It’s one of the biggest areas of resistance in fat loss when we tell folks to count their calories. In almost all cases it’s due to the associated labelling inaccuracies, difficulty in gaging calories when eating out, and the hassle of actually recording it down. It’s not a surprise that it’s a mundane task that no one actually enjoys nevermind actually turning it into a habit.
While we aren’t advocating taking shortcuts, there are ways to lose weight without counting calories. To make things clear, most professional bodybuilders and athletes will be tracking their caloric intake to some degree, so there is definitely a trade-off in not putting in the effort; but for individuals that simply want to lose a bit of body fat or get down to “beach lean” levels, it definitely can be possible in helping you get there without being bogged down by the numbers.
To firstly state the obvious - the most important factor in weight loss is ensuring you are in a net calorie deficit. This means having your intake be lower than your expenditure as without an actual deficit, you won’t lose fat. We’ve come across some people that seem to think being on a caloric deficit for five days then going on a large surplus for two days (usually the weekend) nets a three day deficit and should still see them lose fat. Possibly, but most of the time people overeat too much during those surplus days and actually negate or even go as far as to reverse their deficit completely.
In any case, let's get back to zero calorie-counting dieting. The first method to become really good at estimating calories is by actually counting macros for a solid few months to a year plus. While you might be thinking “I knew this was too good to be true”, it’s pretty reasonable to say that if you’ve been weighing out 250 grams of chicken breast every day for a month, you’d be able to make estimations based off that when you see it in a restaurant.
This strategy definitely takes work, and in a way it’s disciplinary as it forces you to prepare your own food more often. With practice, a skill becomes perfected, and calorie counting is definitely what many consider a skill. Further, understanding what 100 grams of bread looks like in comparison to something more dense such as carrots or potatoes, or light such as lettuce and spinach will give you a stronger grasp on how to estimate calories when eating out. At the very least, instead of giving up when it comes to estimating restaurant meals, you have a more educated guess based on your own experience!
Another strategy that we like to use is to have a list of go-to foods. For protein sources it might be chicken breast, lean beef mince, and cod. For fat sources it might be extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, and almonds. For carbohydrate sources it might be sweet potato, rice, and fruits. If you ate these over and over for on repeat, you will know that your caloric intake is quite consistent on a weekly basis. From there, to lose weight, simply reduce your intake here and there to facilitate the rate of loss you desire!
While not ever counting the macros for this strategy can still work as logically you would be reducing your intake over time, it’s still beneficial to know exact numbers as its good to have a minimum daily protein intake, minimum fat intake, and to really push yourself to competition level conditioning, knowing numbers is unquestionably the only way you can fine tune your strategy to get to elite levels of lean.
Now, we know getting competition level lean might not be for everyone, and whichever approach you might be using, the important lesson is to be consistent in your approach. Too often diets fail due to people trying different ones, deciding it doesn’t work after only a short while of likely cheating and inconsistency, and then eventually giving up completely only to find another diet that briefly motivates them and gets them to repeat the vicious cycle.
If calorie counting is something you absolutely cannot stand or are willing to do, understand that there comes a limit to how much you can achieve in your physique goals. Take an approach that works to your requirements, and be consistent, and over time, results will show. Not counting calories can definitely be possible but all diets in the end require discipline!
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