The Essential Guide To Losing Weight Without Counting Calories In 2021 & Beyond.
By: Zack Mathews
If you are the person who can relate to any of the points below, you will do great learning how to lose weight without counting calories.
- You’ve jumped from diet to diet in the past without being able to maintain results for a long period of time.
- Losing weight through a healthy, balanced approach to eating interests you.
- You are not looking for a quick fix.
- Taking the stress out of eating will help improve your life.
Can you relate to any of those?
Many of my past clients had similar feelings and were able to get results. Here are a few of them that were able to lose weight without counting calories.
In this article, you will learn…
- What is a calorie deficit?
- Why you want FAT loss instead of WEIGHT loss.
- Why calorie counting might be a good place to start.
- How to track progress for better results.
- The best meal templates to follow.
- On the go meals that will fit your plan.
- How to have cheat meals that won't affect progress.
- Fine tuning the process to fit your life.
- Build your grocery list and take action now!
Before we get into the bread and butter of the information you are after, you need a strong understanding of energy balance and how it relates to your goal.
The common denominator between all diets and losing weight is that you have to be in a calorie deficit.
Let’s discuss what that means.
We will use an example with our friend Beth.
As you can see, Beth ate 2000 calories, which happens to be the same amount of calories that she burns in a given day from exercise, walking, eating, breathing, everything! Because she ate the exact same amount of calories as she burned, this is called calorie maintenance.
Everyone's calorie maintenance will be different. For some it might be 1500, while others might be able to eat 3000.
When you are in calorie maintenance, your weight will stay the exact same.
If you are reading this article, chances are that you’ve gained some weight that you are trying to get rid of. This could have come recently over the past few months, or maybe you’ve been putting on weight for years.
Regardless of how long you have been gaining weight for, you didn’t gain the weight because of…
- eating too many carbs.
- having big meals at night.
- skipping breakfast.
- your metabolism.
The reason you have been gaining weight is because you have been eating in a calorie surplus.
Beth has consistently been eating 500 calories over her maintenance calories so her body will have to store those extra calories. If she has not been working out and lifting weights, those calories are going to be stored as fat.
When you eat over your calorie maintenance and the scale moves up, it’s because you are in a calorie surplus.
Now we can flip the script and get into the area that you want to be in to lose weight.
A calorie deficit.
Beth eats less than her calorie maintenance, on average around 300 calories in this example, so her body needs to find the extra energy (calories) it needs by taking from her body’s energy reserves.
When it pulls from your body’s energy reserve, in the form of fat or muscle, the scale goes down!
Why is this so important?
Since you are not counting your calories, it’s important to be very aware of your weight and how your body is responding to the food you are giving it.
If over a period of time you are not losing weight, what does that mean?
Yup! It means you aren’t in a calorie deficit.
You will need to take an audit of what you have been eating to see where you might be going wrong.
Always remember if you are gaining weight, you are in a calorie surplus, and if you are losing weight, you have made it into a calorie deficit.
If you noticed in the description of the different energy balances above, I mentioned that excess calories can be stored as fat or muscle in a calorie surplus and when you are in a deficit, your body will pull from excess fat or muscle to make up for what it needs.
This is important to understand because when you are trying to lose weight, you are actually trying to lose fat. If you lose weight, that can be in the form or fat, water, and/or muscle.
Why would you want to lose muscle?!
That’s the good stuff that will give your body definition and speed up your metabolism so you can eat more!
There are two things you need to be doing in order to make sure that you lose fat and not muscle when you are eating in a calorie deficit and that is to follow a well structured strength training program where you will lift weights 2-4 times a week, and that you eat enough protein.
When you lock down those two points above, your body will prioritize fat over muscle, and that is a great place to be at.
We’re inching closer to your program design for how to lose weight without counting calories, but first, you should be able to explain these terms and understand how they will affect your progress.
- Calorie deficit
- Calorie surplus
- Maintenance calories
- How to lose fat and not muscle
- Why you want to lose fat and not muscle
Got all those down?
Good. Let’s continue on.
Yes I know this article is all about how to lose weight WITHOUT counting calories, but I want to be transparent with how I coach my clients and that involves some of them calorie counting.
It’s not necessary but if you are new to the world of nutrition and understanding food, I would highly recommend you start by tracking calories for 2 - 4 weeks.
After an initial questionnaire my online clients fill out, I decide how long I want them to start tracking and it usually falls within that 2 - 4 week range.
Calorie counting at some point in time is extremely beneficial because it will open your eyes to learning the different macronutrient (proteins, carbs, and fats) profile of your favorite foods. You will learn what the actual serving size looks like and see how big of a difference the calories can be from eating processed foods vs. minimally processed foods.
I encourage my clients to eat the normal foods they love so they can see what that pizza and wine night looks like or how many calories those little snacks add up to throughout the day.
Again, it’s not something you have to do, but if you would like to learn more about calorie counting, I wrote a guide called Macros For Weight Loss that you can check out or download the ebook version.
Data is important.
And when you are not tracking your calories, you are losing out on a beneficial piece of data.
Because of that, it’s important to have other tracking measures in place to see how your body is responding to the food you consume and your workouts.
Use these 3 tracking guidelines and make sure to be consistent with them.
Daily Weigh Ins
I have all of my clients weigh themselves everyday and enter their information into a shared Google Drive document.
If the thought of having to weigh yourself everyday stresses you out, that’s ok.
It does for a lot of people.
But know this.
Your scale weight is just a form of data you are collecting. It has nothing to do with who you are as a person and should not dictate your mood.
So work on a mindset shift of weighing yourself, accepting the number for what it is, and going about your day.
The point of the daily weigh ins is to look at the big picture of the trend of your weight.
Your weight is not going to go down every single day. You will see fluctuations day to day because of…
- You had a lot of salt the day before.
- Digestion is off and maybe you have not gone poop.
- More carbs the day before might make you hold onto more water weight.
- That time of the month if you are a female.
Take a look at what could happen if you do weekly weigh ins vs daily.
Would you rather see a 0.5 pound increase or a more accurate number of 0.6 pounds lost?
And that’s why you weigh yourself everyday!
When you begin losing weight without calorie counting, hopefully you are pairing it with some form of weight lifting in the gym.
When you pair those two together, you will get that lean, toned, defined look that most of us are after.
During some phases of your journey, it is totally possible that you will lose fat but also build muscle.
You might be shocked if you go through a period of time where the scale isn’t moving and you are confused as to why.
That’s where measurements come in handy.
Muscle is more dense than fat is, meaning that it takes up less space in your body. You could weigh the exact same one month over another, but look drastically different if you were to lose fat and build muscle.
When you take your body measurements, it’s a great way to see that you are still progressing even if the scale isn’t showing it.
I have my online clients report measurements once a month with the following information:
Neck - Measure the distance all the way around your neck. For men, the adam’s apple is an easy reference point. For women, measure in the middle and do your best to be consistent.
Chest - Lift up your arms, wrap the tape measure around your chest, crossing the nipples is a good spot, and then lower your arms.
Stomach - Measure the distance all the way around your stomach. Make sure to measure the same place every time so use your belly button as a point of reference.
Quadriceps - Measure the distance all the away around the largest part of your quad. Make sure to measure the same place every time.
Glutes- Measure the distance all the way around the largest part of your glutes.
Bicep - Flex your bicep and measure the distance around. Only one arm is needed, but be consistent with measuring that same arm.
Go grab that measuring tape and take those initial numbers!
My favorite way to track progress is by taking pictures.
Similar to measurements, progress pictures paint a good picture of what is going on with your body in relation to fat loss and/or muscle gain.
There’s nothing better than seeing a picture of yourself from 6 months ago and seeing amazing progress!
Follow these instructions for how to take your progress photos:
- Stand against a bare wall wearing shorts (men) or a swimsuit (women) that do not cover your knees and does show your midsection. Workout shorts and/or sports bra, are also acceptable for your pictures.
- Set up your camera about 5-7 feet away so it can capture your whole body from head to toe. If you don’t want your face in the pictures, simply crop it out during the editing process.
- Make sure the room is well lit. You may need to use the flash.
- Make sure to take the pictures in the same spot and around the same time of day. Sunlight at different times of day can change the pictures.
- Take four full body photos. 1 of your front, back, left side, and right side.
- If you don’t have someone to take the photos for you, record a video of yourself standing in those four positions for 5 seconds each, and then screenshot each side and you have your 4 photos!
Body Fat Test
I am not a huge fan of body fat testing, so this is not something that would be regularly checked.
Using a hand held device can be widely inaccurate. Studies have shown that body fat testers, such as the hand held ones or from your scale, can be off by 7%. You can throw off the readings just by drinking more or less water, or using it at different times of the day.
Measurements and progress pictures are much better indicators of your progress, so we will stick with those.
If you do want an accurate body fat test from time to time, you can get a professional test done. Two great ones are Inbody or a Dexa scan. They run 40-60 dollars but will give pretty accurate numbers of your body.
Important note: If you think you do want to do a Inbody or Dexa scan, do it before you start training so you can get your initial body fat test.
Time to get into the meat and potatoes!
Mmmm that sounds good, and that’s a healthy meal. Add in some vegetables and you got yourself a balanced plate.
If you were looking for a meal plan, i’m sorry but that is not what you are going to get.
Having someone tell you how to eat is setting yourself up for failure in the future. Do you really think you are going to follow the same meal plan for the rest of your life?
I doubt it.
Instead, I want you to learn how to build your plates to nourish your body, keep you full, and help you get results.
There are so many variations of how we like to eat and you need to find what fits with your lifestyle.
Are you always on the go early in the morning and don’t have time for breakfast? Well then the template that includes a breakfast might not be for you.
There is no WRONG way to eat.
Whatever you can be consistent with and will keep you in a calorie deficit in the best way to lose weight without calorie counting.
The 4 best plate designs to lose weight without counting calories
What is the common trend between all 4 of these plate designs?
They focus on protein and vegetables.
When you are on your fat loss journey, one of the biggest obstacles you will have to overcome is the feeling of hunger. Constantly feeling hungry can eventually lead to a binge and all progress will be lost.
Consuming a diet that is high in protein and vegetables is the best way to combat that. Protein keeps you more full than the other macronutrients and vegetables are a great way to add volume to your meals without a lot of calories.
What Do The Serving Sizes Look Like?
A general rule of thumb would be to base your meals around these servings sizes.
1 - 2 servings of protein : Good sources are red meats, chicken, fish, eggs, greek yogurt, cottage cheese. Look at the size of your palm and that will indicate 1 serving. An alternative would be to measure out 4 - 8 ounces of protein.
1 - 2 servings or greens (Vegetables and/or fruits): Make a fist and that will be equivalent to one serving of produce or measure out 1 cup. If you are going to do 2 servings, I would recommend making at least one a vegetable.
1 serving of fats: Cook your vegetables in a tablespoon of olive oil, avocado oil, or grass fed butter. Another options would be to have a thumb sized portion of peanut butter or nuts, or a 1/4 of an avocado instead of cooking your vegetables with the oils or butter.
1 serving of starch: A fist or cup of oats, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, brown or white rice, a slice or two of sprouted grain bread. Your starch should equal approximately 25 - 50 grams.
What are my snack choices?
We all love snacks. I sure do. Where are my Hot Cheeto's fan?! Unfortunately for you, those won't work. When it comes to snacks, make sure it can fit in the palm of your hand and it is either a protein, fruit, or vegetable.
Some great snacks will include:
- Protein shake (powder or a premixed shake)
- Hard boiled eggs
- Beef jerky
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Any fruit
- Any vegetable
Why are fats not included in the templates?
Fats are tricky when it comes to meal templates and is worth discussing deeper.
Fats are a necessary part of your diet and good fats are great to help balance hormones and help keep you full.
When you consume fats, it is easy for them to add up in calories. 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories, while 1 gram of proteins and carbs is equal to 4 calories.
Check the fat content on different types of meat you are consuming. If you are consuming a protein that is high in fat such as salmon or a fatty steak, you can count that as your serving of fat and skip it somewhere else.
In general, feel free to add a serving of fat into your meals if you want, but also be aware of other places that you might be getting fat calories.
Now that you understand how fats work with your meals, let’s look at some of the most common meal templates my online clients have had success with.
Meal Style #1 - Lower Carb Approach
3 meals of protein & produce, protein and greens, or high protein and produce
1 protein snack a day
Why is this a good plan?
This is a great plan because it provides sustainable energy throughout the day. It will also help to keep you full and minimize snacking if you get enough protein and vegetables in.
Who is this ideal for?
This is a great start for someone who is over weight, not carb tolerant, does limited exercise or is new to exercise.
What’s an example day of eating look like on this plan?
Meal 1: 2 eggs, 4 egg white scramble with spinach, onion, peppers, and mushrooms. An apple on the side
Meal 2: A big salad of romaine lettuce with 8 oz of chicken breast, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, broccoli, garbanzo beans, and a vinaigrette dressing.
Post workout shake mixed with almond milk.
Meal 3: Stir Fry with 4 - 8 oz of ground turkey mixed with cauliflower rice, carrots, peas, and green beans. A bowl of mixed berries on the side.
Meal Style #2 - Skip A Meal, Add Snacks
2 meals of protein & produce, protein and greens, or high protein and produce
2 daily snacks with 1 being high in protein (20+ grams)
Why is this a good plan?
This plan can help you feel more satisfied since you are getting two snacks throughout the day. We grew up in a culture that made snacking throughout the day normal and it is hard sometimes to give that up. This plan is also great for the person that doesn't care for eating breakfast or is busy throughout the day and misses lunch.
Who is this ideal for?
Perfect for the person who is overweight, not carb tolerant, limited or no exercise, likes to snack.
What’s an example day of eating look like on this plan?
Snack #1 - protein shake and a banana
Meal #1 - Salmon with a side of broccoli and strawberries.
Snack #2 - Carrots and celery dipped in hummus.
Meal #2 - Steak with asparagus cooked in olive oil. A side salad included.
Meal Style #3 - Balanced Approach
3 meals of whichever plate you feel like having.
1 - 2 daily snacks with 1 being high in protein.
Why is this a good plan?
This is the plan that most people will find works for them long term because of the balance of protein, carbs, and vegetables on the plate.
As I keep saying, find what works for you. If you want
Who is this ideal for?
This plan is great for people that want more variety with their meals, don’t do well with lower carb, or have intense workouts and need the extra carbs.
What’s an example day of eating look like on this plan?
Meal #1 - 3 fried eggs, half cup oatmeal with blueberries.
Meal #2 - A big salad of romaine lettuce with 8 oz of chicken breast, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, broccoli, garbanzo beans, and a vinaigrette dressing. You can add whatever vegetables you like!
Meal #3- Lean ground beef with 1 serving whole wheat pasta and tomato sauce. A big side of frozen vegetables.
Meal #1 - Ground turkey, white rice, steamed broccoli.
Snack #1 - Orange
Snack #2 - Beef jerky, cucumbers and hummus
Meal #2 - Steak, baked potato, Brussel sprouts.
As you can see from these meals, they are simple and require minimal ingredients. When you start focusing on minimally processed foods, your calorie consumption will decrease and you will get results.
Late Night Treats
I don’t know about you, but I love dessert.
Especially ice cream. Which is why I probably worked at Dairy Queen during High School.
We’ve learned that in order to lose fat you need to be in a calorie deficit and you want to keep your protein intake high.
If you are eating clean, putting the work in with your exercise, and getting through your long, stressful days, I believe it is ok to reward yourself with a sweet treat at night.
Replacing one of your snack with a night treat is totally fine.
Some great options would be:
-A cup of frozen or fresh berries with whip cream
-A frozen banana with 1 serving of peanut butter
-Low calorie ice cream (Halo Top, Enlightened)
Be smart with these treats. Eat enough to take the edge off, enjoy it, and try not to ruin all your progress during the day with your treat at night.
We both know that it’s hard to cook every meal at home.
There are going to be times when life gets busy and you have to grab something when you are out and about.
This doesn’t mean to go grab a burger and milkshake, although if it kept you in a calorie deficit it would be fine.
It’s about finding quick, on the go meals that align with your goals and would be similar to something you would eat at home.
And what’s the bulk of our meals look like?
Yup, look for ways that you can load up on vegetables and protein.
Here are some great on the go meals that are similar to your eating styles discussed above.
- Chipotle - Naked salad: 1 - 2 servings of meat, lettuce, fajitas, guacamole, all salsas, small amount of sour cream. For some extra calories, rice and beans can also be added.
- Jimmy John’s - Unwich: Order your sandwich unwich style to swap the bread out with a lettuce wrap! Feel free to add the whole wheat bread if you are looking for meals with carbs.
- Chick Fil A - 1 -2 servings of grilled nuggets with a side superfoods salad. Be careful with sauces. Zesty buffalo is one of the best, low calorie options. A grilled chicken sandwich would also be a great choice!
Yup, that's me on plate #2 at Michie's Tavern.
You’ve been working hard and are craving something you haven't had for awhile.
Maybe it’s pizza or maybe it’s a burrito with an ice cold beer.
Whatever it is, it’s ok to occasionally have these meals and still get results!
The problems arise when that meal turns into a cheat day.
That cheat day turns into a cheat weekend.
That cheat weekend turns into a cheat week.
That week into a month.
And before you know it, you’ve lost all progress.
Here are some guidelines that will be helpful with your cheat meals:
For the first 2 - 4 weeks of trying this new eating style, I recommend to not have a cheat day.
It’s important to get the ball rolling and start noticing some body changes, all while realizing that you don’t actually need those bad foods that many people eat on the regular.
How many times you cheat is up to you.
If you are overweight 1 time a week or every two weeks is a good starting point.
Use those meals as a reward for the hard work you are putting in in the gym.
If you have more muscle mass or are looking to build muscle, you might be able to get 1 - 2 cheats in a week.
How to be smart with your cheats:
- Always get a workout in the day of your cheat.
- Don’t go to your meal starving. Have a protein shake an hour before to prevent binging.
- Have protein and vegetables/fruits in mind. If you can have an appetizer that’s a vegetable or a side of fruit with your breakfast, those are win’s.
- Always get right back on track with your next meals. Don’t let the cheat meal turn into a cheat day or a cheat weekend. That’s an easy way to ruin all your progress.
Since you are not calorie counting, you want to stay fairly consistent with your meal choices and make adjustments week over week if needed.
For example, say you are not losing weight after 3 - 4 weeks.
Some adjusts you can make would be to:
- Eliminate some of the fat you might be adding with oils, butters, and nut butters in your meals.
- Double up on veggies and lower your fruit if you are doing protein and produce.
- Take a hard look at your cheat meals and see if you are eating too many calories or having them too often.
- Eliminate your nightly treat on some days.
Final Thoughts On How To Lose Weight Without Counting Calories
Eating this way to lose weight without calorie counting takes time to learn. Because it’s not a strict “eat this!” plan or telling you the exact macros you need to hit each day, you have time to learn what your body likes.
You have your whole life ahead of you, so if you need to start slowly and do 1 meal like the plates above, do it!
If you can jump right in and change everything, that’s great too!
There’s no wrong way to go about it, just know that you will get results based on how much effort you put into it.
If you need any help, I am here for you and want you to succeed!
Leave a comment or reach out if you need me at ZackMathews@VBAFitness.com
Now I want you to get rolling and pick out your favorite foods for each category. From that, you just created a grocery list and you can start shopping and building meals. Mix and match your ingredients and add low calorie seasonings to keep things interesting and delicious!