Despite what every YouTube star and fitness guru says- no, you do not need to count calories or track macros to lose weight. Or fast, or cut carbs, or any other gimmick out there.
You only need a brain to lose weight- and judging by your ability to read this post, you have one.
There are two techniques I am going to explain in this post that completely transformed my life and my relationship with food.
These two simple things enabled me to confidently lose weight for the last time and gave me complete freedom from diet math.
Once I reached my first weight loss milestone of 30 pounds down, I never wanted to count another calorie again. Tracking and recording every little thing I ate was so tedious and completely disconnected me from my body.
It just didn’t work for me. Sure, it took 30 pounds of fat off my body but it was not a sustainable way of life. Bottom line was that I was not willing to count calories for the rest of my life, so I couldn’t rely on the methods I used to lose my weight to help me keep it off.
It fixed nothing and taught me nothing.
My biggest grievance with this method of weight loss is that it completely discounts your ability to know when and what to eat. It assumes that your brain and body know nothing, and the app on your phone is all knowing.
When in reality, only you know when your body needs food and what foods make you feel great. You experience every craving, feeling of hunger & thirst, and all the sensations in between. These cues from your body are all you need.
You are the one with the answers, not My Fitness Pal.
Bottom line is that if you are over weight, medical issues aside, it is because you are eating when you’re not hungry.
I know my weight problem was largely due to binge eating to numb anxiety and eating to please others or have experiences. I wasn’t honoring my body’s signals.
No matter what your patterns are, I have found- without exception- that all overeating is emotional overeating.
We eat when we are bored, sad, anxious, lonely, nervous or on the flip side some of us cling to food during happy times and its associations with joy in our lives.
We eat when we are not hungry to avoid an emotion or create an emotion. Food can distract us from our own life and thoughts about it, or work to fill a void and create more happiness in our lives.
Be willing to analyze your own habits with over eating and be curious- not judgmental- about your emotional patterns.
Look at times of day, places, or people that seem to ‘trigger’ emotional eating. Do not blame any of these things for your overeating, they are just neutral circumstances- it is your thoughts that create the urge to over eat.
Take full responsibly for it all.
If you are feeling the urge to overeat, be willing to do the work to figure out why. It will allow you to be free from calorie counting and restrictive diets for the rest of your life.
During urges, ask yourself “What am I really feeling right now?” “Why do I want to avoid this emotion?” “What do I really want and need in this moment, and how can I give it to myself?” to begin understanding why you are reaching for food when you aren’t hungry.
You have the ability to coach yourself out of any urge by asking yourself the right questions from a place of compassion and curiosity.
You are not alone in this struggle & even more so, you are not broken.
Method 1: The Hunger Scale
The hunger scale is a method of intuitive eating that connects the mind and body through an awareness of hunger signals. One of the easiest ways to begin losing weight is to practice eating within the hunger scale.
To use the hunger scale, you will begin eating when you start to feel slight rumbles of hunger. This shouldn’t feel urgent, but you should know it is time to eat. This is your -2. Other signs your body may give you to tell you that you have reached a negative 2 are yawns and an inability to focus or complete tasks. If you are considering what sounds good or questioning if it is time to eat, it probably isn’t. Your body will tell you when it needs food.
After you have started eating at a negative 2, you will continue eating until you reach a positive 2 on the hunger scale. This is also referred to as eating until satisfied. Satisfaction, or a +2, is usually signaled by a deep sigh in between bites, a loss of interest in the food, your mind returning to other tasks or thoughts, and most commonly, your body and mind will begin telling you, hey we’re good. Please note that satisfied and full are not the same thing.
A simple way to evaluate if you are satisfied versus full is to see if you can comfortably perform the downward dog yoga position after eating. If you can, you are at a +2 or lower on the hunger scale.
You also will want to make sure you’re eating enough to satiate you for 3-4 hours.
These boundaries will require you to make mistakes and over eat in order to figure out your unique hunger and satisfaction cues. Making mistakes and being mindful means it’s working. So don’t resist acknowledging your body’s signals for hunger, fullness, or anything else.
This process of identifying your hunger scale will be a lot of trial and error. Making mistakes is a big part of being successful with the hunger scale. You are going to need to blow past satisfied and over eat to find your +2 and vise versa. Do not look at any mistakes with judgement- just keep working at it and being as mindful as you can.
If you are struggling to identify true hunger, ask yourself if broccoli or a piece of fruit would solve the problem. If it wouldn’t, you aren’t solving for hunger you are solving for an emotion.
Method 2: Daily Planning
If you are trying to lose weight or create a healthier lifestyle for yourself, planning is everything.
When I finally decided I was done with the calorie counting BS, I needed to develop a new, sustainable way to lose the rest of my weight and keep it off permanently.
Through my hours of listening to podcasts and devouring books, I discovered the concept of the 24 hour plan. (Yes, once again, I love you Corinne Crabtree)
The 24 hour plan is a technique used to make decisions ahead of time in a way that is realistic for you to execute.
Every night before bed I would write in the notes app on my phone what I was planning to eat the next day. I’d even put the little check box next to each meal so I could mark off when I followed it. So satisfying.
Here’s an example of what my daily plan would look like as my weight changed. You can see I still planned for whatever I wanted. It was always realistic to what I knew I could show up for.
As I lost weight, I made little changes and level ups to keep the scale moving in the right direction. Please know you don’t need to change everything on day one to see results- little changes really work. I wasn’t deprived or miserable or hungry. I just made food decisions ahead of time and ate within my -2 to +2 hunger scale.
And it worked.
Again much like the hunger scale, mastering the 24 hour plan requires making mistakes. There are days you will forget to make a plan, eat off plan or eat wayyyyy off your plan. I’ve done it all and as long as you keep going and making the next best decision in the moment- it doesn’t matter.
You will still lose weight.
For example, if you eat a different lunch than you planned, that doesn’t mean the whole day is now ruined. You can just note the change on your plan and keep it pushing. No drama, no judgement.
If this was me, I would examine if the off plan eat was an equal swap or an urge. An equal swap would be switching a salad with chicken for fish and vegetables. An urge would be choosing not to eat your planned salad because someone brought free donuts into the office.
You get the idea.
Neither scenarios are fundamentally bad, but if you find yourself giving into urges and completely going off plan it is really worth your time to explore why.
I write down everything I eat, on or off plan, and then will do a mini journaling session right in my notes app if I see that I gave into an urge.
Write about how you are feeling, you could even plug your thoughts into the model, and ask yourself why you chose to eat off plan. Hint- it is not because you are a failure who can’t lose weight.
For me, it is usually because I want to take a break from homework with a snack or I am bored or was feeling a negative emotion that I wanted to distract myself from. Or, this is a big one, I can get away with adding a a couple more cookies or pieces of chocolate. It won’t matter.
Sadly, it always does matter. Every off plan eat did make a difference and would slow my weight loss. But I kept making mistakes and evaluating until I was able to execute a 24 hour plan without any deviations.
For the record, it took me over a month of mistakes before I was able to follow a plan entirely. Don’t be hard on yourself- mistakes mean it’s working.
If you struggle with emotional eating like I do, this is some of the most worth while work you will do.
In real time you will get to hear what your brain is saying and make corrections to your actions sooner than ever before. I noticed that my overeats and off plan eats became less and less as I took the time to process why I was reaching for food instead of following through on the promises I made to myself.
By implementing these techniques in a way that will work for you long term, you can live a life free of weight loss math and confusion. You, and only you, have all the answers to your weight problem.
Trusting my body’s signals and planning ahead are two of the main reasons I was able to lose all of my weight for the last time. No, this isn’t a quick fix and no it won’t feel like you’re doing enough to move the scale in the right direction- but guess what, you are.
Listening to your body and following through on realistic plans will allow you to build trust with yourself. When you are able to fully trust yourself to do what you say you will do, you will be unstoppable.
Stop judging and start listening.
Your doubts create mountains. Your actions move them.Mel Robbins