|Hate to count Calories? Me too!|
Learn how to trim them another way.
[Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something after using one of those links, I might receive a small financial compensation, at no cost to you.]
Do you hate counting calories?
Tracking macros isn't my thing anymore, but I still have to watch my calories. Is there an easier way to trim the fat from your diet? Yes! And this post will show you how!
The Atkins Diet doesn't require you to count calories, but "for weight loss purposes," Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. (ANA) -- the marketing company that purchased the Atkins name after Dr. Atkins died -- does recommend you aim for a healthy range of calories.
The ANA defines a healthy range as:
- Women: 1,500 to 1,800 calories
- Men: 1,800 to 2,200 calories
While 1,500 calories a day is higher than a standard 1,200 calorie low-fat diet, the ANA justifies the overindulgence by claiming there is a metabolic advantage to restricting carbs.
The inference is that as you approach goal, and move into Phases 3 and 4, you'll be able to add more carbs, and therefore more calories, to your menus.
Dr. Eades, one of the authors of the Protein Power Life Plan (PPLP), has said that the average low-carb dieter will naturally eat about 1,500 calories once they go into ketosis and their appetite normalizes.
In the PPLP model, you slightly cut back on protein as your weight goes down, which would lower the calories you're eating, but not by more than maybe 100 a day.
|As weight goes down, protein goes down too,|
but your carb allowance goes up to 55 net carbs.
(For those who might be wondering about the toast in the above photo, on the Protein Power Life Plan, low-calorie toast is allowed within your carbohydrate allowance. There are no illegal foods on the PPLP.)
Dr. Phinney, on the other hand, talks about similar figures for beginning dieters, about 1600 calories for Phase 1.
For his LCHF Diet (sometimes called Nutritional Ketosis), you add about 10 carbs as you move into Stage 2, and then another 10 for Stage 3. These carbs only add about 40 to 80 calories, but as you move through the plan's stages, you increase your fat calories, as well.
Like most low-carb diets, there is no calorie counting.
Dr. Phinney believes you'll automatically gravitate to the correct number of calories you need for each stage of the diet. This attitude assumes that you're using the diet mindset to consciously limit your food intake.
As you grow more accustomed to low-carb eating and become fat adapted, your overall calories will go up substantially because you won't be as mindful as you were in the beginning.
In Phinney's diet model, your fat calories continue to rise until they balance your energy output. This occurs at stage 4.
Looking at these low-carb plans, you'd think that calories are a non-issue, just like the low-carb marketing literature claims.
Except that -- NONE of these perspectives and projected outcomes coincide with what real-world low-carb maintainers have shared about their lives. Neither do these projections match my own weight-loss experiences.
What's Wrong With These Low-Carb Ideas?
At some point, most of the maintainers I've interacted with, discovered that they had to deliberately trim the calorie content of their diet as they got closer and closer to goal weight, with many people having to give up some of their favorite low-carb foods to achieve the desired outcome.
However, this essential chore doesn't mean you have to count each and every calorie you put into your mouth. The math works on paper, but not so well inside the body because calorie counting doesn't take adaption into the formula.
A lot of low-carb dieters do decide to count calories, carefully weighing and measuring every single bite, but many people do not find the job enjoyable. I know, I don't. I hate counting calories! I got so sick and tired of doing it, that I stopped and found a better way.
If you hate counting calories, you don't have to grin and bear it. You'll just end up hating low carb and probably go rogue, eventually.
What's essential to manage your weight is simply to cut back on fat. Since your protein needs remain stable and your carbohydrates are fine-tuned to match your tolerance level, the only macro you have to play with for calories is fat.
Regardless of what most low-carb plans tell you, in my own experience and the real-life experience of many others, it takes fewer calories to trim down those last few pounds and maintain a smaller body, so I'm going to show you 3 easy steps to painlessly trim your calories without having to count them.
But First, Let's Talk About Weight-Loss Goals
If you're like most dieters, you probably set your weight-loss goal using a number on the scale.
Am I right?
You want to weigh what you weighed in high school, or you chose some number you weighed in the past. Maybe, you have some arbitrary number stuck in your head because you believe that's what you're supposed to weigh.
Perhaps, you want to look like someone you admire from television, the movies, or a fashion magazine.
If that's the case, you're really setting yourself up for a fall because fashion models, and often actors and actresses, look like they do because they eat very little. Sometimes, only 500 calories a day!
|Model-thinness isn't a practical aim.|
Most skinny models only eat 500 calories a day
to get and stay that way.
When you run head first into a lengthy stall or plateau, you've reached energy balance. Your body has figured out how to match energy expenditure with whatever you're eating right now, so weight loss has completely stopped.
Maybe, you haven't lost weight in a few weeks or months. And maybe, not even for a year.
You want to get the scales to start moving downward again, but you don't know how. You've been hearing that you need to cut your calorie intake, but the thought of tracking your macros and weighing out every single thing you eat makes you feel ill.
Well, it's time to sit down and re-evaluate your weight loss goal because the truth about low-carb weight loss is this:
If you're very close to your original goal, and have stopped losing weight, you might honestly be done.
Because you have more lean body mass than you realize.
In general, low-carb dieters don't lose as much muscle throughout the dieting process as those who use a low-fat, high-carb diet do. Your size, when you reach target weight, won't conform to what online calculators and charts say you should weigh.
This is because low-fat, high-carb diets, which are low in protein, cause you to lose a high percentage of muscle tissue along with your body fat. Calculators and charts are based on low-fat diets. They are not based on what a low carber will weigh once they become fit and trim.
Low-carb diets are higher in protein than low-fat diets.
Most low-carb diet plans provide 20 to 25 percent of your calories in protein, and therefore, cause you to lose more body fat and less muscle tissue than other diets.
With the advent of Jimmy Moore's tweaked Nutritional Ketosis diet, which continues to be the most popular version of LCHF on the web today, this might not be true for you.
Many women have only been eating 40 to 50 grams of protein a day, and if that's you, then your stall could be from protein deficiency, rather than equilibrium.
In that case, you need to reconsider your plan, before you touch your calories.
If you are eating plenty of protein, and you are sitting on a huge plateau, you might want to reevaluate your original weight-loss goal because it won't be accurate. You can easily weigh more on your bathroom scale than what your size indicates.
For example, at 160 pounds after eating a low-fat diet, I was a normal size 14. At 160 pounds after eating a low-carb diet, I was a size 12 in skinny jeans. Even though the number on the scale was the same, I was much smaller after eating low carb than I was after eating Weight Watchers.
If you have maintained your lean body mass well, the number on the scale will be deceiving. You might be much smaller than you realize because the scale doesn't take muscle mass into account.
It's okay to stop ahead of your original weight-loss goal if you've reached a healthy size, especially if you can effortlessly maintain your current weight.
Moving to a smaller number on the scale means you'll have to make some permanent changes to your diet and exercise habits. Plus, a lower weight might be more of a struggle for you.
Just something to consider.
Calorie Cuts Must be Permanent
Weight loss is an evolutionary process that requires you to make changes, and then make changes again, and again.
What you could eat at the start of your weight-loss journey won't be what you can eat at the midpoint. And what you could eat in the middle of your journey won't be what you can eat at target weight.
Regardless of what the low-carb experts say, calorie needs go DOWN as your body gets smaller.
Whether you want to meet your original goal so you feel good about your accomplishment, or you want to brag about the number on the scale, or you really do have fat left to lose, you need to realize that the cuts you are about to make from your current diet have to be permanent.
|If you choose to switch to soft-boiled eggs now,|
you can't go back to fried eggs after you hit goal weight,
except for an occasional treat.
You can't trim the calories short-term, lose the weight, and then go back to how you are eating right now.
It doesn't work that way.
If you go back, your weight will go back too. How you're eating right now, and the amount of activity you're doing on a weekly basis, is what's maintaining your current weight.
What Size Deficit Do You Need?
If you're very close to goal and only need to shave off 5 or 10 pounds, it will take you longer to do that than you realize. Your maintenance needs are already small, and cutting down further can be quite unpleasant.
For example, if you're eating at 1,200 calories a day already, cutting out 500 calories, to help you lose a pound of body fat per week, will make it almost impossible to get adequate nutrition.
This is the real reason why those last 5 to 10 pounds are so difficult to get off and can be painfully slow to show results. The closer you are to goal, the harder it is to keep a large enough caloric deficit to keep the body fat coming off at an acceptable pace.
Also realize that water fluctuations can mask a small deficit. You might be losing body fat, but the scale won't reflect that due to water retention and fluctuations.
This is why you need to keep your protein intake up.
It's not only to preserve muscle mass, but to avoid the uncomfortable side effects of malnutrition. Water retention and bloating are extremely common when you're protein deficient.
So what's the answer?
If you only have 5 or 10 pounds to lose, choose two or three of the following ideas and go with a more modest calorie deficit. Maybe 250 to 300 calories. It will take a bit longer to carve off the pounds, but you'll be more comfortable.
In my own personal experience, it is possible to get adequate nutrition on 900 to 950 calories a day, but everything you eat must be nutrient-dense and you have to place your protein needs above all other foods, including fats.
If you have more than 10 or 15 pounds to lose, and have reached equilibrium, you'll have more room in your diet for cutting back on fat because your current calorie load will be much higher. In that case, you'll be able to implement several of the following ideas instead of choosing only two or three.
Step 1: Drop Your Carbs to 25 a Day
If you've been eating 35 to 45 carbs a day, or more, go back to the beginning of Phase 2 and limit your carbs to 25 a day. This isn't about saving those 40 to 80 calories, although you do want to count that toward your new 300 to 500 calorie deficit.
Reducing carbs is about putting a huge damper on your hunger, so the fat reduction won't trigger cravings.
If you're already eating at an Induction level of carbs, just stay where you are. This isn't the time to experiment with eating more. Put your focus on busting through your stall.
Step 2: Keep a Diet Journal
|Keep track of everything you eat for at least 2 weeks.|
This will give you a baseline to cut calories.
A diet journal does require you to weigh and measure your foods, but the task is only short term. The idea behind doing this step is to find out what you're already eating, so you can make realistic cuts to your daily fat intake that won't be noticeable.
Unlike a typical diet journal that asks you to record your emotional condition at the time you do the eating, you just need to write down everything you eat in a day.
The idea is to gain an understanding of the number of calories you're eating right now (most people have no idea just how much they're eating) and look for easy ways to trim the fat.
Do this for at least two weeks, and then look over the data and search for painless ways to slash calories. (In Step 3 below, I'm going to give you plenty of ideas to get started with that.)
Guessing at the volume of food you're eating won't work.
If you are not willing to weigh, measure, and record your food intake accurately, so you know how many calories you're eating on a daily basis, then you'll have to skip this step and shoot from the hip. This will only help if you have real-life data.
Step 3: Shave 300 to 500 Calories from Your Diet
Trimming calories is like a reverse calorie diet.
Instead of counting every calorie you're going to put into your mouth, you can look for ways to trim 300 to 500 calories from what you're already eating on a regular basis.
These 10 ideas are things I used myself to trim the fat when I was doing a lower fat Atkins plan.
They all work very well.
If you dropped your carbs, don't forget to count 4 calories for each carb you eliminated.
Keep a running track of the calories saved from adopting a few of the various ideas below, and stop shaving when you've reached the 300 to 500 calories you need to cut.
This isn't about going down to the bone. You don't have to do all of these things. Pick out the ones that will be the least painful for you to try.
#1) NEVER Eat if You're Not Hungry
To trim calories without counting, you have to commit to being mindful at the very least.
Mindful eating habits require you to become aware of what it feels like to be hungry, and to ditch those mindless habits of stuffing your face when you watch TV or surf the web.
Make eating an activity.
Stop what you're doing and give eating your full attention, so that you can saver every single bite. Eat slowly, and really experience your food. Doing this will make you satisfied with less.
#2) Leave Food on Your Plate
I'm not going to tell you to use smaller lunch-sized plates, although I do that today. Cutting down on plate size only works if you have enough self-discipline to make it a rule to never eat seconds.
I rarely go back for more food. A salad-sized paper plate holds plenty for me.
However, a better idea is to leave food on your dinner plate.
While you can certainly just eat enough to be satisfied, and toss the rest away, it's far too easy to lie to yourself about exactly how much food it takes to reach that point of satiety.
If you already know you're going to leave 10 to 25 percent of each thing on your plate behind, there's nothing to argue with or justify.
#3) Choose Leaner Breakfast Meats
|Choose bacon over pork sausage links|
and hard-boiled eggs over scrambled.
Did you know that bacon and ham are lower in calories than pork sausage?
- A brat-sized Italian sausage link is 260 calories.
- Three breakfast-sized sausage links are 170.
- Two little sausage patties are 200 calories.
- 4 ounces bulk sausage is 340 calories.
- 3 slices of well-drained Costco bacon are only 135 calories.
- 3 ounces of lean ham is 123.
Chicken sausage is only 110 calories for a 3 ounce link, so it's a great way to cut down on calories without having to sacrifice volume.
|Some brands and types of sausages are lower|
in fat and calories than others.
In addition, switching from pork sausage to bacon or ham will help you trim your caloric budget without a lot of effort. Your mind will never know the difference. At the very least, choose bacon and eggs, ham and eggs, or chicken sausage more often.
Save the pork sausage for a Sunday morning treat.
#4) How You Cook Your Eggs
How you cook your eggs can really increase your daily calorie total, especially if you've been listening to those on the web who use a tablespoon of butter or oil for each egg.
If you cook your eggs in a non-stick skillet, you can easily get away with cutting the amount of butter or bacon grease you need in half, without sacrificing flavor.
ceramic electric griddle that I use to fry our bacon and eggs. It only takes 1/2 tablespoon of butter to fry 4 eggs that way. Even in a large non-stick skillet it only takes 1 teaspoon to fry 2 eggs.
At 100 calories a tablespoon for butter and 125 calories per tablespoon for oils, cutting down on the amount of butter or oil you use in your cooking can be an easy way to trim back your calories, especially if you go for poaching, soft-boiling, or hard-boiling your eggs instead of frying them.
Hard-boiled eggs dipped in mustard is a super easy way to cut down on the fat. Since eggs are 65% fat by themselves, your body is still getting a hefty dose of fat even without the butter.
This doesn't mean you can't have some egg salad or dip those eggs in a little mayo. But you can certainly be honest about the amount of butter, mayonnaise, and cooking oils you use and start trimming by cutting the amount in half.
#5) Use More Protein Shakes
Protein shakes may, or may not, be low in fat and calories, depending on how you make them. If you're using 1/2 cup of heavy cream, you're packing them with a huge calorie punch. Something like 400 calories, which is in addition to the 120 for the protein powder.
And lots of low carbers call that a snack.
Try cutting down the heavy cream to 1/4 cup instead. I used to use only 2 tablespoons per shake, myself. Sometimes, I used 1/4 cup of canned coconut milk for around 120 calories.
Low-fat cottage cheese is even lower.
Depending on the brand, 1/4 cup of the low-fat variety is only 40 to 50 calories. Once it's blended into the shake, you'll never know the cheese is in there. It will just be thick and creamy.
I'm not going to recommend that you use protein shakes for breakfast every single day. I tried to do the 2 shakes a day thing once and didn't get past 2 or 3 days doing that. It was just too much.
But if you switch out pork sausage for bacon and ham and have a protein shake 2 to 3 times a week, instead of eggs, you can put a nice dent in your calorie trimmings quite easily. The protein in the shake will keep you as full as if you ate a bacon and egg breakfast.
#6) Reduce the Amount of Salad You Eat
Yes, I know that salad is a staple on a low-carb diet.
But, one of the most important things I learned from doing the Kimkins Diet is that a cup of steamed vegetables with 1/2 tablespoon of butter contains fewer calories than a side salad with 2 tablespoons of homemade Thousand Island Dressing.
When you do have salad, toss the dressing with the salad instead of plopping it on top. You'll only need to use half as much. This is how I do it today.
#7) Don't Skimp on Protein
I don't care what people on the web are saying about protein kicking you out of ketosis. This is not true. Gluconeogenesis is demand driven.
Your body only makes glucose out of glucogenic amino acids. It's a lengthy, complex process, and some of those glucogenic amino acids do not come from your diet.
Most of the protein you eat goes into rebuilding protein structures, supplying essential hormones, and giving your cells the saturated fat they need to function optimally.
Although cutting carbs has been shown scientifically to have no metabolic advantage, eating protein does. Since protein foods are difficult to digest, it takes about 20 percent of its calories to break it down into amino acids and process it.
A lot of protein calories are wasted and dissipated as heat. Kevin Hall says protein costs can run as high as 150 calories a day over low-protein diets. This means the less protein you eat, the fewer calories you burn overall.
Cutting down on protein will also increase hunger and doesn't avoid gluconeogenesis, anyway. If the body needs amino acids and you don't provide them in your daily diet, the body will strip your muscles, liver, heart, and other body organs to get what it needs.
#8) Cut Down on Nuts, Cheese, Sour Cream, and Peanut Butter
I'm not putting avocado in this list, even though it's high in calories. The Atkins Diet limits avocado to half a fruit a day, anyway.
That half an avocado will cost you 115 calories, so you could reduce how many you're eating per week to shave off a few more calories.
However, avocado is the only produce item that provides antioxidants that can go "inside" your body's cells and prevent free radicals from forming.
All other antioxidants simply clean up the mess later on.
Cut Back on Nuts and Peanut Butter
Nuts, cheese, and heavy cream have been elevated to kingly low-carb status for decades now, but they are heavy on calories and super easy to abuse, especially if you're using nut flour.
If you belong to the group that doesn't break down fiber, replacing flaxmeal with almond meal in our one-minute muffin recipe will increase your calorie count for the day by 137 calories.
Almond meal isn't all fiber like flaxmeal is.
As long as you belong to the group who do not break down fiber well, going back to flaxmeal will trim your diet by 137 calories. If you do break down fiber, at least partially, calorie savings will be a bit lower because flaxmeal provides 120 calories in a quarter cup.
Alternatively, you could make a smaller muffin. Try cutting the recipe in half and use a smaller diameter cup to nuke it in. Just don't nuke it for a full minute. It will probably take 30 to 45 seconds instead.
|Are you eating too many nuts?|
Most low carbers eat more than a single serving of nuts a day. The menus I've looked at over the years show people eating two to three ounces for a single snack. Two to three ounces of nuts contain the same amount of calories as you'd get in a complete low-carb meal.
If you're used to eating them right out of the can, they will contribute hundreds of calories to your daily budget before you realize just how many you've eaten.
Cut those nuts back to a more realistic 1-ounce portion, and you can trim 164 to 328 calories from your day.
Peanut butter is a little bit harder to overuse, unless you're in the habit of making a one-minute muffin every single day, but it's super easy to fall into mindlessness if you're eating peanut butter right off a spoon.
Keep aware of how much you're using and try to limit your portion size to a couple of tablespoons.
Switch to Lower Calorie Cheeses
When you only focus on the carbohydrate content of foods, instead of looking at a food's total contribution to your health, it's easy to overlook the amount of energy these foods provide.
Yes, cheese is only 1 carb per ounce, and Dr. Atkins said you could eat up to 4 ounces a day, with even more in Phase 2, but most low-carb dieters don't use cheese as part of their protein allowance. They eat cheese for snacks, on top of their regular protein for meals.
If you eat all 4 ounces of cheese allowed, it can cost you up to 450 calories a day! If you're eating more than 4 ounces, your calorie load will be even higher.
In comparison, a 4-ounce chicken thigh, with crispy skin, only comes to 279 for the exact same amount of protein. Even 8 ounces of flat-iron steak, double the protein you'll get from 4 ounces of cheese, only comes to 365.
Cheese and nuts are huge calorie draws, so look for varieties that will give you the best bang for your calorie buck.
|Using fresh Parmesan cheese over dried|
(the type in the can) can save you lots of calories.
Freshly grated Parmesan, for instance, is only 22 calories per tablespoon, while dried Parmesan in the can will cost you 30. Since few people eat only a single tablespoon of cheese, and one-ounce is equal to a quarter of a cup, the savings will really add up.
Swiss cheese is 100 calories per slice, and cheddar is 113, but a a standard string cheese stick will only set you back by 80 calories.
One wedge of Laughing Cow creamy Swiss comes in at 50 calories, and Horizon Organic American Cheese slices are only 60 calories. When trying to trim your calories, these can be a better buy than cheddar.
You'll want to be careful of sliced unprocessed cheeses, though. Many brands have started to slice their cheese products more thinly, so you're not really getting any calorie savings that you can't get from just eating less cheese.
Be Mindful of Sour Cream and Heavy Cream in Recipes
Many low carbers are in the habit of only using recipes that are drowning in cheese, butter, and sour cream.
Heavy whipping cream is often used ounce for ounce to replace lower calorie milk in recipes, as well.
Instead of using these items to improve the taste of a recipe, they are added to the point of gorging.
I'm not going to tell you to go dairy free.
Just cut back on the amount of dairy-heavy recipes you use in a week. Every single recipe you cook doesn't have to be loaded with sour cream and cheese.
Choose cooking methods that are lower in fat. Grill, bake, and poach your meats more often than fixing high-calorie casseroles and creamy vegetables.
You can also try cutting the amounts of cheese, sour cream, and heavy cream called for in your favorite recipes by half and see if they work just as well. If not, you can always add a little more or save those recipes for Sunday dinner or special occasions.
#9) Substitute Sugar-Free Creamer for Heavy Cream in Your Coffee
Coffee is one of the biggest calorie hogs, especially if you're adding butter or coconut oil.
If you drink a lot of coffee in the morning, please read Are You Using Too Much Heavy Cream in Your Coffee, for a real-life story about a heavy coffee drinker who discovered that the way he was using heavy cream in his coffee and the amount of coffee he was drinking was the ONLY item that was hanging him up.
If you're close to your goal weight, you can try substituting some sugar-free flavored Coffeemate in your coffee instead of using heavy cream.
Two tablespoons of sugar free creamer will only set you back 30 calories instead of 100 for real cream. Many maintainers use half and half for the same reason. Two tablespoons of half and half come to 38 calories.
Also stop using bulk sweeteners (also discussed in the above coffee article I linked to). The bulking agents have both carbs and calories, where liquid artificial sweeteners do not.
#10) Use Sour Cream or Cream Cheese as a Substitute for Mayonnaise
I'm going to back pedal a little bit here. While earlier, I talked about cutting back on sour cream, it can be useful if you're using it to replace higher calorie fats.
I know this sounds a bit weird, but you can actually make a light, refreshingly cool tuna salad for lunch using full-fat sour cream instead of mayonnaise. At 25 calories a tablespoon, compared to 100 calories for mayonnaise, this tweak can save you 150 calories for one tuna salad alone.
Add some minced fresh jalapeno, a teaspoon of mustard, and your favorite seasonings, and you'll be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
If you're a super-taster, you can also opt to use one tablespoon of mayo and 1 tablespoon of sour cream and still save 75 calories for the day.
Chicken salad takes on a whole new flavor when you use softened cream cheese to bind it together instead of mayo. Just nuke it in the microwave to make it soft and creamy enough to blend into the chicken.
At 50 calories a tablespoon, compared to 100 for mayonnaise, a chicken salad made with cream cheese can save you 100 calories or more per serving.
And the same thing goes for egg salad or deviled eggs. Use softened creamed cheese or a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream and no one will know there are fat calories missing.
The Mind is Tricky
The biggest problem with using mindfulness to carve off the pounds, rather than meticulously counting calories, is the way the mind can get you to do things that you don't realize you're doing.
Since the name of the weight-loss game is adaption and the body always begins to take corrective measures the split second that energy goes out of balance, you'll have to stay mindfully aware of what you put into your mouth, and why.
This is especially true if you're used to obeying your thoughts, urges, and feelings without evaluating if they're practical and helping you reach your goal weight, or not.
The mind is tricky.
You might suddenly find yourself automatically making higher-fat recipes, or compensating for the lack of fat in your breakfast meats or deviled eggs by adding additional fat somewhere else.
With this type of plan, you have to make sure that everything else in your low-carb lifestyle stays exactly the same.
And that include your activity and exercise routine.
You might find yourself feeling more tired than normal or being a bit more pensive and reluctant to do things. This is simply the body's way of trying to correct the energy balance, so you'll have to be extra vigilant to keep up the status quo.
If you slice 300 calories from your day but make up for those missing calories by being less active, you might not see any results.
Being close to ideal weight can also make your hunger and cravings become more intense, as the calories go down, which is why it's best during this period to keep your carbs ultra low.
To stay ahead of the game and bust through your current weight-loss stall, you'll have to take charge of the situation and make sure that everything you do is with your weight-loss goal in mind.
Do that, and the pounds will start coming off again.
Okay. Are there tricks that work better for you? I'd love to hear what you do to keep your calories under control.