If you want to lose weight, the advice you’re usually given is to drastically drop your calorie intake by removing food groups or skipping meals to drop those pounds.
In order for your body to change, it needs three things:
- Sufficient activity to create a calorie deficit;
- Enough energy to function, and
- Enough of each type of nutrient (i.e. protein, fats and carbohydrates) to function properly and fully.
Extreme calorie reduction (i.e. eliminating food groups, skipping meals) creates three issues.
- As your body needs a certain amount of energy to perform your daily functions (called your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR), your bodily functions slow down due to lack of available energy.
- By eliminating food groups or skipping meals you risk inhibiting your body’s ability to function properly and fully.
- If your body lacks energy and/or enough of the right nutrients to function properly and fully, your body won’t change regardless of the efforts you’re making.
Here are 5 alternatives to drastic calorie reduction that will help you lose weight and keep it off
1. Increase daily activity
The rationale behind drastic calorie reduction is to increase your “calorie deficit”. (If you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight).
Instead of cutting calories, increase activity to increase your calorie deficit in a proactive and positive way.
No, I’m not saying go to the gym 7 days a week. Instead, seek out opportunities to become more active:
- Start walking on your lunch hour
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Get a standing desk
By making more active choices every day, you’ll increase your calorie deficit in a way that will encourage change, rather than limiting it.
2. DECREASE YOUR PLATE SIZE
By decreasing the size of your plates, you’re choosing to decrease your calorie intake more subtly than by eliminating entire food groups.
When you consider different diets or eating protocols (i.e. Atkins, Keto, Paleo), they all involve elimination of a food group, usually carbohydrates.
The problem with these diets is by eliminating specific food groups, you risk a knock on effect of missing out on the benefits of that missing food group.
An example of this is eliminating carbohydrates while you’re working out. By eliminating carbohydrates, you are reducing your body’s ability to fully utilise protein. As protein is a fundamental building block of building lean muscle, by eliminating carbohydrates you’re hindering the benefits of your workouts in the first place!
By decreasing the size of your plates, you’re decreasing the volume of your meals in a balanced way. This means you’ll be eating less, but you’ll still be getting your nutrients in. (The caveat here is to ensure your meals are balanced in the first place).
3. EAT SLOWER
If you’re like me you’re a fast eater. Maybe it’s from growing up as the youngest of three siblings i.e. move fast or miss out! The bottom line is I eat quickly.
Your body needs a certain amount of time (approximately 20 minutes) to tell your brain it’s full. It does this by secreting a hormone called ghrelin. So if you eat quickly, you could be refilling your plate when you’ve already had enough to eat. This explains why you feel stuffed after having your Christmas lunch. In the excitement you’ve eaten much too quickly. By the time your body has told your brain, you’ve already eaten too much!
By eating slowly you’re enabling your body to inform your brain before you over consume. This practice means you’ll eat what you actually need. As opposed to consuming in a frenzy, overeating without realising you’re full, and paying for it later.
4. Prioritise protein on each plate
Prioritising protein helps you achieve your weight loss goals in two ways:
- It contributes to your metabolism: protein contributes to our metabolism thanks to the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF – the energy cost of digestion). According to Alwyn Cosgrove in Secrets of Successful Program Design, TEF can contribute 10-20% of our metabolism. While fat has a low TEF (3% of consumed calories), protein has a much higher 30%, meaning you’re using more energy to digest protein.
- It helps you manage cravings: an additional benefit of protein is it helps you manage cravings by helping you feel fuller for longer. When you feel hungry, your ability to make healthy food choices can be, shall we say, compromised (ever tried to be discerning when you’re starving – I know, I can’t either :-)). By consuming regular protein through the day, you feel fuller for longer through the day. Thereby decreasing those situations when you’re hungry and more inclined to make bad choices.
5. Start resistance training
By starting resistance training and building lean muscle, your body will use more calories through the day, thereby increasing your calorie deficit.
There’s a common misconception that muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue.To clarify, a pound is a pound regardless of the type of tissue.
However, muscle tissue is unique for two reasons:
- It occupies less space: muscle tissue is more dense than fat tissue. This is why, when you start a resistance training programme, you may not lose weight but your trousers start falling off.
- It requires more calories to maintain itself: the more muscle you have, the more calories you need to burn to maintain that muscle tissue. In other words, when you start building lean muscle through resistance training, you burn more calories all the time, even when you aren’t resistance training.
At this point it’s important to emphasise that resistance training doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get bigger or become ‘bulky’. If you want to become bigger through resistance training, there are three parts to the formula:
- Sufficient training volume – you need to train enough to push your body to change.
- Extra calories – you need to add approximately 1000 calories per day to fuel growth, and
- Recovery – you have to get enough recovery to enable your body to repair and rebuild.
The point I’m making is that unless you dramatically increase your calorie intake to fuel growth, resistance training will make you stronger and leaner, not bigger.
So there you have it. Five alternatives to slashing calories that will help you achieve your weight loss goals.
ABOUT JAMES STARING
James Staring is a personal trainer based in Clapham, London. His methods have featured in publications such as Your Fitness, Hello, Healthy, Daily Mail, Closer, and many more. After giving up smoking and entering the fitness industry in 2009, James has focused on his passion to help others transform their health and fitness. However, James is convinced most people struggle so much more than they need to in an effort to improve their fitness. Through his company, Fit to Last, James has helped hundreds of men and women make small adjustments in their daily habits to transform their fitness and to love how they look and feel.