“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.
Are you an athlete? Here are some of my top tips for weight loss for athletes Weight Loss Advice for Athletes: 10 Practical Tips
Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD
Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist
You may find that you are really enthusiastic about making a particular change to your eating habits, but as time goes on, that motivation starts to fade and those goals you set seem difficult to reach. Here are 5 of my tips to help you stay motivated over the long term.
1 – Choose the right reasons for losing weight/eating healthy
There are two types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation means the behaviour is driven by internal rewards. Extrinsic motivation is driven by outside rewards or to avoid punishment.
With weight loss goals, reasons for losing weight can often be extrinsic, like losing weight to look good for a wedding coming up. However, you may be more likely to stay motivated longer by intrinsic motivation. Examples of intrinsic motivation could be eating healthy because it helps you stay energized and focused at work, or because it allows you to have more energy to play with your kids or grandkids.
We may have both of these motivations, but try reminding yourself of the benefits healthy eating will give you internally when you feel motivation decreasing.
2 – Focus on what you can control
Attaining a certain number on the scale should not be a goal.
It can potentially be a tool for tracking progress (though there are better ways), but making it your ultimate goal to attain a certain number on the scale is not going to set you up for success because we can’t really control that number. So, when the scale doesn’t match up with what we expect, we can become frustrated, feel defeated and want to give up.
Instead, set goals around healthy habits that you can work on. An example of this type of goal is: I will pack a balanced lunch with snacks to bring to work each day. The outcome of this goal could be: a) Not buying take out and b) avoiding low energy, cravings or feeling extremely hungry by the time you get home from work. All of those outcomes can have great benefits and will support your goal of weight loss because it could help you avoid buying an unhealthy lunch, and ensure you have enough energy to make dinner or workout after work.
Setting goals around attainable nutrition habits will help to build confidence as you achieve them, allow you to progressively set more challenging goals, and know that you are doing what you can to achieve your goal of weight loss.
3 – Get some support
Having someone to connect with and support you through this change is key. Whether it be for accountability, providing words of encouragement, or to make meal prep work easier, it will help you feel like you aren’t alone. Talk to the people in your life so they can understand what changes you are trying to make and how they can support you – even if they don’t want to change yet themselves. Some examples of how you can get support from friends and family include:
- Find someone to run or workout with
- Text your workout to a friend as accountability
- Have your spouse or kids help you with the cooking or food prep
- Exchange healthy recipes or meals with friends
4 – Let go of all or none thinking
This type of thinking comes up in many areas of life, not just in healthy eating, but it makes it really easy for people to think they have fallen off track with one or two “treats,” and have a hard time getting back to their routine.
Learn to accept that healthy eating really is a lifestyle. There will be times when you can indulge in something a bit less healthy, but its about finding that right balance for you so you don’t feel deprived, but are also not giving into every treat or temptation that comes your way. Some things that can help are not putting any foods “off-limits,” and practicing mindful eating.
5 – Use visualization and be specific about your goals
Clarify your reasons for change and visualize how your life will look like when you reach your goal.
When in a situation where you can be tempted by something that can get in the way of your goals (such as choosing to skip the gym or not cook dinner because you are tired), taking a moment to pause and think about this image or long term goal in your mind can help you to resist the short lived reward or satisfaction that you may get.
I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you have any tips to share?
Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD
Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist
As an athlete, the decision to lose weight can be a number of reasons. Reducing body fat may positively impact your performance by improving your power to weight ratio, agility, speed and/or endurance, and it may be necessary to reach a certain weight class. Your health is number one and any fat loss goals you have should not sacrifice health and performance. The first step is to determine what amount of weight loss is realistic for you.
Balancing heavy training and food intake can be challenge, and even more so when trying to create a deficit for fat loss without having negative consequences on performance or eating less than needed to support your normal metabolic functions. However, it is possible when you avoid the next quick fix and adopt strategies you can maintain long term. As an athlete, energy expenditure is typically already high, so modest changes to your diet will help with changing your weight. While there is no one specific diet plan to follow for weight loss, working with a Sports Dietitian like myself can take into consideration the many factors that makes you unique and put together an individualized plan and approach. I do have some tips that just about anyone can incorporate no matter what way of eating you choose to follow.
Before we get into those tips, athletes have a few important factors to consider when losing weight:
The Speed of Weight Loss
Losing weight too quickly can mean that weight lost is not fat and instead is water, glycogen and/or possibly muscle mass – 3 things as an athlete you don’t want to be losing!
Cutting carbohydrates heavily or not strategizing when they are consumed can result in glycogen (stored carbohydrates in the muscle and liver) depletion. For every gram of glycogen we store, 3g of water is stored along with it. That is why the first week of a low carb diet you can lose several pounds, but really it is a loss of glycogen and water.
Give yourself plenty of time to reach your goals. If you’re trying to make a weight class, minimize large fluctuations between the seasons and don’t wait until too close to competition in order to avoid making drastic changes in a short period of time. Losing weight modestly at about 1-2 lb/ week, without cutting calories to much or unnecessarily eliminating food groups can help preserve muscle.
The Timing of Weight Loss
During the regular season or during competition is not a good time for athletes to be attempting weight loss as this can hinder performance. The off-season or pre-season is the time when you can make changes to your weight.
Maintaining Performance and Training Adaptations
During periods of weight loss, you still want to ensure you have enough energy to train, recover and adapt to training. Fuel up properly with carbohydrates so that you don’t compromise the quality of your training sessions (which in turn can impact your weight loss goals if your not working as hard). Recover after training with carbohydrates and protein to make sure you still get the nutrients needed to adapt to training. In my post about about Recovery Nutrition has guidelines you can still follow when trying to manage your weight.
How Realistic is the Goal?
In addition to point #1 where you want to avoid setting high weight loss goals with short deadlines, other factors like your current body composition, body weight history, guidelines for your sport and whether it will help your performance are a few things to consider before setting a target weight. A professional can help assess and determine these things for you.
So, what should you do to create a calorie deficit that will not lead to some of the negative effects above? Avoid severe calorie restriction and quick fixes because in the end they won’t be sustainable.
Here are 10 tips – no calorie counting or cutting out food groups required:
- Eat enough protein to preserve muscle mass and promote satiety. In addition to including strength training to help preserve muscle mass, protein intake can help as well. Total protein needs will be increased during weight loss, but the frequency at which it is consumed is just as important. The key here is getting a serving of protein every 3-4 hours, so aim for 3 meals a days and 2-3 snacks in between.
Choose protein-rich foods to include at meals and snacks like: plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken, fish, lean meats, raw, mixed nuts.
For meals, aim for about 20-30g/meal (depending on your body size) and 10-20g/snacks (also dependent on body size).
2. Balance Snacks with Protein and Carbohydrate. As mentioned above, have a protein at all snacks, but make sure to have a bit of carbohydrate to help provide energy and keep blood sugar stable. Pair the protein with a fruit or vegetable (they contain carbohydrates) most often to provide lots of nutrients and fibre without too many added calories. The purpose of the snacks is to help you meet nutrient needs, keep energy levels up between meals, and to avoid long periods of time without eating.
Examples of balanced snacks: Cottage cheese mixed with diced pineapple or red peppers; small handful raw nuts and an orange; mixed raw vegetables and hardboiled eggs, edamame and carrot sticks.
3. Choose whole, unprocessed foods more often. Think about some of the foods you consume and if they are processed or packaged, replace them with something either minimally-processed or in its natural form.
For example, if you typically eat cereal as your starch at breakfast, switch to oatmeal or steel cut oats. If you typically have bread or pasta as carbohydrate of choice at meals, try switching that to potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa or other whole grains sometimes. Instead of always having peanut butter, have raw nuts in their whole form. Portion sizes are still important for whole foods, but since these foods are less processed, our body metabolizes them differently, they will be more satisfying and provide more nutrients.
4. Minimize foods or drinks high in energy but low on nutrients. These include sweets, sugar or cream in coffee, cakes, pop, juice, fried foods, creamy salad dressings and too many condiments and sauces.
5. Avoid eating out of boredom and eating while distracted as this can lead to overeating or eating to quickly (which can also lead to overeating). Some strategies to help you slow down & portion size are: Put down your phone and turn off the TV when eating; put down your fork after taking a bite and only pick it up once you have finished chewing and swallowed the food; portion out food instead of eating directly from the packages and choose smaller plates.
Example of what not to do!
6. Prioritize healthy fats. When you want to lose fat, that doesn’t mean you should eat fat-free. You still need fat to stay healthy and absorb nutrients. Instead, cut back on the saturated and trans fats from foods like processed meats (sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, bacon) and get a moderate amount of healthy, unsaturated fats from avocado, salmon and other omega 3 rich fish, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds chia and ground flax seeds.
7. Aim for variety. You can still eat flavourful foods and lose weight without constantly eating plain broccoli, chicken and brown rice. If simplicity works for you, that’s fine too, but at least try to rotate between several different meals and snacks or else you may lack some nutrients. On the other hand, boredom sometimes prevents people from sticking to healthy eating. Make it a habit to switch up the produce you buy week to week or try at least one new healthy recipe.
8. Avoid skipping meals and snacks during the day as this can lead to increased hunger and overeating in the evening as well as lack of energy for evening workouts. You don’t need to cut off your eating by a certain time at night, but if most of your calories are consumed in the evening, you may be more likely to store fat. Plan ahead and take the time to pack food with you if you are out all day.
9. Make double the dinner for leftovers at lunch or pack your meals the night before so you can avoid fast food and take out.
10. Chop all veggies ahead of time so that they are ready to eat, easily visible in the fridge and already prepared. This way, its just as convenient to reach for some veggies to snack on than it is to grab something less nutritious. As another bonus, dinner is partly prepped for things like salads, roasted vegetables or stirfrys when everything is washed and chopped.
While this may seem like a lot to change, start by choosing 1 or 2 things that you can start to do. If you need more guidance, contact me and I can provide individual nutrition coaching and meal planning support to help you reach your goals.
Looking for more articles like this? Check out:
Calorie Counting Sucks: 10 Things to Try Instead to Help You Lose Weight and Keep It Off
How to Build High Performance Meals Tailored to Your Training Levels
5 Tips To Stay Motivated During Your Weight Loss Journey
Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD
Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist