Dieting: oy vey. You’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who doesn’t have a torrid relationship with it. After all, for years, many of us believed calorie counting and restriction were the only effective methods for weight loss. But let’s say you want to shed a few extra pounds of winter weight or slim down a bit more than that and don’t want to have to starve yourself to do it. We’re happy to report that it is possible.
We spoke to a handful of nutrition experts who believe that calorie counting is no longer the gold standard but the “old standard” when it comes to dieting. Their new alternatives are clear, effective, and importantly, satiating. See ya later, hunger.
To check out seven expert-approved weight-loss tips that put calorie counting to shame, keep scrolling!
First off, a good recipe for eating right and staying lean is to start looking at food as something beautiful and exciting, not something boring or anxiety-inducing. According to nutrition expert Michelle Lian, if a food item isn’t colorful and pretty—if doesn’t make you happy to see it on your plate—it isn’t worth eating.
So toss the box of crackers you grabbed out of convenience and the dinner plate full of entirely beige food. Instead, load your meals with colorful, fresh, whole foods. In the end, it’s better for your waistline, your mental health, and your Instagram account.
Calories aren’t the enemy; processed junk is. “Limit or cut out refined sugars found in baked goods, soft drinks, and other processed foods,” says Stephanie Taibe, a nutritionist at Find Your Trainer. First of all, these foods are almost entirely devoid of nutrients, so you’re not doing your body any favors by eating them. They also promise sugar binges later on. “Simple sugars cause a spike in blood glucose levels, which makes you feel good for a short period of time until that wears away, causing a crashing effect later,” Taibe says. This can lead to more diet-derailing sugar cravings and weight gain.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to cut out dessert for life. But think of it this way: If more than 20% of your diet comes from a package, that’s too much processed food. So day to day, try replacing prepackaged snacks with bananas and almond butter or almonds. Instead of soda, get your carbonation fix with sparkling water and lemon. You’ll wind up fueling your body more efficiently and cutting way down on sugar binges.
Taking the time to understand your eating habits is the best way to find out how to improve them. In other words, counting calories all day is a waste of time if you can trace your diet-related troubles to one specific issue.
For example, let’s say you have no problem eating healthfully throughout the day, until night falls and suddenly you find yourself gorging on tortilla chips and frozen waffles. Or maybe you have most of your meals delivered and don’t realize how much butter and salt is used in their preparation. It’s important to find out what your individual behaviors are and address them accordingly. Replace the junk in your kitchen with fresh fruit or veggies and hummus to curtail those late-night snack attacks. Or try making more meals at home to avoid overeating without realizing it. Once you tackle your personal diet kryptonite, counting calories will seem silly.
“You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Drink. More. Water,” says Champion. “Not only does water help rev up your metabolism, staying well-hydrated also keeps you from downing hundreds of calories when that ‘craving’ you thought you had was actually just thirst.” Yes, the arguments for drinking more water are manifold.
But forcing yourself to down more H20 never works, especially if you’re not a natural water drinker. To make a habit out of it, you have to turn yourself on to the water-drinking lifestyle. Maybe that means treating yourself to a nice, expensive water bottle. Maybe that means getting into fancy mineral waters, like Voss ($70 for a 12-pack) or 90H20 ($72 for a 24-pack). Like anything diet-related, becoming a “water person” is more than chugging 12 cups of water a day—it’s a way of life.
Fiber and weight loss go together like chai and almond milk lattes. “Fiber helps you feel fuller for longer,” says Taibe. Plus, fiber slides through your intestines nice and easy, so you always feel cleaned out. High-fiber foods include veggies and fruits like apples, strawberries, citrus, tomatoes, and kale as well as whole grains like oats, rice bran, and oat bran. Keep fiber at the forefront of your mind as you choose your meals, and weight loss is sure to follow.
“Protein is famous for decreasing appetite and squashing cravings,” says registered dietitian Jenny Champion. Instead of counting calories, try packing 20 grams of protein into every meal and snack. This will naturally boost your metabolism and cause you to eat less over the course of the day. Eggs, grilled chicken, and fish are all “great snack attack–killing options,” Champion says. Plant-based protein options include quinoa, beans, soy, and Ezekiel bread ($15).
Dieting is futile if you go about it thinking that food is the enemy. Instead of telling yourself that food is bad (and then hating yourself when you eventually give in to it), find healthy foods you love, and eat them in abundance.
“News flash: Carbs are okay,” says Champion. “Fresh, whole fruit is amazing for satisfying a sweet tooth while also being a great source of healthy carbs, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.” Fats are fine too! “Not only does fat actually help burn fat, it also keeps you über-satisfied so you’re not left feeling snack-y after meals. Nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives are some of the best choices to start with.” Instead of eating a sad, calorie-controlled lunch, make yourself a giant, plentiful salad full of avocado, arugula, strawberries, or whatever plant-based options you love. (If you want healthy meal inspiration, check out what Byrdie editors really eat for lunch.)
Next up, don’t miss our practical guide for how to not gain weight while traveling.