To eat less energy (in the form of food and drink calories) than we expend (considering various different types of movements and not just exercise alone).
The theory behind fat loss is simple, eat less, move more but that doesn’t mean it is easy.
Especially when we have to take into account all the daily commitments and stresses of life, that can sometimes stand in the way between you and reaching your goal.
“Just track your calories and your macros”, may seem like sound advice but the reality is, it’s not the best way for everyone.
Sure, tracking your food does create results. It helps to build an understanding of portion sizes and just what your daily deficit calories look like, but it is not without its flaws:
- Not all nutritional information within MyFitnessPal/Nutracheck is 100% spot on. Always cross check food labels and portion sizes, as quite often foods will only tell you how many calories etc are in 100g of the foods you want to consume rather than the serving size.
- Tracking does require some level of nutritional education to ensure that health is maintained by not under eating some food groups. If you are pressed for time around your hectic schedule as it is, this could seem overwhelming.
- It is time consuming. Especially if you aren’t used to using tracking apps. You do have to dedicate some time to get to grips with how to track and log your food correctly. Again this could be too overwhelming for some.
- Tracking can become obsessive. Particularly for those who may have suffered an eating disorder previously. It can promote feelings of failure, feeling as though you’re stunting your progress if you don’t track your food for a day, and that’s not necessarily the case.
- On that note it’s not always possible to track! Social situations are an inevitable part of life that shouldn’t be avoided due to the fact you’re unable to completely track your food.
- It could also mean you unlearn how to eat intuitively, paying less attention to hunger signals and eating something just because it fits your calories/macros.
The single most important factor when it comes to successful fat loss is dietary ADHERENCE…the ability to stick with a diet strategy for the long haul that reinforces positive habits and is sustainable.
If tracking isn’t sustainable for you then there are other ways to create a calorie deficit:
- Intermittent Fasting. Eating within a certain time frame or window of your day. The most common intermittent protocol is the 16:8 whereby you consume nil by mouth (other than water and other calorie free fluids) for 16 hours (some of which can be over night) and then consume your daily calories within the chosen 8hr window of your day. More often than not it’s hard to consume all of your calories in a short period (providing you don’t eat like a kid in a sweet shop) and therefore a reduction in calories can be achieved.
- Alternate day fasting. Eating normally one day, fasting the next, you are missing a whole days worth of food which can contribute to a reduction in your total weekly calories. It’s important to consider the type of lifestyle you have with this method though, if you have an active job this may not be sustainable for you.
- Carbohydrate “Bunching”. Only eating carbohydrates around the times that you exercise/are the most active throughout the day leads to a reduction in overall carb consumption and therefore a reduced calorie intake. It also ensures your training sessions are well fuelled, meaning you won’t feel lethargic and performance shouldn’t be negatively impacted.
- Carbohydrates/fat separations at meals. If you eat a me l that is high in carbohydrates then you opt for low fat to accompany it. For example, you eat a pasta dish which is high in carbs so you opt for the lower fat tomato sauce over the high fat creamy carbonara and vice versa.
- Low carb diet. Cutting the carbs will bring about fat loss….through a calorie deficit by cutting out food groups. As above you may want to consider your lifestyle and job type. If you’re mostly sedentary then this can be an easy way reducing your daily calories without much thought, but if you hit the gym or have a very manual job, again this may not be sustainable.
- Low fat diet. Same as low carb, you reduce calories by reducing the amount fat you consume. Be mindful though that we don’t want to cut fat out altogether for health and hormonal health reasons. We need to be consuming at least 0.5G/kg of body weight, but reducing the fat you consume, particularly the manufactured, highly processed trans fats can really help to slash the calories especially as fat comes in at a whopping 9cals/g!
- Meal replacements or meal skipping. Either swapping out breakfast, lunch or dinner for a lower calorie, high in protein alternative OR completely skipping altogether will help to bring those calories down. This method is great for somebody who doesn’t necessarily get hungry in the morning. Instead of forcing yourself to eat breakfast when you aren’t really hungry, either save the calories or sub out for a lower calorie alternative. With this method be careful not to promote any deficiencies, so adequate protein and fat amounts throughout the day would still be advised.
As you can see there are plenty of different non tracking methods that will still create a calorie deficit and therefore help you to achieve your overall fat loss goal.
There are also ways to help create spontaneous calorie reduction with minimal effort…
- Changing the food environment. Eat at the table with the telly off, paying attention to what you are eating and chewing slowly. Don’t buy the “trigger foods” in. Use a smaller plate to trick the mind and avoid overloading the plate….are all examples of changing the environment in which we eat and can play a huge part in reducing calories.
- Regular protein feedings. Protein has a thermic effect when digested which means you actually burn calories just to break it down in your gut. Because of this it can help to promote feelings of fullness for longer, plus you will ensure your health and immunity is in tip top condition whilst dieting.
- Adding other foods that satiate or increase food volume without drastically increasing the consumed calories. As well as protein think about loading your plate (and stomach!) up with plenty of salad or vegetables. Frozen veg is fantastic, full of vitamins and minerals, and cheap!
- Reduce food palatability. Ever noticed that if you add a sauce to any bland food, for example rice, you can always eat more?? Keep the seasoning simple, pay attention to when you’re full and be wary of the sauces that could cause you to overeat unnecessarily.
- Food swaps. Old habits die hard it’s true! If you’re a fan of a can of coke a day then swap for calorie free alternatives. Love a packet of crisps? Try salted popcorn instead! Ice cream for dessert? What about frozen yoghurt instead? As with all foods this is not a green light to eat as much as you want because they are lower in calories, but swapping your favourite food out for their lower calorie counterparts can be another great way of reducing your overall daily calories.
These are some of the most common non tracking methods which will still bring about the desired outcome of a calorie deficit, and just as there are plenty of non tracking methods, there are also other types of tracking methods which don’t necessarily relate to counting calories/macros in MyFitnessPal every day. Meal plans, and food diaries are amongst the most commonly used!
So when is tracking appropriate?
-When specific outcomes are needed. Think bodybuilders or athletes making weight.
-When a person WANTS to. No body should be forced into a dieting strategy that they are not comfortable with.
-When a persons goals are time dependant.
-When a person is highly motivated and has no pre existing bad relationships with food (they maintain roughly the same bodyweight without any drastic drops or increases in weight).
-When a person already has good knowledge and habits in place to support “off track” days.
As with any change in diet or lifestyle, before you consider which tracking or non tracking strategy is best for you, you need to determine your goal, the time you can realistically give and your existing nutritional knowledge and habits.
Also consider what have you tried in the past, has it worked? What were the positives? Was it sustainable? Etc.
Putting a plan in place ahead of time, that addresses all the positive habitual reinforcements around your diet will be paramount to your success.
Starting with small weekly goals or habit based changes that will amount to sustainable habits over time, and enlisting the help of someone to support, educate, encourage you and even change the plan if needed along the way.
Nutrition isn’t a one size fits all glove. The plan needs to be as unique as the individual following it, taking into consideration all of the above.
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