The thing with counting calories is, you have to count calories. There is a large margin for error, human error, and that’s no fun for anyone. Not to say that it’s not possible to be pretty accurate, or even helpful at some point. Realistically, the people who want to improve the way they look and feel may not benefit much from going insane counting every calorie they eat.
Not everyone will benefit from the old “count every calorie” method. Everyone can benefit from these tips on the other hand:
Understand Food is Not the Enemy
There is a common tendency when people are trying to lose body fat to cut out or tell themselves a certain food is responsible for their weight gain, and is therefore “bad”. Unfortunately, this rarely proves to be successful or accurate.
When we tell ourselves we can’t eat certain foods because it is inherently bad, it’s like saying, “it’s not my decision to eat copious amounts of food that’s making me overweight, it’s that damn food itself. I’ll just never look at it or touch it again”.
Well, shit. We’re running out of foods to eat.
What we should really be looking at is how much of these foods we’re eating and understand that it’s not the food itself that makes us overweight, but the amount we eat on a regular basis that is responsible. It’s our choices that cause us to gain weight.
Naturally, as a disclaimer, I need to mention that some, not all people are genetically prone towards being bigger. However, the majority of people just eat too much and don’t exercise.
Put it this way:
If you, at your current body weight, are set to consume 2000 calories per day and don’t currently exercise, but you were taking in closer to 3000-3500 per day, would it not make sense that those calories have to go somewhere? If not to building muscle through exercise or helping maintain proper bodily function, then where?
Naturally, if energy is taken in, but not used, it is then stored – as more body fat.
That being said, there are some simple ways to manage your lifestyle habits to minimize the effects of it on your body.
Eat Protein With Every Meal
The high majority of people walking in the gym are not eating anywhere near enough protein in the daily meals.
Their daily meals tend to consist of high carb, high fat, and minimal protein. And again. carbs and fats are not responsible for making you gain body fat – they’re just part of the overall equation.
By increasing the amount of protein consumed per day (replacing other foods with protein, not adding it on top of what’s already being eaten), the majority of people will start to eat less, simply from feeling fuller longer. Protein has a high satiation rate, meaning you don’t feel as hungry as quickly post-meal as you would with a high carbs/ high fat content, this is especially important if you are working out. You burn more calories from working out, break down more muscle tissue, and produce more muscle damage on the body; in return, you’ll need more protein to support the muscle mass you have or are trying to build.
The average recommendation ranges from 0.8-2.0g per kg of body weight. The higher end being for people who are building more muscle mass and need a higher intake to facilitate the process. So, without tracking calories, you can try this:
Take your hand (hey, don’t slap me, I’m just passing on the information) and add roughly the size of your palm or slightly larger into your daily meals.
Have protein with every meal and snack. The snack doesn’t necessarily need to be as much as the meal, but a small portion should suffice.
Example protein snack:
A cup of yogurt (Greek or otherwise) mixed with protein powder and fruit
A Small salad with chicken or some kind of meat, mixed nuts/beans, etc.
Have More Vegetables
Everyone can stand to listen to their mama once in awhile. Eat your vegetables.
Why is this important? Other than the vast amount of micro-nutrients available in vegetables, it’s also a way to help you consume less calorie dense food. It’s also a great way to increase the amount of nutrient dense food you eat.
Eating mostly nutrient dense food is one of the most common recommendations from high level fitness professionals and nutritionists specializing in body composition changes. Aim to have a couple different kinds of vegetables with every meal.
A great way to simplify this is to buy frozen bags of mixed veggies and just heat them up with your meals.
Manage Your Life Better
We live in the 21st century where everyone is stressed all the time – myself included. Being stressed constantly isn’t good for anyone. So much cortisol in the system.
Oh, cortisol. How everyone hates you. Although it is helpful in certain circumstances, being stressed out daily is not at all.
When you’re stressed out, you lose focus. Everything becomes less enjoyable. The desire to eat well, exercise, and take care of your body in general dissipates. Learning how to manage that stress can be the difference between you going home to eat 6 double cheeseburgers and going home and having a decent meal full of nutrient dense food.
School, work, people, and finances are among the most common things you’ll find people complaining about. In certain circumstances, it’s admissible. In others, you just want to slap a person for not doing anything about it. There are many ways to go about handling stress, I’ll list three here.
Regular exercise helps promote more serotonin and dopamine release into the bloodstream causing you to relax and feel happier. Never has a person who had a solid workout walked out of the gym complaining of feeling like crap, unless they didn’t eat (in which case, it probably wasn’t a solid workout).
Regular exercise may look different for each person. For some, hitting the gym two to three times per week would pretty much cut it. For some, going to the gym once or twice would be sufficient.
Go to Bed at the Same Time
Consistent sleep helps regulate your hormones production and release. Your body also does the majority of its repairing process during REM sleep, which typically occurs a couple times during your sleep cycle. If you only sleep 4-5 hours per night, it’s highly unlikely you are getting a enough recovery from your workouts.
Set a bedtime -- a realistic one that you can commit to. This should help you regulate the amount of recovery you get after your workouts. In turn, it will promote more muscle gain, making your metabolism more efficient, causing you to lose more body fat or at least maintain more muscle.
Take a Break Once in Awhile
Yup. You heard that right. Never sitting down and enjoying your life is one of biggest causes of stress you can find. We get too caught up trying to do everything in a short amount of time. Don’t forget, you only have 24 hours in a day. Only about 70-90 years. Take a day off once in awhile. Enjoy life for what you have, you may be surprised at how much a good day will make you want to start taking care of yourself again.
Eating well might come a little more naturally simply for the fact that you’ll want to live longer.
Not everything that gets you lean happens in the gym. What you do outside the gym matters as much, if not more. You will spend on average between 1-5 a week working out. This leaves with 163-167 hours to do your body some good. Focus on creating sustainable lifestyle habits. Ultimately, these are the things that make or break your ability to attain and maintain a lean lifestyle.
James Harris is the founder of Titanium Strength Systems, as well as the head writer and coach. He trains online and in person in Chilliwack, BC. You can find his writing around the internet on websites such as Muscle & Strength, The PTDC, Fitness Pollenator, PTBIZ, and Deansomerset.com.
You can find out more about James by clicking on his image.