It’s more than 50 years since we figured out how to put a man on the moon. And yet, with all our technological advancements since, we live in a world where 95% of people fail their diets.
We fail because we attempt to oversimplify things by following stupid fad diets with their restrictive and arbitrary rule sets, or we make things way more complicated than we need to.
Counting calories and macros is one of the ways people overcomplicate things, in my opinion.
This may sound strange coming from someone who is known for writing at length on the minutiae of macro manipulations for dieting and bulking phases and gets all his clients to count, but I write for and work with a niche bunch of fellow geeks, not society as a whole.
Counting is not suited to all people, not needed by most people, and it is the wrong place to start for almost everyone.
Sure, at some point, it may be necessary for you to count to take your physique to the next level. But do yourself a favor, follow the simplest path you can for as long as you are getting results first, and only add in complication when you have to.
There are several ways people commonly screw up their diets. If you take care of them, you’ll likely progress without counting.
I call these the “big wins.”
These are the easy-to-implement, potentially large-impact strategies that can help you create the required caloric deficit for weight loss, without needing to count.
There is nothing revolutionary here, but any single thing could be significant enough to unlock further progress. I’ll write them in rough order of importance.
The 10 Big-Impact ‘Easy’ Wins
If you are overweight, un-fattening yourself is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your health.
Sustaining a caloric deficit over time is the only thing that will cause that to happen.
What you put in your mouth and when are of secondary importance, but paying attention to these things will help.
Therefore, the following strategies are designed to focus on helping you sustain a caloric deficit.
Note: Not all of these will be easy to do, but they’re easy rules to understand.
1. Cut Down the alcohol
I have known many people over the years who have an alcohol habit that was the sole cause of their lack of progress. They put in the effort elsewhere, but their alcohol intake held them back.
You’ve probably read that and are thinking I am referring to functioning alcoholics. Nope. It’s shockingly easy for alcohol consumption to screw you over. Let’s look at some numbers.
» If you’re looking to lose 1 lb (~0.5 kg) of fat per week, you need a daily deficit of 500 kcal.
» If you keep your diet on point, but you drink two large whiskeys (~250 kcal), two pints of beer (~300 kcal), or two large glasses of wine (~400 kcal), to “wind down” with your wife or friends of an evening… BAM, you’ve just erased 50–80% of your efforts.
Further, alcohol before bed will impact your quality of sleep, which can cause increased hunger, not to mention a poorer training response.
So, if this applies to you, I’d strongly consider cutting down (or eliminating) alcohol intake.
For many, you need read no further. This is the hardest truth you need to hear, but it is the truth. You wouldn’t be the only one who became fat, not out of gluttony, but because you drank ‘reasonable’ amounts, far too often.
If you want to go out but feel awkward, consider ordering zero-alcohol, zero-calorie beers. They look the part, don’t taste as terrible as you’d imagine, and this small psychological trick you pull on yourself could be helpful.
2. Stop drinking Calories!
Swap the sugary sodas for diet ones or water.
Swap the lattes for black coffee, perhaps with a dash of milk and a low-calorie sweetener.
Swap the fruit juices for real fruit instead. These will have fiber and help keep you full.
Now, I can almost hear the açaí berry swigging hipsters of SoCal cracking their thumbs, getting ready to comment, “Oh, but it helps me to get in more nutrition!”
Newsflash: once your nutritional needs are met, you don’t get brownie points for consuming more, you just piss those vitamins out.
3. Eat More Vegetables
What do you hate more, eating vegetables or being fat?
Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, so they’ll help keep you full. If you eat them first, you’ll likely eat fewer calories overall.
I get it, I never used to like vegetables either, and salads are a new thing for me also. What I learned is that you just have to get used to eating them. I did this by making my regular lunch place a salad buffet, putting the protein in the bottom of the bowl, and then stacking the vegetables on top, forcing myself to eat through to the good stuff. (Plus, two teaspoons of raisins and bacon bits helps.)
You can just as easily grill a chicken breast at home and add a bag of ready-made salad you got at the supermarket if you don’t want to faff with all the vegetable cutting.
4. Learn to be ok with hunger
Hunger pangs do not mean your muscles are eating themselves. Take this to be a sign of the fat cells dying, acknowledge it, and let it fade.
5. Quit snacking!
You do not need to snack.
Stick to regular mealtimes, and this will help you to control hunger.
Don’t believe me? Try skipping breakfast for a week and just eat lunch and dinner. By the fifth day, your body will be used to it and you’ll notice very little hunger in the morning. This will teach you an important lesson between wants and needs.
Snacking is an unnecessary modern habit we’ve been conditioned into by slick marketing + cheap and convenient access to food. This habit can be unlearned just as quickly, but help yourself out by controlling your food environment.
6. Manage your food environment, so you don’t have to rely on willpower alone
Set things up so that it easier for you to make the right choices. This means creating a little friction between the bad behaviors and making good actions easier.
For example, if you know you tend to order total shit on Uber Eats, uninstall the app. This way, if you want to order, you have the friction of needing to reinstall it. Not enough? Choose a long password you haven’t memorized and put that password in a notepad in an inconvenient place.
Similarly, throw out the snacks and other crap you know you shouldn’t eat from the house. It’s no good deciding at the start of your diet whether you have the willpower not to eat these things, you have to plan for HANGRY you — when you are eight weeks into a diet on a Sunday afternoon, bored, and hungry.
If you have kids and “can’t” do this, put them out of sight and in awkward places (the food, not the kids). Put fruit in a bowl on the counter, so it’s easier for that to be the default.
Plan what to buy when you grocery shop so that you have it ready when it’s time to cook. Avoid buffets if you know you can’t control yourself at them.
Related article: 9 Ways To Fix Your Food Environment To Make Dieting Easier
7. Chew your food; eat slowly
It takes your brain around 20 minutes to send out satiety signals. So, if you’re in the habit of shoveling down your food, it may help you eat less if you simply make a point of eating more slowly.
» Try chewing each mouthful 20 times.
» Don’t load up a new bite on your fork until you have finished the previous one.
» Eat until you feel 80% full, knowing that by the time you feel full, you’ve likely overeaten.
8. Stop Letting Restaurants dictate how many calories you eat!
This is a huge one for those who eat out often with friends.
The chef’s job is to create the most delicious food possible so that you keep coming back. They do not care about calories, and restaurant owners know that if the portions are small, they will get bad reviews.
The result? Lots of hidden calories and large portion sizes that will make you fat.
» Choose what you order carefully.
» Leave something on your plate if you know it’s too big.
» Skip the deserts, even if others have them.
» Know that you can have a scoop of protein when you get home if the protein serving wasn’t enough.
9. Eat at home more Often
» As mentioned, there can be lots of hidden calories in restaurant meals, and the portions tend to be too large. By eating at home, you limit your exposure to this.
» Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and is definitely your friend when dieting. It’s way easier to eat the kind of lean protein in the quantity you want if you’re cooking at home. (Not to mention, being way cheaper.)
(Lean protein means less fat, which means fewer calories. As a very rough guide, shoot for two slightly larger than palm-size portions of lean meat a day. For me, that’s two large chicken breasts.)
» Additionally, you’re going to need to learn to cook if you’re going to count calories and macros at some point. Which you will, because once you make some tremendous changes with these simple rules, you’ll become addicted and want to take it further.
10. Avoid the all-or-nothing mentality
Do you set your savings on fire if you lose your wallet?
No. Right, so stop doing the same kind of thing when your diet doesn’t go to plan.
If you ate a couple of pizza slices you shouldn’t have, do not take this as a green light to eat your face off the rest of the weekend.
We are the product of our habits, not the occasions. The most successful clients over the years are those who have avoided this all-or-nothing mindset trap.
Most people do not need to count calories and macros to progress toward their goals. Consistent implementation of these ‘common sense’ basics may not be as accurate, but it’ll take the majority of people a long way while keeping their lives simpler.
What things have been helpful for you? What do you think is missing from this list? Please comment below, and thank you for reading! 🙏🏻