Let’s face it, counting calories is NOT fun! Who wants to log every single morsel of food they eat in a day? Besides, how often do we conveniently ‘forget’ to log something we know we shouldn’t have eaten? Counting calories may seem like a good idea. But is it really???
Here’s the thing: Counting calories is not the most reliable way to figure out how much you’ve eaten. Yep, everything you’ve been told about counting calories and how many your body burns is actually rather imprecise.
Have you ever noticed that some food databases report a wide range of calories for the same food? This is because calories are measured in a lab and every food is slightly different. So, while yesterday’s egg may have been 70 calories, today’s might be 85!
Research has actually shown that most calorie databases can be off by as much as 25% because of incorrect labeling, lab error or even food quality!
That’s a lot!
In this article, I’m going to debunk some common misconceptions about weight loss and give you some super easy tips to start managing weight, health and food choices so much easier!
#1: Stop Counting Calories
Here’s an excellent secret for helping you choose the right amount of food and it has NOTHING to do with calories!
We can use our own hands to eyeball how much of each macronutrient we should be eating. Simply start by adding 1 portion from each category to your meals and adjust up or down to match your hunger levels.
Women usually can get by with 1 portion of each food group, but those who work out a lot or who are training for an event might need to double their portions or eat more meals each day.
Okay, here’s how you figure out how much food YOUR body needs:
- Protein: A single portion of protein is approximately the same size and thickness as your entire palm. For things like eggs, be creative – if you sliced 2 hard-boiled eggs and laid them out beside your palm, they would be about 1 portion size.
- Low-density carbs: These are your leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers and any other vegetables that have lower Glycemic Load Your fist approximates one portion of these.
- Carbohydrates: These foods include grains, fruit and high-density carbs, like sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and squash. Your cupped hand allocates your carb portion.
- Fats: Your entire thumb determines how much fat you should have per portion. Lay a few nuts out beside it. A tablespoon is approximately a portion, too.
This portion-sizing method is great for when you’re eating out, too! Check out how often you’re served at least twice the amount of protein or carbs you’re actually supposed to have!
#2: Eat mindfully
Now that you know now much food to eat at each meal, it’s a very good idea to start eating slowly and mindfully.
This step in managing weight is probably the hardest for people. We live in a go-go-go society where we have to scarf down meals while running to the gym or our kid’s hockey practice.
We have so much going on in our busy lives that simply sitting down to a good meal and savoring it has been tossed aside for the sake of multi-tasking. My husband and I are equally as guilty for this – we will eat almost every meal in front of the TV when we’re home! It’s like we’re bored or lonely without something else to do while eating.
(Of course, the marathon activity of trying to keep our two cats off our plates ensures that we are definitely NOT bored. However, this does not equate to a stress-free meal either!)
But, let me tell you…by simply making it a habit to take your dinner, sit down at a table, remove distractions, and eat slowly, you’ll eat way less and you’ll promote digestion and absorption within your gut.
(I experimented with this: I ate mindfully and without distraction for 2 weeks and I lost a few pounds but, more noticeably, discovered how little food I actually need to be satisfied.)
If you eat while stressed, two things can happen. Your mind is elsewhere so you can easily ignore or not even notice your fullness signal; you end up eating two helpings when one would have sufficed.
Your body perceives distractions and anxious thoughts as stress so it shuts down digestion to preserve energy. Food enters your stomach and intestines but your body isn’t prepared. Nutrients are not broken down and thus not absorbed. Food sits half-digested in your gut, stagnates and causes problems like gas, bloating, leaky gut and inflammation. Your cells aren’t receiving fuel and you end up feeling hungry soon after eating.
And, of course, hunger leads to more eating, right?
#3: Put Your Needs & Your Self-Care First
Hmm, how does this relate to weight loss?
Well, actually there is a lot of science behind how being overworked, overstressed and overwhelmed can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly.
When we’re stressed out and hit that point where life just seems to be out of control, our cortisol levels rise and stay high. Cortisol, our main stress hormone, runs rampant through your body, telling your liver to release its energy stores to prepare for incoming threats.
Those energy stores are converted to glucose for quick energy by the cells. Historically, when faced with a threat, this available energy would be used to run away or fight back. Muscles would be used heavily and glucose would be used up fast.
Now, though, most of our stressors aren’t physical in nature. Instead, we sit at our desk or in our cars. No energy is used up, but that glucose still has to go somewhere. And, insulin’s easiest route is to shunt it into our fat cells for storage later (your body just doesn’t quite understand that it’s unlikely you’ll need quick energy for your next stressful event).
Women are also the caregivers. They care for children, spouses, partners, friends, aging parents or others. Caregiving takes time and women often let exercise, healthy meal prep, and self-care fall to the wayside.
Don’t get me wrong – women usually love taking care of others. It’s in our nature to be caregivers, and I can attest to wanting to spend extra time with my loved ones instead of rushing off to the gym.
But, too many of us are exhausted all the time. We haven’t got enough energy to make it through the day, let alone fit in a workout.
And when we constantly put others’ needs ahead of our own, our own health and care suffers.
I don’t know about you but I was taught it was selfish to not drop everything when someone asked for help. However, it’s okay to be selfish if it means doing self-care activities that help fuel your body with nutritious foods, keep your body strong and flexible, and maintain an aura of calm in everyday life.
To really start losing weight, especially that stubborn belly fat, you MUST put self-care first. Work out a schedule that aligns with your family and work commitments and choose activities that are easy and enjoyable. And, let your loved ones know why you’re taking those precious few moments just for yourself; this way they can support you!
Simply taking 10 minutes every evening to do deep belly breaths can be enough to regulate cortisol and help flush excess from the body.
#4: Switch Up Your Macronutrients
Are you one of those people who always seem to feel hungry? Do you get ravenous cravings in the afternoon that are only satisfied with chocolate, candy, or donuts?
These cravings are usually a sign that your blood sugar is imbalanced. Refined carbs or anything high in sugar (even fruit) can spike blood sugar, resulting in a burst of insulin to help move that sugar into cells.
These continuous assaults of large amounts of glucose followed by gushes of insulin can eventually lead to what’s called insulin resistance. If your cells become resistant to insulin, they stop accepting glucose. Glucose has to go somewhere so insulin ends up shunting it to your fat cells.
Breakfast high in refined carbs, sugar or other glucose-spiking foods (think of your typical continental breakfast for a good idea of what I mean) are the worst for balancing blood sugar, promoting a healthy weight and eliminating those annoying cravings.
And those cravings do need to be dealt with if you want to see that scale move in the right direction!
What can you do? Well, one of the easiest fixes to imbalanced blood sugar is to adjust your macronutrient balance in every meal. Macronutrients are those nutrients that you need every day to survive. They are protein, carbohydrates and fat, and they contain all the essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytonutrients, and other good stuff that your body needs.
A lot of people are starting to see impressive results by adjusting their fat and carbohydrate intake. The idea is to increase fat while proportionately lowering carbohydrates – you’re simply swapping calories from carb to fat intake.
Healthy fat, moderate protein and a little bit of complex carbs or fresh fruit for breakfast will balance blood sugar AND keep you feeling full much, much longer.
Repeat the same macronutrient balance at lunch and you’ll start to see rapid reductions in sugar and sweets cravings.
The health benefits of eating like this extend beyond weight, too. You might experience less brain fog, more balanced and happy periods, and better performance during exercise.
I’m not exactly talking about a ketogenic diet but I am referring to some of the main ideas behind it.
Weight loss shouldn’t be an awful experience. Your body needs adequate nutrition to feed its cells and keep running. Reducing calorie intake too much (and for too long) can actually backfire on you; your body will think it’s in danger and will try to store as much fuel (aka fat) as it can for later! (And let me tell you – fat cells do NOT like to give up their goods easily!)
Learn proper portion sizes for YOUR body and tweak your meals until you’ve figured out what helps fill you up to about 80%. It doesn’t matter how many times you eat, as long as you’re satisfying your hunger with healthy, nutritious foods and not overeating.
Pay attention to your meals to improve digestion and to help you learn to notice that satiety signal. When you sit and focus on each bite, that subtle signal will soon become second nature. The first sign of being full is usually when your stomach is about 80% full too, so you’re set!
Reduce stress and put yourself first! I cannot stress this enough (no pun intended). Manage stress daily, even if you don’t think you’re under a lot of excess stress. Sometimes, overload can hit you like a dump truck and take you out! And this, also known as burnout, is NOT fun. It’s tough to bounce back from and you’re left feeling sick and tired and alone. Believe me, burnout is awful. Do something every day that helps promote your own care and happiness. You ARE so worth it!
Finally, work on adjusting your macronutrient balance to see if you can feel full longer and avoid some of those diet-wrecking afternoon and nighttime cravings. More fat and less carbs (especially refined grains and sugar) will improve glucose metabolism and help you fuel your cells for longer.