Dear Cassey: How do I change my diet without counting calories?

Dear Cassey,
How do you go about monitoring what you eat without counting calories? I’m very physically fit, but larger than I’d like to be. I never really struggled with my weight until 4 years ago when I started law school. Stress absolutely played a factor. I lost a lot hair and my period cycle changed as well. Now that I am down, my period has finally regulated, and my hair is coming back to life! However, I’m still heavier than I’d like to be. I only need to lose around 10 lbs, but the problem is, most exercises don’t challenge me. I know the change needs to come from food, but counting calories is not realistic for me because it is kind of a trigger that gets me into an unhealthy mindset. What is another way I can monitor my food?
Thank you,
Working On My Best Self

Hey Working On My Best Self!

I LOVE this question! It’s so common to see recommendations to “avoid calorie counting” and “just focus on eating habits” …. but HOW do we actually do that?!

I think it can look a little different for everyone, but I can definitely give you some tips and places to start based on what I’ve learned to do over time. And that brings me to my first piece of advice: don’t be surprised if figuring this out takes TIME! If you’re used to focusing on the numbers to the point of obsession, then looking at your food without actually having concrete “limits” or data will take a little getting used to.

Think about your goals. You said you want to lose around 10 lbs, but you’re also very active and athletic. So I think your meals and portions would be a great place to start! It’s so easy to become fixated on eating less or eating as little as we can as soon as weight loss is in the picture. But you need to make sure you’re fueling your workouts too. Journaling might help you out here. Then, if you’re feeling sluggish during workouts or hungry all the time between meals, you’ll know that you’re probably not eating enough.

Think “big picture” with meals. So, instead of focusing on the numbers, think about how your plate looks. And then think about how your overall day looks! I try to make all of my meals as heavy on the veggies as I can. Then I make sure I have a good serving of protein, then add healthy fat and maybe an extra carb source if my veggies aren’t cutting it.

So let’s say I’m building a bowl. I’ll roast up some veggies and maybe even throw them on some cauliflower rice or zoodles. Then, I’ll add a lean protein, drizzle on a sauce or dressing made with oil or top with avocado slices, seeds etc. I know that when I build my meals this way, it’s going to be

  2. Full of nutrients
  3. Probably not crazy high in calories

If I eat out or stray away from my usual meals, I don’t sweat it. I just do my best the rest of the day! Basically, I know that as long as the majority of the foods I eat are whole, unprocessed and simple, I’ll be right on track.

And you know what happened when I finally started eating this way? 

  1. I got creative. I stopped eating the same “safe” meals over and over. I started experimenting with different veggies and cooking methods. New seasonings and fun new foods.
  2. I stopped stressing. I didn’t realize how much counting calories was stressing me out! I would feel guilty every time I went “over” my target, and I’d check restaurant menus for calories before I’d go out to eat. The numbers took up so much of my time and energy.
  3. I started paying attention to my body. I think this was a big part of why my 90 Day Journey was so successful. I let go of calorie counting and I started paying attention! Now I know that I’m not avoiding bread because of calorie guilt. I just don’t eat it as often because my body doesn’t digest it well. I’m not craving chips, etc. constantly because I’m not restricting myself to meet a calorie goal. I’m eating to stay full and satisfied.

So. The takeaway.

It’s going to take some time to navigate a diet change without counting calories, but you can totally do it and it will be WORTH IT. I’d start with a journal – write down what you’re meals typically look like, and how you feel before/during/and after you eat. Then, make small adjustments from there! Can you add more veggies and lean protein to your meals to avoid as many cravings or snacks between meals? Are there any processed foods you’re eating that really aren’t serving you? Start small and work from there!

I hope this advice helps!

PS – If you have a burning question you want to ask me, I’m taking questions via text at 510-692-4556. Currently this only works for US and Canada. If you’re outside of those countries, you can leave a question below.

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