Research shows that 90% of diets fail, with most re-gaining the weight (and even more!) over a 5 year period. While there are lots of variable reasons why diets fail, one of the most important issues is constant hunger. Of course, when it comes to fat loss, one of the most basic principles is being in an energy deficit - eating less total food or calories than you burn per day. This is where the well-known recommendation: “eat less and move more” came from.
Just look at this image below, demonstrating the amount of time needed to burn off common foods.
As you can see, it requires a TON of activity to burn off some of your favorite foods. The standard approach is likely to fail, as it’s very easy to eat 500 calories but very hard to burn off 500. Therefore, if you want to create a calorie deficit, you are going to have to modify your diet and implement new strategies to lose weight. Read on to learn how to lose weight without counting calories.
Here are 5 of the best strategies to reduce hunger and lose fat, without the need to count calories or track all your food.
1. Eat Slowly
Remember that time you came home from work ravenous, took out a bag of your favorite chips and proceeded to finish off the entire family-size bag before you even noticed it?
Eating like this can actually override your body's satiety signals — such as the fullness-promoting hormone, leptin and glucose-like peptide 1 and neuropeptide y —that tell your brain it's time to stop eating (1, 2). Usually, you don’t even notice the hundreds or thousands of calories you just consumed in a matter of minutes.
Researchers have found that slowing down your eating speed may, in fact, work to reduce your food intake. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that when subjects were instructed to eat at a fast speed they consumed more total calories (2).
Other studies have found similar results, but in the opposite manner. Slowing down their meal eating time resulted in a decrease in overall food and calorie intake (3, 4, 5, 6)
In particular, one study exemplifies the power of how fast you eat on the total amount of calories you consume (7).
A mix of overweight and individuals of a healthy weight went through both a fast and a slow-eating protocol. During the slow phase, they were prompted to chew each bite thoroughly and set their utensil down between bites. The fast protocol involved researchers telling subjects to eat "as if they were on a time constraint" and to "take as big a bite as possible."
On average, the fast eaters consumed their meal in nine minutes, whereas the slow eaters consumed their meal in 21 minutes. The fast eaters consumed an average of 102 calories per minute, versus 39 calories per minute for the slow eaters.
Over the course of the meal, the fast eaters consumed 99 more calories than the slow eaters did.
2. Eat More Protein, Especially at Breakfast
Whether you’re an avid weight trainer, runner, athlete or just casual gym goer, protein will help you take your performance and physique to the next level.
When it comes to weight loss, protein is one of the most powerful tools because it not only helps to keep you full (8, 9), but also can help you to burn more calories throughout the day (10, 11, 12).
Studies have shown that eating more protein will naturally help you to eat less food; one study suggested a huge 30% less (13). Best of all, it has been shown that even when people are allowed to eat as much as they want, having a higher protein intake results in weight loss (14, 15, 16).
Even more intriguing, there is research that one of the most important times of the day to get in a good amount of protein is at breakfast (17,18,19,20).
Most recently, a high protein breakfast was shown to result in prevention of fat gain, naturally lowering daily total calorie intake, and reducing daily hunger (17). As shown below, those represented by the black bar consumed a high protein meal and lost more fat and had a noticeable decrease in calorie/energy intake.
Source: Leidy, H. J., Hoertel, H. A., Douglas, S. M., Higgins, K. A., & Shafer, R. S. (2015). A high‐protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in “Breakfast skipping” adolescents. Obesity, 23(9), 1761-1764.
An easy way to get more protein into your diet is to have a high quality source- eggs, meat, dairy or use a supplement such as Whey Protein etc. at every meal.
3. Optimize Your Fluid Intake
Your body's signal for thirst is not very powerful; combined with a busy lifestyle it’s very easy to be chronically dehydrated.
By the time you feel thirsty, it’s possible that you are experiencing some of the consequences associated with dehydration such as irritability, fatigue, lack of focus, and decreased exercise performance (21, 22)
When we are dehydrated, our body will actually increase hunger as food also contains water (23, 24, 25). As a result, we experience a strong urge to eat, even if we just ate an hour ago.
In addition, even if you are not hydrated, drinking water before or with a meal can help you to eat less and, as discussed, help you lose weight over the long term (26, 27, 28, 29, 30).
In a study published in Nutrition Review, researchers found that substituting water for other beverages can help you to consume fewer calories at mealtime (29). Replacing water with sugar-sweetened beverages was found to increase energy intake by 7.8%, and replacing it with juice or milk was found to increase intake by 15%. In contrast, consuming an artificially sweetened, calorie free beverage actually reduced energy intake by a small 1.4% (29).
Another study found that simply including 500mL of water before meals over a 12 week period resulted in a 44% greater decline in weight over the 12 weeks than the non-water group (30). Both groups received individualized instruction by a registered dietitian on a hypocaloric diet (women: 1,200 kcal, men: 1,500 kcal), with the only difference being one group including 500mL of water before each meal (30)
As you can see, fluid intake is extremely important for several reasons. If you consume too little water you are more likely to over-eat. In contrast, if you consume additional water, especially around meals, it can help you eat fewer calories. Finally, by switching sugary drinks for calorie free alternatives and water you can quickly reduce calorie intake and lose weight.
4. Eat Higher Volume Foods
Did you know that your stomach is actually a “volume counter” instead of a “calorie counter”?
Your body’s reaction is far more responsive to the total volume (e.g. portion size / grams) of food than it is to the actual amount of energy in that food (31,32). Taste aside, that’s why it’s easier to work your way through half a box of cereal with ease, but struggle to finish a plate of broccoli.
Think about it logically: your stomach doesn’t realize the amount of energy in food for several hours later, once it’s been fully digested and metabolized. By this time, you have finished the meal and may be coming onto the next. However, at the time of eating your body is very sensitive to the volume or size of food - imagine it being like a shopping bag, it will only tell your brain to stop eating, once it becomes full of groceries!
For a great strategy try swapping out more calorie-dense foods such as sweets, fried food, breads, some grains, and even “healthier” choices such as dried fruits or fruit juice, in exchange for low energy dense foods such as leafy green vegetables, berries, and other more filing foods.
These foods have a low calorie density, meaning that they contain a small amount of calories for a large amount of food. The difference can be huge when it comes to weight loss. Consuming low energy dense foods has been repeatedly shown to result in greater weight loss than when you eat higher density foods (33, 34, 35, 36)
In addition, higher volume foods tend to be higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fiber is also great at slowing the digestion of food, reducing cravings, and promoting fullness. Combined, this is a top strategy for losing weight without hunger or counting calories (37,38,39).
Here’s a list of low-calorie foods and food groups:
- Unprocessed meats and fish,
- All salads and vegetables,
- Beans and Legumes,
- Natural, sugar free, yogurt,
- Most fruits but in particular berries.
5. Improve Sleep and Rest More
Poor quality and reduced sleep is linked to obesity and chronic diseases (40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45) In fact, short or disrupted sleep has been shown to increase the risk of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults (45).
You may have noticed before that on days after a night of short sleep, you tend to have more cravings and eat more. This is because a poor night’s sleep can disrupt hunger-regulating hormones like ghrelin and leptin which result in you eating more food throughout the day (46, 47, 48, 49, 50).
Additionally, when you don’t get enough sleep, it can cause your body to increase the amount of the stress hormone cortisol, which can play a large role in accumulating more body fat and increase the risk of common chronic, western diseases (51,52,53).
Improving both the quantity and quality of your sleep habits can play a profound effect on fat loss, sports performance, food intake and most importantly, overall health and disease risk.
For most people, counting calories is just an obsessive habit that they would sooner avoid. Diet, exercise and fat loss is complex enough, without having to weigh out every piece of food that goes into your mouth.
However, by following these simple strategies you can immediately cut calories and start losing weight:
- Slow down your eating speed
- Eat 30-40 grams of protein at each meal
- Drink water throughout the day
- Replace high calorie-dense foods with lower calorie foods.
- Get 30 minutes more sleep per night
Apply them today for long-term success without the need to count calories.
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