Weight Loss & Diet

6 Secrets For Lasting Weight Loss Without Strict Calorie Counting

Many health and weight loss apps are based largely on calorie counting but is that the best approach for sustainable/lasting weight loss?
lasting weight loss
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can be one of the most impactful steps you can take for health. A study published in Diabetes Care found that in overweight or obese participants with prediabetes, those who lost 5 kg had a 58% lower risk of developing diabetes over the next 3 years. Similarly, when it comes to blood pressure, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology estimate that each kilogram of weight loss is linked to a 1 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure.

So how do you lose weight…and keep it off? Many health and weight loss apps are based largely on calorie counting but is that the best approach for sustainable weight loss, or is it a recipe for regaining weight after a while? Keep reading to learn about the theory behind calorie counting, and why Lark’s coaching focuses on many other aspects of weight loss.

How Calorie Counting Works

Calorie counting depends on the principle of calorie balance. As Mayo Clinic explains, eating more calories than you burn or expend leads to weight loss. If you instead eat fewer calories in compared to calories expended, weight loss will happen. 

Health and weight loss apps may estimate the calories you burn every day through normal activities and exercise. Then they calculate a goal daily calorie intake for you based on weight loss goals.

Calorie counting sounds good in theory, but it may not be the best approach for lasting weight loss. The process of calorie counting is burdensome. To do it properly, you may need to measure foods with measuring cups and spoons or scales. And what happens if you cook complicated recipes or eat at a restaurant? Calorie counting may not be sustainable, and it may not lead to the healthiest of food choices.

Secrets to Lasting Weight Loss

1. Food Logging Works

Research shows that people who have achieved lasting weight loss tend to log their meals. A review article published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that 92% of the successful weight loss interventions studied included some form of meal tracking. This strategy helps you think about what you eat to motivate you to make healthier choices.

Lark’s meal logging feature is easy to use, so it does not take all day to track your meals. Along with motivating healthier eating habits, Lark’s nutrition coaching includes in-the-moment feedback when you log meals, so you can quickly learn what was a great choice and where you have an opportunity to improve next time.

Ways to Cut Calories without Strict Calorie Counting

  • Log meals and snacks with a simple app, such as Lark.
  • Take smaller portions of lower-nutrient foods such as sweets, fatty meats, white bread, rice, and pasta, and fried foods.
  • Choose foods that are higher in protein or fiber, such as fish, low-fat yogurt, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fresh fruit.
  • Choose foods that are lower in added sugars, saturated fats, and refined starches.
  • Plan ahead for special occasions by thinking of what one or two special foods you will have, and then serve yourself a single, small portion at the event.

2. Life Includes Celebrations

Are you trying to lose weight so you can be healthier for the next 2, 10, or 40 years? That time period is sure to include holidays, celebrations, parties, get-togethers, and other occasions that typically include not-so-healthy food. Following a weight management program that is too strict and does not allow for these occasions may lead to feelings of failure if you do participate. The result? Completely giving up on weight loss. 

Instead, Lark’s philosophy is that planned indulgences are part of life. A lasting weight loss journey will require one to make room for these occasions: birthday parties, vacations, luncheons, and other social occasions that allows you to feel like you are living, and not simply dieting.

3. Nutrients Matter

The calorie count is one characteristic of the food, but the exact sources of those calories matter, too. Getting a balance of calories from lean proteins, healthy fats, and high-fiber foods can lead to increased fullness and more stable blood sugar. In contrast, refined starches, added sugars, and unhealthy fats may satisfy hunger for long, and lead to increased cravings for calorie-dense foods. In addition, certain nutrients lower risk for chronic conditions, regardless of weight.

An approach called the Plate Method can help you get a balanced meal with reasonable portion sizes. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain, most meals should start with filling half of the plate with vegetables. The other half of the plate can be divided between lean protein, such as egg whites, chicken, fish, or beans, and a high-fiber carbohydrate, such as whole-wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, or quinoa. Without worrying too much about exact calories, the Plate Method can help you get a nutritious, calorie-controlled meal that can help achieve lasting weight loss.

4. Portion Control Is Critical – And Simple For Lasting Weight Loss!

“Portion control” is usually code for, “eating less,” and it helps lower calorie intake to assist with weight loss. However, strict calorie counters can take portion control to the extreme. Measuring cups and spoons, and food scales may be used to be sure the exact number of calories is known. This can be cumbersome and impossible if food is not prepared at home.

Calorie counting can be used to implement portion control for weight loss, but there are easier methods for lasting weight loss. For example, one approach is simply to take smaller portions of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Better yet, this approach includes taking larger portions of low-calorie, high-nutrient foods, so there is no need to suffer with extreme hunger that can come with eating tiny portions. 

It can also be helpful to know that many “default” portion sizes are way bigger than one serving size. Recognizing “too-big” portions can make it easier to stick to “right size” portions. These are some examples.

Food Number of Servings Example of Single Serving To make it bigger, add:
Bagel (such as Starbucks, Dunkin’, or Panera)
4 servings
1 slice whole-wheat toast, ½ English muffin, ½ mini bagel
An orange, apple, pear, or other piece of fruit
Spaghetti or other pasta
3 to 4 servings
½ cup cooked pasta
Extra marinara sauce, diced tomatoes (or other vegetables), and chicken, shrimp, or tofu
Blueberry or other muffin
4 to 5 servings
1 mini muffin
½ cup cottage cheese and 1 cup blueberries
2 slices of large pizza
2 servings
2 slices of thin-crust medium pizza
Extra veggie toppings plus a side salad
Double or large restaurant hamburger
2 to 3 servings
Small or kids’ burger
Lettuce and tomatoes, plus carrot sticks or fresh fruit
Ice cream sundae
3 to 4 servings
1 scoop low-fat ice cream
Banana, berries, and nuts or peanuts

5. Your Body Gives Hunger Cues…If You Listen

Hunger is the body’s signal that it needs energy from food. Lack of hunger is the body’s signal that food is not necessary right now. It starts off that simple, but people do not always follow biological hunger signals. Instead, increased appetite may result from reasons unrelated to the need for food, such as proximity to tempting foods, habit, or emotional reasons. Ignoring hunger cues can lead to weight gain.

Calorie counting can encourage you to override hunger cues. Instead, you may find yourself eating because you have a certain amount of calories left that you are allowed to eat, or you may try to avoid eating if you have reached your limit for the time being. The more often you ignore your body, the weaker and less clear its signals will become.

Instead, Lark encourages users to eat when they reach a certain predetermined level of hunger, and to stop when full. Another strategy for eating according to need is to ask whether you are eating because of hunger, or for another reason, such as boredom or socializing. With practice, it is possible to regain the ability to listen to the body and eat to satisfy the body’s needs.

6. A Personal Nutrition Coach Can Drive Success For Lasting Weight Loss

While calorie counting can give you the numbers, a personal nutrition coach like Lark can offer instant feedback when you log a meal. While the meal or snack is still fresh in your mind, Lark can let you know some good-for-weight-loss aspects of your food choices, and some not-so-good aspects. In-the-moment feedback can drive the point home so that you can more easily make improvements the next time you eat, and establish positive habits over time. In addition, having a coach in your pocket can increase accountability.

Calorie counting can help with weight loss, but exclusive, strict counting can be counterproductive. Instead, a more holistic approach to weight loss can facilitate lasting results. That is why Lark encourages small changes and establishing healthy habits, without tedious micromanaging of calories, to lose weight for good.