You've decided you want to eat healthier to lose weight.
For many, the default approach is to count calories in some way, either reading labels, weighing food or using a points system.
There are a few reasons counting calories and choosing foods based on calorie content is not the best approach.
First, the emphasis is put on just one aspect of food, when there are many regarding health and weight loss, like the quality and type of food.
Second, it can quickly suck the joy out of eating. You might soon become scared to toss freshly cooked veggies in olive oil or to eat egg yolks, avocados or nuts because of the caloric content, despite these being part of a healthy and delicious diet.
Third, counting calories can make you think about food even more than you already do, which is counterproductive when you're most likely trying to have a healthier relationship with food.
Calorie counting can be a great tool to learn the caloric content of certain foods, but alone, it's rarely a sustainable way to improve your health and manage your weight forever.
So then what? Instead, you could learn the best way to eat for your own body.
It may take a bit of trial and error, but once you find the best approach, you can lose weight for life, improve your health and well-being and feel your best.
The alternative to strict calorie counting can help you learn more about yourself, food and health while enjoying your way to reaching your goals.
I'm providing three tips below to help you master it:
1. Think beyond the calorie.
Rather than putting all the emphasis on calories, instead think nutrients. Nutrients are most abundant in real food rather than processed food (even if it's organic).
Macronutrients (fat, carbs and protein), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients (chemicals typically found in plants that fight cancer, disease and inflammation) can all boost your health and well-being while supporting weight loss.
You'll find most of these foods at farmer's markets or around the perimeter of the food store, with the exception of things like olive oil, beans and whole grains, which tend to be in the middle aisles.
All healthy eating guidelines encourage an abundance of vegetables in the diet. They are generally nutrient-dense and low-calorie, so it's beneficial to pack them into each meal.
For example, if you love pasta, you can still enjoy it. Toss your must-have pasta dish with a protein and some roasted or sautéed vegetables.
You'll likely feel full and satisfied faster and for longer than you would otherwise.
This will allow you to still eat what you love while consuming more nutrients and less calories.
2. Practice moderation.
Moderation is particularly important for indulgences and higher calorie foods.
The saying "everything in moderation" doesn't exactly hold true in terms of health and weight loss. With that vague logic, you could end up eating very little real, nutrient-dense food and a lot of processed and sugary foods.
One of the best ways to learn moderation is to start measuring your food to learn proper portions. You might be shocked at the actual portion size of sweet treats, pasta, rice, meats, peanut butter and even vegetables.
Once you start getting used to proper portions, it will come naturally, and you'll rely less on the need to measure everything.
Olive oil on veggies, guacamole, peanut butter with your banana or apple, trail mix for your mid-afternoon snack and a square of dark chocolate after dinner can all fit into a healthy diet using moderation.
3. Find your balance.
A balanced diet means you are eating healthy portions and proportions of food, and you can allow for some indulgences.
Once you adopt moderation, you can learn to balance different types of food to structure meals and snacks throughout the week.
Here's my system to help you find balance with food: When planning meals and making your food shopping list for the week ahead, start with the vegetables you'll eat each day and go from there.
Plan out the six to eight servings of veggies each day, including various types and colors.
If you're feeling like six to eight is too much, remember they can be added to smoothies, soups, omelettes and pasta, on top of pizza, as a side to a sandwich, dipped into hummus or served over brown rice.
It doesn't have to be a boring side of steamed vegetables at every meal!
Then, plan fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, dairy, poultry, meat and seafood followed lastly by any indulgent or sweet treat you feel you really need.
You'll most likely find they don't easily fit into the meal plan and are an unnecessary add in.
My personal approach to balance is avoiding all added indulgences until I really feel like I need it.
If I had chocolate and chips sitting in my pantry all the time, I'd no doubt reach for those before an apple or mindlessly snack on them as I was hungrily cooking dinner or watching TV.
If those foods were available to me, I'd want them simply because I knew they were there. With those options out of sight, it helps me make healthier choices.
I actually don't think about or miss them, but when I do, I fully enjoy the indulgence because it's truly a treat.
Calorie counting as a means to eat healthier and lose weight can work in certain instances, like to learn proper portions of food, but alone, it won't typically help you lose weight and keep it off, learn healthier eating habits or live the healthier life you're craving.
To achieve these goals, try choosing foods based on the nutrient content rather than calories, practicing moderation and finding the balance that works best for you.
Check out this guide to learn the basics of a healthy diet, tips for staying on track and how to reduce your sugar consumption for good, while actually enjoying the journey.