While I always recommend weighing your food and counting calories for at least a week or two to get an idea of how much you are eating, this process can be a pain in the ass. Instead, there is a way to put your diet on easy mode so that you can lose/maintain weight without the hassle.
While the concepts are simple, if you do not know them, maintaining or losing weight can be more difficult than it needs to be. However, once you know the principles, it can be life changing as these simple strategies can set you up for long term success.
Let’s get started!
Portion Control and How to Make It Easier
Portion control is nothing new. You have probably heard it hundreds of times and at this point it means nothing. Everyone knows that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat less than your maintenance calories. But, its easier said than done.
There are several strategies for portion control that can be effective. Here are four that I have used:
- Drink a big glass of water with each meal. Nobody likes walking away from a meal still hungry. Drinking water with a meal helps to fill up more space in our stomachs. This helps you feel even more satisfied after eating by telling your body to suppress the hormone ghrelin, which triggers the sensation of hunger. Once that sensation of hunger is gone, you are less likely to overeat.
- Use Smaller Plates. Yeah it’s simple but it does work. If you have less space on your plate for food, you eat less because you can’t fit as much food on your plate (this is not a challenge to become an engineer and stack your plate as high as possible). I don’t know about you, but if I have a plate full of food, I am going to eat it all. Probably just a leftover by-product of my Grandma making me clear my plate to get dessert when I was a kid. Smaller plate = Less Food. Self control is a hell of a lot easier before the food is on your plate.
- Eat Slower. Again, really simple but it works. Eating too fast means your body does not have enough time to process that it is full. Remember our hormone pal ghrelin? We need to give the body time to realize it is full so that ghrelin can leave. He’s that guy that lingers way too long after the party is over. However, when he finally does leave we can sit back feeling full and satisfied. Chewing slower and taking more time to eat the meal can help you feel satisfied by the time you finish and it gives ghrelin some time to get the hint it’s time to leave.
- Record What You Eat. It is really easy to mindlessly grab a snack or two throughout the day. While each snack may not be a big deal, grabbing a few chips here and a handful of nuts there can quickly add up. Recording what you eat, either by writing it down, recording it in an app, or taking a picture of it helps you be more mindful of what you eat. The point is that you are more conscious of what you eat, which can help you remove hundreds of calories from your diet that you were not aware you were eating beforehand.
While these strategies can be great tools to help you along on your with your weight loss goals, they are not permanent solutions. You can follow all of the above strategies, but if you are choosing the wrong foods, you are doomed to spin your wheels without making any progress.
So, let’s dig into the real meat and potatoes of this article.
The Magic Fifth Strategy: Plate Design
No matter what tips and tricks you use, it is going to be very difficult to lose weight if you are not making smart choices with your meals. This is because their are certain food choices that contain exponentially more calories than other choices. This is one of the reasons I do recommended everyone try to track and weigh their meal with an app like MyFitnessPal for at least a week or two. It can be an eye opening experience to see how many calories are in the food you eat.
However, like I said at the beginning of the article, counting calories can be a pain in the ass and take a lot of the fun out of eating. Luckily, we can avoid this by taking advantage of the plate design strategy.
The plate design strategy is all about how we proportion the foods that we put on our plates.
To do this, we first want to load up half our plate with vegetables. Not only are vegetables loaded with nutrients, but they are also very low in calories. This means you can eat a lot of them to fill you up while not having eaten a lot of calories. For instance, if you filled half your plate with broccoli, you would only be eating 100-200 calories but your stomach would feel like you just gorged at a buffet.
It doesn’t have to just be broccoli. There are tons of great vegetable choices out there and plenty of ways to prepare them so they are delicious. Spices are your friends.
One thing to be aware of is you want to use oils sparingly when you cook veggies since you can easily add 100s of calories to the otherwise low calorie veggies. Also, you want to be aware of the type and amount of sauce you use since it can also be a sneaky way for calories to sneak into your diet. Not all sauces are created equal.
With this, another helpful strategy is eating the vegetables first to fill your stomach. This gives your body even more time to get the ghrelin out of your system so that you feel full before the meal is finished.
Now that we got the veggie tales out of the way, we can move on to more of the fun stuff. With the remaining half of your plate, you want to aim for ¼ protein and ¼ carbs. This would be about 1 serving of each.
For protein, 1 serving is about the size and thickness of your palm, while carbs would be about the size of your balled up fist. If you are a larger guy, you might want to aim for 2 servings of protein per meal.
Now, this isn’t a free pass to chose French fries as your carb (unless you want to try these delicious low calorie French fries). You still want to choose a source of carbs that is nutrient rich and prepared in a healthy way. Food is your fuel and the better your choice of fuel, the better your body will run and the better you will feel. You wouldn’t put sludge into your sports car. You want that premium fuel so that it can perform at its best.
Check out this list of great carb choices to get a base for where to start. It helps to experiment with different ways to prepare them because you are more likely to stick to a healthy eating pattern if you enjoy it.
As for the protein, the less fat your protein choice has, the less calories it will have. Therefore, choosing leaner cuts can help aid in keeping your calories low during your meal. Check out this list of great protein sources to get some ideas. Again, if you enjoy what you eat, you are more likely to stick with it so if you like chicken thighs way more than chicken breast, go with that option. Eating more protein is a great strategy to aid in weight loss because it keeps you feeling full longer than any other macronutrient, plus it helps you build muscle!
By following this guide, you will in the ballpark of eating in a more sustainable way. This is not an exact science so feel free to experiment with what ratio works best for you. For instance, many people can find more success if they eat more protein and minimize their carbs. If you fall into this category, feel free to increase the amount of protein you eat while lowering/eliminating the carbs (besides the veggies). There are also plenty of ways to eat without having to eat a lot of vegetables but that is outside the scope of this article. Personally, I think it is well worth the effort to find ways that you can prepare vegetables in a way that you enjoy eating.
The plate design strategy is not perfect but it is a great starting block. Intuitive eating is really hard and studies have shown that we are really bad at estimating how many calories we eat during the day. Like really bad.
Luckily, the plate design strategy can really help get you moving in the right direction. However, if you find that you have been consistently following the strategy for several weeks and are not losing weight, it could help to pull out the food scale and record the food you eat in MyFitnessPal. It really is an eye opening experience and I used it for several months. Some foods were many more calories than I expected but others were much lower. For instance, the calories in peanut butter blew my mind but I was very surprised at how few calories were in rice with the bad reputation that it had in my head.
Either way, the long term success of this strategy (or any diet) is eating foods that you enjoy. If you do not like what you are eating, you are more likely to give up on the diet and have binges. It is possible to eat healthy AND enjoy what you eat, it just takes some time to find some recipes that you like. Over the years, I have found several food hacks that have helped me along the way, along with several delicious recipes that can be found in Meal Prep Monday.
If all of this sounds like just too much effort for your busy schedule, I do offer meal suggestions and recipes that fit what you like to eat if you sign up for my 1-on-1 coaching. It really is the easy button and you can sign up for a FREE 30 minute consultation HERE.
Eat Long and Prosporous