counting caloriesThe simplest changes often return the greatest results. Today I’m going to share five straightforward approaches to beginners looking to lose weight without counting calories.

Fat Burning Basics:
Your body weight is determined by a simple equation: “Calories in = Calories out”. For your body to burn the energy stored in fat, you must reduce your caloric intake below the maintenance level. Counting calories is a straightforward approach to this, but it’s possible to cut fat without doing so.

Important Note: Although it does help, cardio alone does not guarantee that you will lose weight. This is because the increased activity can stimulate ghrelin (hunger hormone) secretion, encouraging you to consume additional calories.(source) Exercise is a vital component of overall health, but for sustained fat-loss without tracking calories, it’s critical to address diet & other behaviors.

Eat Meat & Vegetables

The first step is to focus on consuming foods with a low caloric density: foods that take up a large amount of space in your stomach (making you feel full) relative to their calorie content. In other words, eat more meat and vegetables. This is not groundbreaking, but most people still don’t do it. Don’t be one of those people.

It doesn’t really matter what vegetables you choose, but I recommend choosing the ones you like to ensure you actually stick with it.

My favorites are carrots, green beans, and broccoli. Potatoes and corn do not count, due to their high caloric density.

Avoid overly processed foods for the same reason. They take up little space in your stomach for the amount of calories they contain. Stay away from pastas, bread, candy, ramen, etc.

Get your calories from solid foods; the liquid calories found in sodas, juices, and milk are mostly devoid of micro-nutrients, and will not leave you as full as whole foods.

Convenience & Taste
A common complaint is that healthy cooking takes too much time. Life is all about priorities, my friend, but you are in luck. Vegetables don’t take any real preparation time.

Carrots, just eat those suckers. Get a steamer bowl to easily steam green beans (or other veggies) in the microwave. You can buy broccoli in frozen bags that only need to be microwaved for a few minutes. You don’t even need to clean dishes. Being busy is no excuse.

Side note: Don’t buy baby carrots. Buy the long ones straight from the ground. The regular carrots are tastier, and last weeks longer than baby carrots (which they coat in an additive that turns them slimy in a week or two).

Veggies too bland for you? Then use some creativity with your spices, or just Google what to do. Pepper, salt, ginger, lemon, and garlic are some basic seasonings to begin making your vegetables more interesting.

Increase your protein intake. Per calorie, protein has higher satiety than either carbohydrates or fatsource. You will feel more full and satisfied from eating 300 calories of steak than you would from eating 300 calories of apples or peanuts.

Furthermore, high protein intake is absolutely crucial for retaining lean muscle while losing weightsource.

Do not cut fats entirely out of your diet, unless you’re keen on your natural hormone production going haywire. This means a fatty cut of meat or a handful of nuts now and then is not harmful.

Drink More Water

Drinking more water helps to reduce overeating. A recent study found that drinking water before a meal directly benefited the rate of weight loss observedsource. Refer to the linked source or the image below.

nihms194440f2In addition, studies repeatedly find that drinking more water increases your natural resting metabolismsource. To help accelerate fat loss, I would recommend aiming for 1 gallon per day of water intake.

I like to fill up a milk gallon with water in the morning, drink enough to quench my morning thirst, and put the rest in the fridge. I polish off the rest of the gallon throughout the day with meals, or by filling up my water bottle.

Increased water consumption also dissuades you from drinking calorie-dense liquids like sodas, milk, juice, etc. The rising popularity of these empty calories are one of the primary reasons that Western obesity is increasing over timesource.

Get More Sleep

Inadequate sleep drastically raises the risk of obesity, especially if you’re youngsource. When you’re sleep deprived (which around two thirds of Americans are), your body craves additional energy in the form of food. You’re hungrier from heightened ghrelin secretion, all while taking longer to feel full from lower leptin levels. A perfect storm for natural overeating.

If you’re looking to lose fat without counting calories, getting a full night’s sleep should be one of your highest priorities.

Besides, you should be getting a full night’s sleep for increased mental clarity & productivity anyways. I’ve met a few people who insist that they can function perfectly fine while sleep deprived. I’ve also met many drunks who insisted they could drive home perfectly fine while stumbling across the lawn. If you’re sleep deprived, your cognitive and physical skills will be negatively effected, and there ain’t two ways about it.

Lastly, if you’re trying to build muscle, sleep is especially important. As you enter into Stage 4 (Delta) sleep, the levels of natural growth hormone in your bloodstream rise: stimulating cell division, repairing muscle tissue, and burning additional fat.

Resistance Training

In their endless pursuit to burn fat, most dieters stick to just diet and cardio. However, strength training is a useful tool that is neglected all too often.

First, strength training burns a greater amount of calories post-workout than cardiosource. This is primarily due to three factors: the “Afterburn”/EPOC effect increasing your metabolism after your exercise, lactic acid’s effect on glycolitic ATP turnoverwiki, and the energy needed for muscle hypertrophy (repairing/creating new muscle tissue).

Second, strength training stimulates additional growth hormone and testosterone production. Growth hormone strengthens your immune system, increases fat oxidation, and encourages muscle growth. Testosterone (present in both men and women) helps boost your mood and energy levels, along with increased rates of muscle synthesis. Ladies, don’t be afraid of naturally produced testosterone — it helps to build the tight midsection, legs, and posterior that you are likely after.

Lastly, strength training has been shown to control ghrelin secretion, regulating hunger levels, and lowers insulin resistance. If all that wasn’t enough, the muscle tissue built through resistance training increases your resting metabolism by innately burning additional calories throughout the day.

Intermittent Fasting

An interesting strategy for fat loss is to condense your eating window. This is often called “Intermittent Fasting”.

If you’re looking to lose weight, I would recommend consuming all of your calories within an 8 hour time window. For example, eating only from 12pm-8pm is a great start.

Skipping breakfast is recommended over cutting out dinner. I like to be able to eat lunch & dinner socially with friends and family. Furthermore, it’s easier to get used to skipping breakfast than going to sleep on an empty stomach.

Something to keep in mind: calories found in drinks and cream/sugar for coffee can also only be consumed in the 8-hour period. Water, zero-calorie tea, and black coffee are acceptable to drink outside the 8-hour window.

How does intermittent fasting work?
You are able to eat larger portions for lunch and dinner, leaving you feeling full, even though you are naturally consuming less calories per day than before. Furthermore, fasting helps to improve insulin sensitivity, burns “stubborn fat” areas more easily (lower abdominal, upper thighs/arms in women)source, optimizes fat-burning hormones and metabolic pathways, among other benefits.

You may notice hunger pangs in the morning from skipping breakfast. Don’t worry, these will go away after two weeks or so. Your body is like a spoiled child at the check-out of a grocery store. If the parent buckles and buys the kid a candy bar every time they cry, the child will learn to cry to receive their sugary treat. If the parent ignores the child’s wailing, they will quickly learn that crying won’t get them a candy bar, and will eventually give up.

Every single person that I’ve recommended intermittent fasting to has seen positive results from trying it. So could you, if you gave it a try.

I’ve written more in depth on intermittent fasting here, I recommend you give it a read, especially if you work out regularly.