Does the thought of counting calories put you off getting started on a weight loss journey?
It does not need to be that way, especially at the start of a health and fitness journey. Many people shudder at the thought of counting calories and are instantly turned off by the thought of turning the meals they enjoy into some kind of maths test, not to mention being thoroughly confused as to where to start.
Adding extra layers of complication to any approach is only necessary if you have first covered the basics consistently over a long enough period of time and you are no longer progressing towards your goal.
I'm going to give you a checklist for you to use to audit your current diet before you even consider tackling counting calories, let alone how much protein, carbohydrate or fat you are eating.
How well do you currently do these 10 things?
1.Hydrate yourself properly by drinking enough fluids
Being thirsty can lead to feelings of hunger.
Drink to your thirst.
If you feel hungry then ask yourself if you are actually thirsty, have a glass of water and then find something interesting to do for half an hour before asking again if you are generally hungry.
Water, tea and coffee with a dash of milk, and ’diet’ soft drinks are calorie free or close to. Latte’s, sugary drinks, and alcohol all contain a fair few calories and won’t fill you up in the same way as a meal does
2.Get enough quality sleep
Sleep is so often forgotten when it comes to optimising health and/or weight loss goals. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night:
Avoid your phone or computer/iPad screen for at least an hour before bed (ideally 2)
your body regulates your waking and sleeping cycles in response to sunlight. As the light emitted by screens is similar to sunlight your body is stimulated to keep you awake rather than drift off to sleep
Create a relaxing routine for yourself with a healthy dinner
Wind down before heading to bed at whatever time you need to get those 7-8 hours.
These things all help promote a deeper, more restorative sleep which can positively impact mood, motivation, energy and appetite.
3.Eat whole, natural, single ingredient foods 80-90% of the time
Minimally processed whole ingredients that you cook yourself will always provide less calories than processed food or restaurant meals. This may sound obvious and it may sound boring, but it is true.
That does not mean you can’t enjoy the odd chocolate bar, or packet of crisps. In fact, I would encourage you to do so but limiting these to no more than 20% of your diet
If we want to be healthy and thrive, then eating a diet which is varied, wholesome and rich in as many whole and unprocessed foods as possible, will almost certainly ensure that you get all of the nutrients you need to properly support your health.
4.Eat enough fruit and veg
Vegetables are low in calories and high in fibre which helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Adding a fist size portion to your plate at each meal and eating them first will give you a great chance of eating less calories overall.
Don’t like vegetables? Well you don’t have to LOVE them but if you make a conscious effort then you will start to enjoy them more. Try different varieties and cooking methods to see what works for you
Still need convincing? Vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and are ESSENTIAL for bodily function and cellular reproduction. If you want to support your long-term health then you need to eat your vegetables.
5.Cut down on snacking
Most people do not need to worry about plummeting blood sugars from periods of not eating as your body has energy stores it can tap into when food is not available.
You will not boost your metabolism by snacking to any measurable extent.
If you are getting hungry between meals then re-consider the four points above.
If you absolutely must have a snack then these should be mini versions of what you might usually have at meal times; fruits, meats and vegetable sticks are good options. Dried meats, like biltong, are also useful as a portable snack.
6.Manage your food environment
Eating whilst distracted leads to reduced feelings of fullness and eating more than you intended to.
If you keep certain foods in the house then you WILL eat them. Consider if they support your goal. If they do not and you cannot eat them in moderation then get them out of the house by donating to your local food bank or other good cause.
A few tips from me:
Avoid eating in front of the TV
Keep a fruit bowl on the counter, if it is in eye sight it is the easier thing to reach for
Delete Deliveroo or UberEats from your phone, that way you won’t be tempted to reach for a takeaway without having to reinstall the app
Plan what you are going to eat for the week ahead of your grocery shop so that you have all the ingredients ready for the meals that will support your goal
If you absolutely ‘must’ have less optimal foods in the house because your children or other members of the household ‘need’ them then store the inside an opaque container/tin inside a cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind
7.Get a moderate amount of exercise to keep us fit and healthy
Are you finding time to move a little bit every day?
By no means do you have to go to the gym 4 times a week for 2 hours at a time (unless that is what you genuinely enjoy).
You cannot out train a bad diet unless you are incredibly gifted genetically. If you are reading this article then you are probably not, just like me!
Can you take a walk at lunchtime, before or after work? Could you use the stairs and not the lift, can you do a few laps of the garden or even a few air squats whilst the kettle boils at home.
8.Enjoy alcohol in MODERATION
Cutting out alcohol completely is not necessarily warranted but moderation is key. This is because:
Alcohol contains calories but little nutritional value
It lowers inhibitions and can often lead to overeating
Over consumption leads to poor sleep and low energy the following day (hangover) which impacts on exercise and activity
The current UK guidelines on alcohol are:
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it's best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days
If you feel that you need to binge on alcohol at weekends then ask yourself if that is more important to you than your health goal. Worried that your friends will think differently of you if you turn down that 3rd pint/cocktail/G&T etc. Talk to them about your goal, explain its importance to you. If they are a good friend they will understand and support you.
9.Chew your food and eat slowly
It can take up to 20 minutes for you to feel hungry after you have eaten a meal, try the following at your next meal:
Chewing each mouthful 20 times
Put your cutlery down in between mouthfuls
Eat until you feel 80% full, as by the time you actually feel full there is every chance you have overeaten
10. Don’t throw in the towel if you’ve had a ‘bad’ day
If you were to lose your bank card then I doubt that you would react by withdrawing all of your savings and setting fire to them.
So, if you have a couple of extra drinks one evening or an extra scoop of ice cream or two then should you just ditch the healthy eating for the rest of the week or see it as a bump in the road and return to your usual system the next day?
If you’re struggling with an all or nothing mentality perhaps a nutrition coach could help you (*cough*).
Now, score yourself out of 10 for each of the above steps (with 10 meaning you do this perfectly every day).
Have you scored 70% or below? Then I suggest you address the low scores before you make your approach any more complex.
Need some help applying any of the above to your own circumstances? Then let me know in the comments and I will help you.
Thanks for reading