Eat To Perform is all about fueling your body for optimal performance, and we believe in using data like food logging to determine what exactly “optimal” is. That said, most people don’t want to spend even a few minutes each day tracking food and for that to work, you have to focus more on behaviors and food choices. It’s not exactly the best way to go about things, but it can work if you simply don’t have the inclination to track food.
Here are seven tips that can help you lose body fat without tracking food. Number 1 is probably the most important!
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1. Start with more food and gradually eat less.
The best way to ensure that you lose body fat is to make sure that you’re coming from a stable base so you have more room to remove food and create a deficit. If you’re already eating barely anything or you eat sporadically, there’s nowhere to go. For that reason, you should start off your fat loss phase by gradually and consistently increasing your food intake over a 3-4 week period. This is called a diet break.
You WILL gain weight on your diet break but it will be mostly water and muscle glycogen. This is a good thing. Once your weight has stabilized at a higher food intake, you’ll gradually remove food – mostly carbohydrates – and start to see a downward trend in your weight as you lose body fat.
As a general rule, you want to lose about 1% of your body weight each week – between 1 and 2 lbs. depending upon how heavy you are. Any more than that and you risk losing a lot of muscle mass. As always, take things gradually!
The fat, fiber, and water content of a food greatly affects how full you feel after eating. As you have no doubt experienced in the past, when you feel full, your appetite is suppressed. When you’re not hungry all the time, it’s easier to maintain a Calorie deficit and lose body fat or keep it off!
- Foods to include in each major meal are fibrous veggies like: broccoli, lettuce, spinach, asparagus, kale, etc.
- You also want to make sure you have a generous serving of protein with each meal: beef, chicken, fish, eggs, etc.
- Last but not least, don’t skimp on the fat. Great sources include avocado, walnuts, salmon, olives, and yes – there is room for some bacon.
For more ideas, check out our article “A Foundation of Foods”.
3. Focus on protein.
When you’re in a Calorie deficit, eating an adequate amount of protein is extremely important. Not only does a protein-rich diet help you maintain lean mass as you lose fat, but it’s also highly thermogenic. That means that it actually adds to your daily Caloric burn – it takes energy to break down protein, so less of it is stored! The question you probably have then is, “How much protein should I eat every day?” The least complicated way to do things is just to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you’ll eat 150g of protein every day. It’s really that simple. If you’re going to track anything, track your protein. You’ll thank yourself. Now, eating that much protein can be hard for some people, so don’t hesitate to have a protein shake to make things easier on yourself. For more info on protein and why you need it, check out our article on “The Basics of Protein”.
4. Get some light activity on your rest days but DON’T overdo it.
To lose body fat, you need to be in a Calorie deficit. Many of us live fairly sedentary lives outside the gym, and thus our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is lower. That means that in practice, it’s easier to overshoot our Calorie intake and reach maintenance Calories for the day, even if we’re trying to create a small deficit! For that reason, it’s a good idea to make sure you get some light activity on your rest/off days to bump up your TDEE a little bit – especially if you work a desk job. When I say light activity, I mean light! It’s tempting to push it to the limit in hopes that you’ll burn more body fat, but exercise can be a lot more stressful on your body when you’re not providing it with at least a maintenance Calorie intake. Go on a walk. Take a hike in the wilderness. Play with your kids. Throw a frisbee around the back yard for your dog. Even gardening and yard work count as light activity and it all adds up without increasing the amount of stress your body is subjected to! If you DO want to hit the gym, take it easy and scale the workouts back. Don’t turn a rest day into a heavy workout day! I recommend checking out this article for some tips on keeping everything productive: “Remember Low Intensity? That Still Works”.
5. Lift weights on a regular basis.
Along with eating enough protein each day, resistance training is vital if you want to maintain your muscle mass as you lean out. It’s difficult to build muscle in a Calorie deficit, but it’s surprisingly easy to maintain as long as you keep hitting the weights. So what should you do to keep all of the hard-earned muscle you’ve built? High reps? Low reps? Heavy weights? When it comes down to it, what built your muscle will maintain it – don’t change your lifting up too much but don’t put too much emphasis on hitting new 1 rep maxes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lift heavy, but you shouldn’t neglect the more moderate “hypertrophy” rep ranges either. If you aren’t lifting weights, do your research and get on a good program like Strong Lifts or 5/3/1. Current research suggests that 3 sets of 10 reps each on the big movements – squat, deadlift, bench press, rows, etc. – is plenty to help you build and maintain muscle. A few additional heavier sets can help you build and maintain strength. For more info on the different types of lifting and why you might want to utilize different styles, check out our article “Put Strength First”.
6. Eat most of your carbs around training.
Carbohydrates are vital if you want to perform your best. They’re the quickest source of energy available, and most tissues in your body require them to operate. We recommend focusing carb intake around exercise – before, during and after – because that’s when demands for energy will be their highest.
When you aren’t working out, you can focus more on eating protein and fat. It’s important to note that if you work out first thing in the morning, your pre-workout meal will actually be your dinner from the previous night. If that’s you, eating most of your carbs in the evening has its advantages.
7. Give yourself room to grow.
At some point, your fat loss will stall. That’s inevitable. When that happens, don’t freak out – stalls are the product of adaptation. You need to change things up and take a diet break like we described in tip #1. Increase your food intake so you can stabilize and start the next stage of leaning out. Think of it like “two steps forward, one step back”. As a general rule, 3 weeks of more food will allow your metabolism to recover so you can get back to work and as long as you take things gradually, you won’t put on a ton of surplus body fat.
“How much food do I add in?”
Well, without tracking your calories, you can only really guess. That said, you should weigh yourself in the morning on an empty stomach after you use the bathroom (this is important) a couple times a week and ensure that there is a slight upward trend in your morning weight – you want to gain about 3% of your weight back over this 3 week period. If you’re stalled out at (say) 140 lbs. you want to gain between 3-5 lbs. of morning weight on your diet break. Much more than that and you risk putting on some unnecessary body fat.
You should notice at some point that your weight gain levels off, your energy levels go up, and you start to look “full”. At this point, you can decide what’s best. You can either stay there for a while or gradually take out some food until your weight starts to go down again as you should have done at the beginning of your fat loss phase.