Let’s face it: Counting calories isn’t fun. It’s tedious, time-consuming, and turns eating healthy into a chore.
It's a commonly-held belief that in order to lose weight, you have to count calories and be in a caloric deficit, meaning that you consume fewer calories than you burn. While this approach to weight loss can work, it can also be restrictive.
In addition, research suggests that creating healthy habits, and including proper nutrition and regular exercise can be a more effective and sustainable way to lose weight — and keep it off. Let’s take a look at the top strategies to reach your weight loss goals without wasting time and energy counting calories.
Healthy Lifestyle Practices for Weight Loss
1. Quality sleep
Getting enough sleep is vital for overall health and can significantly aid weight loss. In fact, research shows that poor sleep quality may contribute to weight gain and obesity in children and adults.
One study found that better sleep quality led to greater weight and fat loss in overweight and obese adults. When you don’t sleep well, you’re more likely to crave junk foods — think high-carb, high-fat, and calorie-dense foods that are highly palatable. This can make it much harder to lose weight.
Experts suggest you aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night to help support weight loss efforts.
2. Replace not-so-great habits with good ones
Instead of trying to eliminate a particular bad habit or behavior, consider replacing it with a healthier alternative.
For example, if you tend to snack on unhealthy foods when you feel stressed, find a stress-relieving activity, such as going for a walk, instead. According to James Clear, TheNew York Times best-selling author of Atomic Habits, it’s all about identifying a trigger (such as boredom or stress) and replacing the unhealthy response (snacking on junk food) with a healthy one (going for a walk).
Haley Perlus, a sport and performance Ph.D., explains that habits have the following four parts:
A cue for behavior to begin
The behavior (routine)
A reward that conditions the brain to recall this for the future
Repeating the habit
“The theory of HRL [habit replacement loop] is that the most efficient way to rewire an old habit is to search for a way to keep the old cue that created behavior, and find a new routine that results in a different outcome,” says Perlus.
An example would be, “maybe instead of sitting down and watching a TV show, you take a walk outside, read a book, take a warm bath, or listen to a five-minute meditation app. These options would also provide the reward of stress and boredom relief,” explains Kimberly Duffy, RDN, LD, CPT.
The habit-replacement loop can be a more sustainable approach compared to relying on sheer willpower to avoid a behavior that inhibits weight loss. It also pushes you to create lasting behavioral change that’s supportive of weight loss and your mental health.
3. Manage your stress
Reducing stress is crucial for maintaining good health and losing weight. Chronic stress can lead to weight gain, as it can increase cravings for unhealthy foods and disrupt healthy habits. People who used stress management techniques in addition to diet counseling lost more weight than those who had diet counseling alone.
“Stress doesn’t always have glaring physical symptoms, so it’s important to incorporate stress-relieving activities into every person’s daily life,” says Duffy.
Some healthy ways to reduce stress are socializing with friends; deep, diaphragmatic breathing; and progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups one at a time.
4. Practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness can help you improve your overall health while you’re losing weight and after you’ve lost the weight. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and can help you make healthier choices when it comes to eating and exercise.
In fact, one study found that people who practice mind-body techniques such as mindfulness were over 30% less likely to be overweight and 45% less likely to be obese.
5. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is important for weight loss for several reasons. First, drinking water can help make you feel full, which can help reduce your appetite and lead to you eating less. Try drinking a glass of water right before a meal to help you lose weight.
Water is a no-calorie, sugar-free beverage that can be a healthy alternative to sugary drinks like soda and juice, which can lead to weight gain. Staying hydrated can help keep your energy levels up, which can be helpful as you start exercising more.
How to Eat to Lose Weight
1. Eat enough protein
Protein also helps you feel fuller, causing you to eat fewer calories naturally. In one study, participants who ate 30% of their total calories from protein ate nearly 500 fewer calories per day. In fact, simply increasing protein intake without restricting how much you eat can result in weight loss.
Protein can also help you build muscle mass, contributing to weight loss by increasing the number of calories you burn when resting. Foods like meat, fish, lentils, and eggs contain high-quality protein.
Try not to go overboard. Although experts disagree on how much protein is too much, aim for no more than two grams per pound (2 g/1 lb) of body weight per day.
2. Eat more fiber
Eating more fiber can make it much easier to lose weight. Fiber helps reduce appetite and increase feelings of fullness. This can make it easier to avoid junk food and overeating.
Some research has found that when it comes to diet, fiber intake is the most influential factor in weight loss. This may be why fiber has consistently been shown to improve weight loss even without restrictive diets.
According to Duffy, the average, healthy adult should be getting in >25 g of fiber per day. The fiber content can vary according to specific foods and brands, but on average:
1 cup of vegetables = ~5 g fiber
1 cup of berries = 6–8 g fiber
1 oz. of nuts/seeds = 3–5 g fiber
½ cup of beans = 6–8 g fiber
Add some of these high-fiber foods to your daily diet.
3. Cut back on sugar and refined carbs
One of the most effective ways to achieve your weight loss goals without counting calories is to reduce the amount of sugar and refined carbs you’re eating. These foods include white bread, pasta, pastries, white rice, sweet desserts, and many breakfast cereals.
These foods spike your blood sugar quickly, causing your body to release a bunch of insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
The problem is your body can release too much insulin after eating these foods, which causes blood sugar levels to fall as fast as they went up. These swings in blood sugar levels trigger cravings, causing you to eat more food or consume junk food. Insulin also plays a crucial role in fat storage, so your body is more likely to store fat when insulin levels are high.
4. Try a lower-carb diet with healthy fats
Eating a lower-carbohydrate diet can help jumpstart your weight loss. Try getting most of the carbs you do eat from fruits, veggies, and legumes such as beans and lentils.
A large analysis of multiple studies found that low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets after six to 12 months. Longer-term results were not reported.
“Very low-carb diets may produce greater short-term weight loss than low-fat diets, but many studies have found that after one year, the rewards of a low-carb diet are not very significant,” notes Perlus. While you may lose weight in the short term, you’ll likely need to rely on other factors to keep the weight off long-term.
5. Try intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that involves periods of eating and periods of fasting rather than eating throughout the day. There are several different types of intermittent fasting, but one of the most common is the 16/8 method, where you eat during an eight-hour window and fast for the remaining 16 hours.
A review found that intermittent fasting can be an effective way to help with weight loss. When you fast, your body has to use stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and fat for energy rather than constantly relying on the energy from the food you eat. This can help to increase fat burning and weight loss.
Intermittent fasting may help reduce appetite, making it easier to eat less and lose weight.
Another option is the circadian rhythm diet, which aligns eating with the rising and setting of the sun. “It entails timing meals with sunrise and sunset due to corresponding dips and surges in cortisol. This diet dictates that people stop eating by 7pm,” says Perlus.
How to Exercise to Lose Weight
1. Add in some resistance exercise
Resistance exercise, also known as strength training or weightlifting, is a type of physical activity that involves using resistance to build strength and muscle mass. You can do this with free weights (dumbbells and barbells), weight machines, resistance bands, or your body weight.
Muscle helps you burn more calories by increasing your metabolism. For example, gaining just a small amount of muscle mass, such as 2 to 4 pounds, can increase your metabolism by 7 to 8%. Even this small amount of muscle gain can lead to a potential weight loss of 9 to 11 pounds over the course of a year.
2. Choose the most effective cardio
Certain exercises burn more calories than others. Some of the top exercises include jumping rope, sprints, kickboxing, cycling, and running.
One style of training, called high-intensity interval training, can result in more significant fat loss than steady-state cardio. HIIT involves short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest. An example of a HIIT workout might involve running as fast as you can for 30 seconds, followed by a 30-second rest period, and repeating this pattern for a set number of intervals.
One of the benefits of HIIT is that it can be done in a shorter amount of time than traditional steady-state cardio, making it a more time-efficient way to get in a workout. It can also be modified to fit a wide range of fitness levels.
“If a person does a brisk walk for 30 minutes, they may only burn 200 calories, but if they do a 30-minute HIIT class, they may burn 500 calories. The higher calorie expenditure will create a higher calorie deficit which will promote faster weight loss, but only if the food intake is the same,” says Duffy.
3. Find exercises you enjoy
When it comes to exercise and losing weight, finding an exercise you enjoy doing consistently may be the most important factor. Try dancing, swimming, hiking, roller skating, or rock climbing. Find something that’s fun for you.
How Much Weight Can You Lose in 2 Months?
It may be tempting to lose weight quickly, but it’s actually more effective to aim for a slower, steadier rate of weight loss. This gradual approach resulted in more body fat reduction and is more likely to ensure long-term weight loss.
Gradual weight loss also helps you preserve more lean muscle mass. Steady, consistent weight loss helps you stay motivated and on track during the weight loss process.
The problem with losing weight too fast is that your metabolism slows down quickly, and you get hungrier. This causes your weight-loss efforts to stall. Rapid weight loss can also result in the loss of muscle mass, which means you’ll burn fewer calories at rest.
This is why rapid weight loss diets often cause people to regain the weight they lost instead of keeping it off. Experts generally agree that losing one to two pounds per week is safe and sustainable. You should aim to lose between eight and 16 pounds over the course of two months.
Factors That Can Affect Your Weight Loss
Certain health conditions like an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) that cause your metabolism to slow down can make it much harder to lose weight. Your genetic makeup could also impact your ability to lose weight, as can the makeup of your gut microbiome (the microorganisms that live in your intestinal tract).
Certain medications can hinder your weight loss efforts, including:
Medications used to treat type 2 diabetes (such as pioglitazone)
Beta-blockers (used to treat high blood pressure and some heart conditions)
Talk with your doctor if you are taking any of these medications or believe your health condition is stalling your weight loss.
To sum up, there are many more effective approaches to losing weight than simply counting calories. Instead of obsessing over every calorie, focus on building the right habits, eating the right foods, and exercising the right way to lose weight.
This means prioritizing getting enough quality sleep, managing your stress, and becoming aware of what’s triggering your unhealthy eating habits. Choose the right types of foods, eat enough protein, and perform the right exercises to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
It’s important to remember that weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint, and gradually losing weight is better.
If you want help with your weight loss journey, get a free consultation with a personal trainer who can help you lose weight, and look and feel great.