Why You Don't Have to Count Calories to Lose Weight. Here's How...

So, we understand that energy balance is the key to weight loss. If that last sentence makes no sense then please read the THIS article first.

With that understood, it is easy to understand why the number of calories we consume on both a short- and long-term basis is absolutely crucial to losing weight.

By far the easiest way to ensure you are consuming the right number of calories is to track your calorie intake (at least for a period of time). However, many people struggle to do this. So, what can you do if you struggle to track your calorie intake but you want to ensure you don't over-consume on calories? Read on to find out....


1) Eat Slowly and Avoid Distractions: Eating slowly and taking time to chew your food properly will help you break down the food you are eating, making digestion easier and ensuring you can absorb as many nutrients from the food as possible. Eating slowly will also reduce the chance of you overeating as your stomach will sense it is becoming full, sending a signal to the brain to reduce ghrelin and thereby reduce hunger signals. However, if you eat too quickly you may have already eaten too much before receiving this signal.
Eating while distracted is another way we may over-eat. As a result try to keep distractions to a minimum when eating and ensure you are mindful of the food you are consuming.

Tips to Slow Eating:

  • Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls.
  • Chew each mouthful at least 25 times
  • Switch off the TV or Laptop when eating

2) Drink Plenty of water & Stay Well Hydrated: Water is extremely helpful to the fat loss process and should be your main source of liquid throughout the day. Giving guidelines on exactly how much you should be consuming is difficult, as everyone will need differing amounts according to body size, activity levels, climate etc. However, a good rule of thumb is to ensure that your urine always runs a very pale colour. This is a good sign that you are staying well hydrated. 

Tips to ensure you drink enough water:

  • Keep a bottle with you as much as possible: Keep one on your desk at work, in the car, in the fridge at home etc.
  • If travelling a lot then try to keep a bottle with you in a bag
  • Set a reminder on your phone/computer every 30 mins to drink a glass of water

3) Pay Attention to the Satiety Index: The Satiety Index was developed by Holt et al (1995) as a means of categorising foods according to how satiating they are. In this sense, when on a diet, the key is to try and eat foods that keep you feeling satiated the most, which will prevent you from becoming too hungry and over-eating or grabbing less optimal foods. So according to Holt et al (1995), the following foods can be considered highly satiating: -

-White Potato
-Sweet Potato
-Cottage Cheese/Quark
-Dark green vegetables

Other properties that make food more satiating are:

  • Protein Content
  • Fibre content
  • High volume 
  • Viscosity (how solid the food is) - the more solid the more satiating

4) Avoid Liquid Calories: As we as seen from above, the more solid the food, the more satiating (filling) it is. Therefore, drinking calories in the form of juices, smoothies, soft drinks and shakes is probably not going to be conducive to staving off hunger and keeping calories down.

Tips to avoid drinking your calories:


  • Ditch your post-workout shake for easy digesting whole food proteins (white meat/fish)
  • Swap your latte for a long black
  • Swap fruit juices for whole fruits
  • Minimise alcohol intake 

5) Avoid 'Trigger' Foods: Everyone has 'Trigger foods' - you know, those foods that you literally can't help but overeat on. As the Pringles ad goes, "Once you pop, you just can't stop!". Have a think - if arriving at a buffet, which foods seemingly have an unstoppable gravitational pull?! For some people it is salty food (e.g. chips). For others it is something sweet (lollies, ice cream etc). Other people go for foods higher in fat (peanut butter). So, the key thing is to identify these foods and ensure you restrict access to them. Don't keep them in your kitchen. Don't order these foods at restaurants. If trying to eat intuitively, DO NOT GO TO BUFFET's! Avoiding too much variety in one meal is key (see next point).

6) Keep Meals Simple & Avoid Too Much Variety: Ever heard of having a 'second stomach'? It appears after a really nice meal out at your favourite restaurant when you seemingly feel completely satisfied. You couldn't even polish off all your potatoes. Then the waiter saunters over with the desert menu and suddenly you can spare room for white chocolate and honeycomb parfait, or Tiramisu, or gelato. Why is that? Well it is a little known phenomenon known as sensory specific appetite. Basically this means that you don't just have 1 appetite; you have 5. These appetites cover the 5 main tastes: salty (salt), sweet (sugar), bitter (coffee), sour (lemon) and umami (walnut). The more variety of foods and flavours available, the more you will eat. So once again, the advice would be - DON'T GO TO BUFFET's!

So there are many benefits to dieting without counting calories, including: -

  • It is far more sustainable in the long term (no one wants to be tracking calories forever)
  • It is far less stressful
  • It makes eating out socially much easier

However, it does come with the caveat that it is far easier to eat intuitively having tracked calories previously. Tracking gives you a greater awareness of the calorie content of the foods you commonly eat, plus a greater understanding of what your portion size should be. So my advice would be this:

Set aside a couple of weeks to track intake. Gain an understanding of how much you need to eat to lose weight (or maintain weight). Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. Which satisfy hunger better than others. Then, armed with this information continue to eat intuitively, without the stress of having to get your phone out and track every almond you eat. Every couple of months, spend a week or so tracking calories again to ensure you are on track with your intake. If you are finding progress is hard to come by, spend time counting calories again in order to establish how many calories you need to be consuming for your goal.

Jim's stress levels and blood pressure rise to uncontrollable levels after he realised he hadn't tracked his rice cakes!

Jim's stress levels and blood pressure rise to uncontrollable levels after he realised he hadn't tracked his rice cakes!