How You Can Lose Weight Without Tracking Calories

The idea of having to track calories to lose weight can seem overwhelming and even tedious to many people. The fact is tracking calories can be an effective way to lose weight, but it is not the only way to lose weight.  There are several strategies you can use to lose weight without ever having to track a single calorie.  

I once had a client come to an initial appointment with me, and she was distraught.  She wanted to lose 30 lbs but couldn’t bear the thought of having to track her calories.  In the recent past, she had lost weight using a popular weight loss program that required her to track “points,” which was the equivalent of tracking calories.  Even though she despised tracking her points, she forced herself to do it, and it worked.  She lost nearly 25 lbs.  However, after several months she couldn’t stomach tracking her points any longer, stopped entirely, and by the time she landed in my office, she had gained all of the weight back.  

But don’t worry, the story doesn’t end here.  Together, we collaborated on designing a weight loss plan for her that allowed her to steer clear of tracking points, calories, or anything else for that matter.  Rather than spending her energy focused on forcing herself to track her food intake, she created a plan built on eating filling foods, limiting “empty calories,” and performing regular physical activity.  And you know what?  A year, later she had lost 42 lbs and had kept it off.  

This article will teach you what actions you can take to reach your ideal weight without tracking your calories.  Specifically, you learn: 

  • Why counting calories works 
  • How to feel full while eating less
  • How to reduce the consumption of “empty calories.” 
  • How to estimate portion size without tracking calories 
  • How to design an exercise program that promotes weight loss

To get started, you’ll need to understand why tracking calories has been shown to lead to weight loss and how you can replicate this effect without tallying your daily food intake.  To best understand this concept, I’ll start by explaining why counting calories generates weight loss. 

Why Counting Calories Works 

Yes, calorie counting can be laborious, but it also is pretty darn effective at generating weight loss.  To get to the point where you can harness the weight-loss power of calorie counting without having to track your food intake, you’ll first need to understand the science and math, yes, the math behind calorie tracking. 

Losing weight comes down to a simple concept; eat fewer calories than your body needs, and in turn, your body is forced to break down stored fat cells as energy, which creates fat loss.  This idea was operationalized into a math equation people could use to lose weight by Dr. Max Wishnofsky.  He discovered, all the way back in 1958, that it took the creation of a caloric deficit of 3.500 calories to lose 1lb of fat.  This means that if you eat 3,500 calories less than your body needs, you will lose 1 lb of fat.  For instance, to lose 1 lb of fat over the course of a week, you would need to consume 500 calories less a day than you usually do: -500 calories x 7 days = -3,500 calories or 1lb of fat.  

“A Tiny Change Today Brings A Dramatically Different Tomorrow”

In modern times, apps and other online platforms use this formula to help people lose weight by allowing them to track their calories to stay within their calorie limits and lose weight.  Now, if you’ve read this and want to go all-in on calorie tracking, I get it and suggest that you read my post __________.  But if you still want to lose weight without tracking calories, the next several sections of this article will provide recommendations on how this can be accomplished.

How To Feel Full While Eating Less

The key to generating significant weight loss results is achieving satiety while eating fewer calories than usual.  As mentioned before, tracking your food intake can help you to eat fewer calories than normal by alerting you to when you are approaching your caloric limit for the day.  But let’s face it if you are at your caloric limit for the day, and you are STARVING, you are going to eat more food and blow right through your caloric budget.  On the other hand, if you eat really satisfying and filling foods all day long that aren’t calorically dense, chances are you will eat fewer calories than you normally would and won’t have to bother tracking your calories along the way.   

So, what foods are super filling but are low in calories?  The list of foods is long and distinguished, but for efficiency’s sake, I’m only going to focus on the food items that are most effective at helping you to feel full and lose weight.  These food items include; fiber, water, and protein.  

To feel satisfied after eating, our stomach needs to be stretched enough so that its nerve receptors are triggered to send a signal to our brain to let it know we’re satisfied and to stop eating.  Foods that are high in fiber, water, and protein help stretch our stomachs to the point of feeling full while still being low in calories.  This combination makes them excellent choices for people who are trying to lose weight.  

Fiber and water are both food items that contain precisely 0 calories but take up a lot of room in our stomachs.  This is why eating foods like soups and salads can be so filling while at the same time containing very few calories.  Just as importantly, lean proteins such as fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products are low in calories but help us feel full.  In fact, research shows that which shows that increasing the amount of protein in your diet without changing the number of calories you consume can lead to enhanced feelings of satiety1.  Protein is very effective at helping you achieve satiety because it reduces your hunger hormones and increases the levels of the hormones that make you feel full. 

To combine the effects of eating foods high in fiber, water, and protein, try combining them to create extremely satisfying meals that are low in calories.  Meal ideas include; a garden salad with chicken or salmon, chicken noodle soup with breast meat and whole-grain pasta, and a Greek yogurt parfait with berries and almonds.  For additional details on designing snacks and meals that are low in calories but fill you up, click here to access my free infographic:  

In addition to eating low-calorie filling foods so that you can lose weight without tracking calories, it is crucial to reduce your consumption of empty calories.  

How To Reduce The Consumption Of “Empty Calories.”

As you now know, food items high in fiber, water, and protein help you feel full and are low in calories.  The antithesis of these food items are foods that contain a high amount of “empty calories.”  Empty calorie foods have little or no essential minerals or vitamins and are often calorically dense.  

The most well known empty calorie foods are things like snack items (chips, pretzels, etc.), desserts (cookies, ice cream, doughnuts), sugary drinks (soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks), fast food, and candy.  Less thought of foods that contain high percentages of empty calories foods includes high-fat meats, full-fat dairy, and white grain products.  There are two general strategies you can take to reducing your intake of these empty calorie foods: 

  1. Set goals around eating less of these foods
  2. Set goals around eating more healthy food


I recommend choosing option number two for a few reasons.  First, we are more likely to achieve goals based on positive outcomes vs. deprivation-based goals as humans.  Second, if you habitually eat healthy foods rich in water, fiber, and protein, you will naturally eat fewer empty calorie foods because you are simply feel hungry less often.  

To set goals around eating foods that are highly filling but low in calories, consider goals similar to: 

  • Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, at least 5 days a week. 
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water, at least 6 days a week. 
  • Eat at least 1 serving of lean protein at every meal.  

By achieving these types of goals, you will have fewer opportunities and less desire to eat empty calorie foods.  However, no matter what kind of food you are eating, you always need to consider portion size.  

How To Estimate Portion Size Without Tracking Calories 

Let’s face it, even if you are eating predominantly healthy, low-calorie foods, but you aren’t mindful of your portion sizes, you aren’t going to have success losing weight.  Therefore, it is vital to gain a sense of appropriate portion sizes.  

The most precise way to measure portion sizes is to use a food scale and measuring cups.  Often people will do this for a week or so until they gain a sense of what a single portion of the most common foods they eat looks like. From there, they will estimate portions visually.  However, if you prefer to skip the measuring, here are some ideas on how to estimate portion sizes:

Food Serving Size(s) Estimate Cue 
Meat3 ozPalm of hand 
Grains½ C cooked, 1 C cereal, 1 slice of breadClosed fist = 1 C
Dairy1 C milk or yogurt2 oz cheese Closed fist = 1 CThumb = 1 oz 
Fruits½ C fresh 1 medium piece of fruit Closed fist = 1 C
Vegetables ½ C cooked 1 C rawClosed fist = 1 C

In addition to choosing filling, low-calorie foods, and practicing portion control, creating a weight-loss promoting exercise routine will help you lose weight without tracking your calories. 

How To Design An Exercise Program That Promotes Weight Loss

Exercise, both cardiovascular and strength training, has been shown to promote weight loss.  To maximize the weight loss effect, I highly recommend that you integrate both as regular habits but adding one form of exercise is undoubtedly beneficial.  Here are some of the ways that adding cardiovascular exercise and strength training can help you lose weight:

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is considered any repetitive movement that increases your heart rate well above its resting rate.  Moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise is considered to be activities like walking or medium-paced biking.  Vigorous cardiovascular exercise is considered to be activities like jogging, swimming, cycling, and aerobic group exercise classes.  

Performing either moderate or vigorous cardiovascular exercise can help you lose weight without tracking your food intake by helping you burn calories.  The calories expended during cardiovascular exercise can help add to your caloric deficit, which, as you know, if large enough, will cause your body to break down fat cells for energy use. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing at least 150 minutes of moderate or 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week.  

Strength Training

Strength training is when you perform exercises that cause your muscles to work against an opposing force.  These exercises can be achieved with free weights, plated exercise machines, tubing, kettlebells, or your body weight.  Unlike performing the cardiovascular exercise, you burn very few calories when performing strength training.  However, when performed regularly, strength training can help you lose weight by increasing your metabolism.  

The speed of your metabolism, or metabolic rate, is tied directly to your muscle mass.  When you perform strength training, you create little tears in your muscles, which then heal and grow larger.  When performed habitually, strength training can increase your metabolic rate, which promotes weight loss.  In fact, several studies have shown that approximately 4 lbs of fat loss have been reported when people participate in 10 weeks of a strength training program2.  To gain the full benefits of strength training, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising every major muscle group, 8-10 exercises, for 1-3 sets, at least twice a week. 

To learn more about how performing regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training can increase your metabolism, check out my article: 3 Habits to A Fast Metabolism

Putting It All Together

Now that you understand why tracking calories promotes weight loss and how you can replicate these advantages by practicing certain dietary and exercise habits, it is time to put a plan together.  I’ll certainly leave it up to you to decide what habits you believe should be a part of your plan, but here is the full menu of options, that if practiced in harmony, will lead to weight loss without calorie tracking:

  1. Eat predominately foods that are high in fiber, water, and protein. 
  2. Reduce your consumption of empty calories 
  3. Practice portion control 
  4. Perform regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training 

I’m in full belief that you can follow the steps outlined in this article to lose weight without tracking calories. Still, if you’d like to explore these steps in more detail, you can do so by reading WeightLost: 5 Steps to Achieving Your Ideal Weight and Gaining the Life You’ve Always Wanted

References:

1. Chambers, L., McCrickerd, K., & Yeomans, M. R. (2015). Optimising foods for satiety Trends in Food Science & Technology, 41(2), 149-160.

2.  Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports, 11(4), 209-216.

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