Tracking your dietary intake can be an incredibly helpful tool giving a much more analytical insight to how much and what of you’re actually eating.
Research has consistently shown that we’re just not that good at estimating quantity and quality of dietary intake; we base it on our perceptions of portion size, social interpretations of “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods and government guidelines (or worse, magazine and other media recommendations) which, ultimately, may not be applicable to you as an individual.
Whilst using tracking software (like MyFitnessPal) or a food diary can be an incredibly valuable tool and learning resource, it is certainly not for everyone and, for some, tracking may be asking simply far too much from day one and may even trigger / contribute to disordered health behaviours.
In this article we’re going to discuss two alternative strategies which you can use to either provide an alternative option to tracking entirely, or to use as a “stepping stone” to progress into tracking (which itself should not be a consistently permanent feature of your lifestyle if you’re simply after improving your health - high level athletes may need to rely on tracking slightly more as finer margins can make all the difference in elite sports).
Proactive portion management
Behind all the mysticism surrounding weight loss, all the miracle diets, and all the “one trick you’ve not been told” adverts, there lies one eternal truth; our change in weight will always be dictated by the calories we take in vs. the calories we expend.
You can dress it up however you want, in whatever dieting style you’d like, but it always boils down to this one simple principle (it’s just that the factors which go into both sides of this principle are immensely complex).
If we can achieve less energy in vs. more energy out then we’ll achieve fat loss.
Portion control is arguably the easiest and most straightforward technique to employ when cutting down on the amount of energy we take in, via food, to lose fat. If we just eat less than that which we currently take in, the chances are you’re likely going to facilitate fat loss.
Managing portions can be done easily in one of two ways; The first would be simply dividing up your plate. There are numerous iterations of this strategy (from the MyPlate in the U.S. to the EatWell Plate in the U.K.), and a general rule of thumb would be to divide your plate up into; 30 - 50% protein, 20 - 30% vegetables, 20 - 30% wholegrains and 5 - 10% fats.
We’ll discuss the importance of protein in fat loss in a short while.
The other simplistic method of portion management is to use your hands as a reference for portion size. Precision Nutrition (PN., 2019) use the following rules to determine portion sizes.
Your palm determines your protein portions.
Your fist determines your fruit / veggie portions.
Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
Your thumb determines your fat portions
Not every meal has to contain all of these of course but it helps to base meal designs around these simple fundamentals. This approach should accompany a meal schedule and established routine.
Focusing on food choice
Roughly speaking, you will want to aim for three core meals based on these principles with multiple smaller meals / snacks had inbetween these meals (with larger individuals and those who are engaging in intense exercise needing greater food intakes).
The foods we eat can also play a very important role in on our fat loss campaign.From reducing hunger, to improving energy levels, reducing body fat and even increasing lean muscle, our food choices are arguably just as important as the amount of food we consume.
The primary nutrient in our diet which will provide the most benefit in virtually all groups of people is protein. Most will associate protein with hulking, greased up bodybuilders and larger than life athletes but, when we look past the marketing and sweaty magazine covers, protein is arguably the most highly effective tool we have for weight loss (outside of understanding our calorie intake).
Studies show that, not only does protein help to improve satiation and better regulate blood sugars, but it can also preserve your lean muscle mass when dieting (6). This is extremely important, as the more lean muscle mass you have the greater your metabolic rate will be. The greater your metabolism the easier it will be for you to maintain your weight loss!
Studies also show higher protein diets to be more effective than low protein diets for weight loss (2,4) and also to be highly effective in maintaining any weight loss, despite age! (2,5)
Fibre is another highly effective weight loss tool. It essentially helps us lose weight as we generally “feel fuller” with increased fibre in our diet. Certain types of fibre will “draw in water” and “bulk up” like a sponge. This can mimic the effects of eating a larger volume of food and trigger a cascade of hormonal signalling telling your brain that you’re full.
Other types of fibre form a gel like substance, again transitioning slowly through the gut. These fibres can not only pick off rogue units of dietary cholesterol in your gut but they can also contribute to better regulation of blood sugars. When our blood sugars are better controlled we feel less fatigued and or “more balanced” (from an energy perspective) and are less likely to snack on things that are packed full of added sugars and typically calorie dense (1).
Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a great way to ensure your getting plenty of fibre (as a well as a host of other beneficial nutrients, minerals and anti-inflammatory compounds). Fruit and veg are also typically calorie efficient, offering a lot of food volume for very little calories (a great way to save on calorie intake!).
Studies show that, even promoting fruit and veg intake without necessarily recommending a reduction in total food consumption can lead to improved weight loss and subsequent maintenance(7). A higher intake of fruit and veg is also associated with a reduced risk in all cause mortality and non-communicable diseases (3)!
Achieving sustainable fat loss does not have to include calorie counting and deprivation. Portion management, focusing on a higher protein diet and even increasing fruit and vegetable intake are all effective methods for dropping excess weight. Our team can help you create a plan that incorporates these principles so that you can lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off for good.
Have you tried any of the techniques we’ve talked about today?
What has worked best for you?
Let us know in the comments below or by reaching out to our team!
Anderson, J., Baird, P., Davis Jr, R., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., Waters, V. and Williams, C. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews, 67(4), pp.188-205.
Astrup, A., Raben, A. and Geiker, N. (2014). The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities. International Journal of Obesity, 39(5), pp.721-726.
Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L., Keum, N., Norat, T., Greenwood, D., Riboli, E., Vatten, L. and Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(3), pp.1029-1056.
Kim, J., O’Connor, L., Sands, L., Slebodnik, M. and Campbell, W. (2016). Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 74(3), pp.210-224.
Mettler, S., Mitchell, N. and Tipton, K. (2010). Increased Protein Intake Reduces Lean Body Mass Loss during Weight Loss in Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(2), pp.326-337.
Mytton, O., Nnoaham, K., Eyles, H., Scarborough, P. and Ni Mhurchu, C. (2014). Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of increased vegetable and fruit consumption on body weight and energy intake. BMC Public Health, 14(1).
Perry, B. and Wang, Y. (2012). Appetite regulation and weight control: the role of gut hormones. Nutrition & Diabetes, 2(1), pp.26.
Balance is Northern Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietician coaching team. We work with everyone from Olympians to office workers to help them achieve their nutrition and diet related goals.
Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you;
- Beat binge eating
- Lose weight and keep it off
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