Losing weight (body fat) ultimately comes down to one thing. You need to eat fewer calories than you burn. It's science (physics), and you just can't get around it, no matter how much we would all like to.
Exercise alone (or maybe at all) isn't going to cut it. Exercise burns at best a few hundred calories an hour, and that is very dependent on your physiology. You can't out-exercise overeating. I know, I've tried.
On the flip side, you might be surprised how easily you can cut a thousand calories out of your eating a day with just a few small changes to your diet.
And it doesn't mean you have to starve yourself, or never eat the foods you enjoy. Here are 5 ways you can control your appetite, make smart food choices, and eat fewer calories.
1) Count calories for two weeks
It's about awareness. We are really good at telling ourselves we aren't eating too much, but we are rarely willing to back up that claim. The simplest way to create awareness is to do the work of tracking your calories, and the good news is you don't have to do it forever. The good news is once you create awareness and start making better food choices, you probably won't have to.
I suggest buckling down and tracking everything you eat for two weeks using an app like MyFitnessPal or FatSecret. Be honest, and track everything, food and drink. You are going to have to weigh and measure the food, which takes a little getting used to. The other thing that tracking helps me do? Simplify. It's a lot easier to enter 6oz of steak or chicken into a calorie tracker than a complicated recipe.
If this sounds like too much of a hassle, we can "goldilocks" this habit and make it easier. Simply carry a little notebook and write down every food you eat and every thing you drink. For some of us, this creates all the awareness we need. If your log has primarily eggs, lots of veggies, chicken and fish, you know you are on the right track. If it is mostly bagels, cereal, and pasta washed down with coke or a latte, you know that too. Just the habit of writing it down can help us make better choices. Ask yourself the question: Would I show this list to my coach or nutritionist? 🙂
2) Create a crowd
I don't like crowds. But when it comes to controlling our appetites, crowds are our friend. Huh?
You have probably heard that "a calorie is a calorie", and in terms of energy content that is true. But when it comes to a foods ability to help you feel full, that's baloney. You know it to be true - 100 calories of broccoli (over 3 cups!) fills you up way more than that 100 calorie pack of cookies or crackers, or even 100 calories of a better choice, like almonds are walnuts.
The broccoli creates a crowd in your stomach; more volume of food means less room for other food. It's magical! Use your MyFitnessPal app or a tool like the SELF Nutrition Database to get an idea of the nutritional content of the foods you love. I'll bet you'll find that you already make some good choices - eat more of those!
Once you figured out those "fuller foods", a good strategy is to eat those first. Filling up on veggies, lean meats and healthy fats creates that "crowd control" we are looking for, and you will automatically eat less.
3) Exercise for your health, not to burn calories
While it might seem that exercising more is just going to make you hungrier to compensate, that is not necessarily the case. This article explores many of those factors, and many studies show the opposite to be true. Learning to refuel your body appropriately after exercise is crucial; you don't want to train and then not eat for hours and hours.
Mindset is key here. Viewing food as a reward for exercise is counterproductive. I have done it, and it's just plain a bad strategy. Exercise for the health benefits, not so you can have another donut.
4) Hack your food prep
Even those of us who enjoy cooking don't always make/find/have the time to spend in the kitchen. If you do, that is awesome - so enjoy!
The good news for the rest of us is we don't have to. Getting in the habit of cooking in bulk, twice a week, is a tremendous help. It's just as easy to grill or roast 5 or 6 chicken breasts as it is two. Roasting veggies and Chicken-in-a-Crockpot are two of my "go-to's" when time is tight.
Another favorite "hack" of mine is to spice it up! There is a whole wide world of flavors open for those brave souls who use more than just salt and pepper. Coriander, Cardamom, Cloves, Cumin. And those are just some of the "C's". Be bold and experiment, it's a lot of fun.
5) Go to bed
When I don't get enough sleep I find it much harder to control my appetite, and I found out at least one reason. Turns out when you don't get enough sleep your body produces endocannabinoids - you literally can get the munchies.
But even when your appetite doesn't increase, your willpower and decision-making abilities are affected by lack of sleep. Less sleep = more bad food choices. For me that tends to lead to overeating. I can turn a handful of nuts into half a pound of nuts pretty fast.
Human beings need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to perform at their best, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have seen people exercise religiously and make positive changes to their nutrition and still have trouble dropping the weight. Sleep made the difference.
Less Calories = Less Fat
Fat Loss is simple - you just have to eat fewer calories than you burn. But that doesn't mean it's easy, far from it. The good news is that you don't have to follow a specific diet plan or food restrictions to lose weight. There is no one-size-fits all, but you do have to put in the work to discover what works best for you.
If you are having trouble nailing down your diet and you want to make real progress this year, use these 5 tips to help you get dialed in. And as always, we are here to help.