In accordance with a previous post I wrote about how to Build Muscle and Lose Fat Without Tracking Calorie Intake, this guide will take it even a step further and show you how to lose weight without “dieting”.
Dieting (for weight loss) is something most people dread; they'd rather mindlessly graze on empty-calorie foods. Worse yet, many people don’t get much exercise aside from their mighty voyage from the parking lot to their cubicle. Unfortunately, that won’t cut it if you want to develop a leaner physique. (You can stop reading now if you don’t plan on maintaining a diligent exercise regimen throughout your journey to a leaner physique.)
This article is going to cover everything you need to know about eating for weight loss, without the unnecessary restrictions of “dieting.” Just to clarify, the term “weight loss” throughout this article is synonymous with “fat loss.” (There are very few circumstances where someone would benefit from losing lean body mass.)
To start, it’s necessary to understand what makes food healthy or unhealthy.
The term “healthy” is often incorrectly used as an all-encompassing word (especially in reference to diet and exercise); in reality, what is healthy for you may or may not be healthy for someone else.
Biologically speaking, if something is to be healthy it will help increase the fitness/survivability of an organism. Thus, a “healthy” food or form of exercise is simply favorable for longevity.
If I were to ask you what makes a certain food outright health-promoting, the first terms that likely pop into your mind are usually things like “organic,” “natural,” and “gluten-free.”
But if I ask you explain why foods that are gluten-free and/or organic are always healthy, you might not have a coherent answer. I would also question if certain foods are unhealthy just because they’ve been processed? (GMOs anyone?)
The truth is that pretty much every food you find a grocery store is processed to some degree (yes, even “organic” foods), and that doesn’t make it any less healthy than it would be otherwise. On the flipside, when people consider foods that are unhealthy, they typically imagine provisions like pizza, fries, burgers, and donuts (aka “junk” food).
But why? Because such foods are generally higher in sugar and fat? Is it because they might not have as many micronutrients? This may seem like a surprise, but the reality is that hardly any foods (or ingredients) are inherently unhealthy. Pretty bold claim, right?
Notwithstanding food allergies and intolerances, or the baseless fearfulness of certain synthetic ingredients (like sucralose), there is no reason to label a particular food as being purely unhealthy. Depending on the amount of virtually any food you consume, it likely has some healthful properties.
You are likely shocked at the previous section. If you read it and thought to yourself, “Wait...Is this guy is saying that I’m free to eat anything I please and still achieve my weight loss goals?!” My response to that: Yes, absolutely. But there’s a little more to the equation...
My claim that no foods should be seen as off-limits often leads “clean eating bros” into hysteria. How can eating things like pizza and ice cream be conducive to health and longevity? Quite simply, if you’re not taking in more calories than you’re burning throughout the day, then it doesn’t really make much of a difference where your energy is coming from.
Literature has shown that the absolute number one factor in losing or gaining body weight is total daily energy (calorie) intake versus total daily energy expenditure.1 However, the composition of your diet (aka the macronutrient proportion from which those calories come from) does still matter, just not to as strong of a degree as calorie intake does.
This is to say that a diet composed of 1,200 calories coming from carbohydrates only will have different physiological ramifications than a balanced 1,200-calorie diet containing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. If you’ve had a chance to read my article about Smarter Bodybuilding Nutrition, then you are aware that food provides more than just energy and macronutrients for your body.
The notion that you are able to eat any food you want while losing weight may seem like a dream come true. Be careful though, because I’m not saying you can eat cake and donuts ad libitum and still lose weight. I'm sorry to bum you out, but that's never going to happen unless you’re a genetic anomaly.
What has been said is that you can eat almost any food you wish so long as it meets your energy, macronutrient, and micronutrient needs at the end of the day.
Don’t misinterpret the preceding section as suggesting you should drink a gallon of high-fructose corn syrup if you want to lose weight and improve your health, as that is simply not what I iterated. Tons of research explores the potential health ramifications of consuming both natural and man-made ingredients.
However, as long as you are not eating those things every day (in superfluous quantities), then there isn’t much to worry about (especially in the context of weight loss).
Hopefully, you can now see the relativity of what makes a food “healthy.” When you look at no foods as being “off limits” it creates a whole new dynamic behind how you view nutrition. This is very liberating for most people, and ultimately makes them more prone to long-term success on a weight-loss regimen.
Much to the chagrin of many individuals, dietary restriction can actually worsen weight management issues. A few studies have looked at how both exposure techniques and training can help improve eating behavior self-control in individuals looking to lose weight. The results suggest that while dietary restraint can be useful to an extent, an eating plan that is pliable/flexible with regards to food selection is more prone to healthy long-term weight management.2,3
This is why many people that try the Atkins Diet (which is a diet that promotes greatly restricting carbohydrate intake) don’t last more than a few days before they give in and binge on high-sugar foods
That’s how pretty much everyone will react if they go from eating anything they want to be in a position where they’re only supposed to eat the same certain, limited selection of foods every day.
Make no mistake about it, binge eating can and will wreak havoc on your body and psychological connection with food. This is why a diet that doesn’t restrict you will be more successful in the long run because you won’t feel inhibited all the time. In a sense, you’re better off just being conscious about your eating habits without labeling it “dieting.”
When you think about the biological basis for eating, it really boils down to being something that sustains us, and nourishes us, both mentally and physically. The idea that you have to sacrifice psychological enjoyment of food to achieve the body of your dreams is just plain rubbish.
Now, before moving on it is imperative to iterate that self-control is still going to be necessary if you want to lose weight and keep it off. Many people may not have the level of discipline necessary to enjoy certain foods they crave in moderation, but the good news is there are ways around that conundrum.
You likely already know how dangerous being overweight is, yet more and more people are becoming obese as time progresses. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death (in the United States), and being overweight is strongly correlated with cardiac consequences. This is one reason why MPA came out with CardioSolve and HeartSolve.
What exactly is causing so many people to continue to overeat when the implications can be life-threatening? While there are myriad factors at play in the obesity epidemic, poor appetite regulation is a large part of the problem.
Many readers may feel that they lack the requisite discipline to lose weight (especially when the idea of eating foods they genuinely enjoy is considered). While most of your ability to control yourself when indulging in foods you like is dependent on your willpower (yes, you are human), some of it is also influenced by your appetite.
Many people lack an understanding of what appetite and hunger actually mean. Appetite technically describes the psychological desire to eat food, whereas hunger is the body signaling for the physiological need of food. Nevertheless, there is certainly a connection between the two and one can influence the other.
Per example, if you eat a well-sized meal then you should no longer be hungry. However, if all the sudden you get a sweet tooth for ice cream, that is your appetite (psychological desire) kicking in.
The reason your appetite may be high despite your hunger being satisfied is likely due to a disconnection between your brain and your stomach. There are hormones and peptides that your body uses to modulate both appetite and hunger.
The primary hormone responsible for stimulating hunger is called ghrelin, which is secreted by the pancreas and stomach. Shortly after you start eating food, hormones such as cholecystokinin and leptin start to secrete satiety/fullness signals that communicate with the brain and tell you, "You're getting full."
Naturally, if you take your time when you’re eating, your brain has time to catch up with your stomach (so to speak). If you're struggling to combat cravings throughout the day, I highly recommend supplementing with KETOxygen in-between meals. (Exogenous ketones help increase satiety signals.) You can also check out our article that details evidence-based tips for reducing appetite: How to Crush Your Cravings when Dieting
Hopefully, this chapter doesn’t come as a surprise to you...you didn’t really think that you were going to be able to lose weight by eating anything and sitting on the couch all day did you? If it was that easy, then you wouldn’t be reading this!
Now the good news is that you don’t have to beat yourself to death with grueling three-hour workouts just to lose weight. All you really have to do is a few diligent resistance training sessions per week along with a few bouts of cardiovascular exercise.
There is strong evidence that a fitness regimen consisting of a minimum of three hours of moderate-intensity (or two hours of vigorous-intensity) exercise, with no more than two consecutive non-training days per week, can have significant benefits on insulin sensitivity and improving body composition.4,5
Moreover, cardiovascular exercise, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT) appears to provide many of the same benefits associated with resistance training. Thus, it’s wise for overweight individuals to incorporate both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise (preferably HIIT) in their fitness regimen.
An example weekly fitness regimen for someone looking to lose weight might look like this:
Obviously, the specific routine/exercises you choose to do should be adjusted to fit your specific goals.
Ultimately, the main thing is to just make sure you’re doing some form of diligent exercise and being consistent. I can't emphasize enough the importance of being consistent with your fitness regimen; keep training (hard and smart) and you’re almost certainly going to notice improvements in body composition and feel better about yourself.
So if you’ve made it to this point you may be wondering, “Where is the diet plan? Do I just eat whatever I want?” The short answer: “Yes.” However, I'm making a few assumptions here. I assume that you’re reading this article since you’re looking to lose weight/body fat without changing your eating habits drastically, or you want to break away from methodically tracking every morsel of food you put in your mouth.
Logically speaking, your body will only lose weight if you are burning more calories than you eat on a daily basis. This is something that you cannot work your way around and was discussed at length earlier. This is why resistance training and cardio are key, as they help move the energy balance equation in the direction of weight loss.
Now, the main issue is if you have already been exercising diligently and still not lost weight (or worse yet, you’re gaining weight without intending too) then the prudent thing to do is simply start skipping breakfast (and possibly lunch).
You may think that sounds detrimental, but intermittent fasting (i.e. not eating for 14-18 hours or so) actually works wonders when you can’t get over a weight-loss plateau. Just because you skip breakfast doesn’t mean you will feel less energetic or less alert either.
In fact, most people who switch from eating breakfast every day, to skipping it and waiting until lunchtime (or even later) to eat their first meal of the day, will notice that they actually have more energy and a heightened sense of wellbeing throughout the day. I’ve written a Guide to Intermittent Fasting if you want to learn more about this protocol.
If you have been consistently exercising and notice that your weight hasn't dropped much after the first week or two (and you’ve also implemented the breakfast-skipping tactic), then there are two options:
Intermittent fasting may seem like a daunting task for many, but remember you will be able to eat bigger portions later in the day. Some people like that idea as it lets them go about their day without worrying about food and then they can go home and have a nice big dinner and a snack later at night and still lose weight. It’s a very simple way to reduce calorie intake.
Now if you choose the first option of tracking your food intake, I recommend you use an online basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculator and compare your calorie intake versus your calorie expenditure. It is very likely that despite exercising consistently, you’re still eating too much and may have to cut back on portion sizes just a bit.
Don’t worry, just reduce the serving sizes a tad from each meal and ease your way into it. Also be sure to use the appetite suppression tactics found here to help control your cravings, should they arise.
The last thing to note is that you can add more cardiovascular exercise into your regimen if you want to, but do not overdo it. Avoid overworking yourself with excessive amounts of cardiovascular exercise; this will actually lower your BMR and make you more prone to weight regain. Resistance training should be the priority.
Remember, the goal isn’t just to lose weight; it’s to lose body fat and keep it off! You might also like our Research-Proven Ways to Lose More Fat article if you want to enhance your results.