry, cutting up a head of broccoli just isn’t appealing. So, next time you go to the grocery store, buy all the vegetables you like eating raw and cut them all up and store in a container in the fridge right when you get home. You can even do this for other vegetables that you would like to use in stirfrys or roast later in the week. Having these vegetables already chopped up, ready to eat and in plain view when you open the fridge will make it easier for you to eat enough of them.
- Meal Plan and Meal Prep – Life gets busy. Without a plan, you can find yourself asking, “What’s for dinner?” every night at 5pm. Suddenly takeout seems appealing. But with a general plan of dinners you would like to make for the week, a well stocked fridge and pantry and a bit of prep work, its possible to have more home cooked meals.
While this may seem like a lot of things to do, pick one to work on for a few weeks and rock it until it becomes a habit! Then move on to another.
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Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD
Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist