How to Eat Healthy: 15 Easy Ways Without Counting Macros or Calories
Find 15 solid strategies to eat healthy, boost energy or lose weight without counting macros or calories.
When first starting a new eating plan – and there were lots of them over the years – my client dutifully recorded each morsel of food and sip of drink. She’d weigh, measure, count, calculate and follow all the rules. Pride shot through her when she passed by the donuts at work or the chips her kids left on the kitchen counter. She smiled as she got dressed in the morning because she loved knowing exactly what to eat and what not to eat. Until …
… she landed in food jail.
And she always landed in food jail. She craved a better way this time. The strict food rules that once gave her a sense of security, eventually left her feeling deprived, bored, and craving candy.
Anyone locked up for long will break out of food jail and risk tossing themselves to the other end of the dieting spectrum and gobble down food as if they might not get the chance to eat again. The result? More shame, less self-confidence and a bellyache.
How you can stay out of food jail
Keep it simple. Embrace healthy eating over strict, painful, joyless diet rules!
The macro diet or counting macros is one of those trendy diets that often wears people out. Calorie counting can do the same. While there are advantages and disadvantages to these strategies, I’ve got good news for those of you who want to focus on food instead of numbers: You can eat healthy and even lose weight without counting macros or anything!
15 ways to eat healthy without counting macros or calories
Here’s a no-counting way! To see my views on IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and counting calories, see below.
- Plant-slant your diet. No, I don’t mean to eat vegetarian or vegan – though these are fine options. Instead fill your plate and your belly with the best the vegetable kingdom offers: legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains. The more wholesome plants you eat, the more phytonutrients you get. Variety and abundance are critical because each plant food has a different array of health-shielding phytonutrients. And while you’re plant-slanting your plate, aim to include legumes – beans, peas and lentils – a few times each week. We call legumes longevity food because they’re linked to long life in a study covering four countries: Japan, Australia, Sweden and Greece.
- Add vegetables to the foods you already eat. Even veggie-lovers often fail to eat the recommended 2 – 3 cups of vegetables daily. More veggies doesn’t mean more work if you slip them into foods you’re already preparing. Add extra veggies to your sandwich, zucchini and carrots to your spaghetti sauce and steamed cauliflower to macaroni and cheese. Here are 6 Ways to Eat More Vegetables.
- Sit down to salads regularly. Say yes to leafy greens and the wholesome foods we mix into them. Salads are a regular part of a Mediterranean-style diet. Start meal with a low-calorie salad to rein in your total calorie intake.
- Eat a protein-rich food at breakfast. Skimping on protein is a bad idea, yet it’s so common, especially at breakfast. Your muscles, energy level and appetite will thank you for including adequate protein. You don’t need a high-protein diet, but do spread your protein intake out over the day. Enjoy lean meats, fish, lentils, beans, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt or other protein-rich foods at each of your three main meals. Along with exercise, protein spread throughout your day preserves muscle mass.
- Balance your meals. If you do this three times a day, you’ll eat well without counting macros. Eat some protein-rich foods, some vegetables and some high-fiber grains, starchy vegetables or legumes. For details and a meal planning template, check out the simple plate method way to balance your meals.
- Drink a cup of tea. Black, white, green, oolong. They all come from the leaves of the same plant, and they all have health benefits. Tea has the same types of phytonutrients we adore in fruits and vegetables, so get an extra health boost with a cup or two. Here’s how to brew the perfect cup, plus learn why I advise skipping bottled teas in favor of home-brewed tea.
- Eat snacks only if hungry. I know you grazers hate me right now. Sorry. But we’re not supposed to be in the fed state all the time. That’s when insulin levels rise, blood sugar and triglycerides go up, fat is laid down, and the liver works to process all those nutrients. Those parts of your metabolism need to happen – but not all day long.
- Make your snacks count. Create a written list of 5 or so wholesome foods you enjoy for a snack. Reach for one of those when you need to eat between meals. Choosing from a list is so much easier than having an entire conversation in your head about what to eat and if it’s a good choice. Pick a food that fills in nutritional gaps – probably fruits and vegetables, no? Here’s a list of good snack choices.
- Say no to office food. Talk about an annoying conversation to have in your head! I learned long ago it’s better to skip negotiating with myself and head straight to “no.” My rule is that I never eat food brought into an office except under two circumstances. You can read how I use rules with exceptions to bypass lots of needless, tiresome conversations with myself in How to Handle Office Junk Food.
Plan for success without counting macros
- Leave fruit in sight. Put some in a pretty bowl on the counter or make fruit front and center in the fridge. Either way, you’re more likely to eat this disease-fighting food if it’s not hidden away.
- Pre-portion your food. Want to control your intake of crackers or chips without denying yourself? Easy-peasy. Just fill baggies with an appropriate amount, stuff the baggies back into the original package, and there you go! You’ve got a stash of right-sized snacks or treats! You can do the same for foods you want to eat more often. Fill baggies with grapes and cherries or carrot sticks and radishes. Store them in the refrigerator to make grabbing a bag of fruits or veggies as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.
- Stock up on canned foods. They’re magic when time is tight. Canned soup and canned tuna make a wholesome, fast meal. I reach for canned tomatoes several times a week. Same for canned beans. Here’s a favorite fast meal: Drain a can of red beans and a can of tomatoes. Mix them together with a can of vegetarian refried beans. Add some jalapenos if you have them. Mix in some reduced-fat cheddar cheese and a bit of cumin and cayenne. Heat it up and enjoy in a warm whole-grain tortilla.
- Eat fatty fish. Aim for two or more fish meals weekly. Here’s why: Health Benefits of Fish.
- Here’s my most popular (and super easy) salmon recipe
Embrace a positive mindset
- Treat yourself to dessert. I HATE cheats, cheat meals and cheat days. Cheaters are bad, and I don’t want you thinking badly of yourself for cheating. For goodness sake, treats, not cheats. Let’s treat ourselves nicely and build in treats. I eat chocolate every single day. Here’s how to love chocolate and keep your healthy diet.
- Turn cooking into a meditation. I know that this sounds silly, but I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s wonderful. It takes much of the chore out of meal prep. Instead of rushing through the scrubbing, chopping, and measuring, focus on the task, get into the rhythm, think about where your food came from and how it’s about to nourish your body and please your taste buds. This one change in my intentions has transformed dinner for me.
My thoughts on counting macros
Macros stands for macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein, that’s all. If it fits your macros (IIFYM) is an advanced way to calorie count. You calculate (or someone prescribes to you) the number of grams of fat, carbs and protein to eat each day. Each gram of fat gives us 9 calories. Both protein and carbohydrate provide 4. That means if your macros are determined correctly, IIFYM is just a non-magical way to count calories. It’s more work, but it forces you to balance your intake at least fairly well. I think it’s tedious, joyless and the pits, but others disagree, and that’s fair. I prefer to balance my macronutrients simply by balancing my food. My method is very easy:
- Include a protein-rich food with every meal
- Include a whole grain or serving of legumes with most meals
- Add small amounts of healthful oils, avocado, olives, nuts or seeds with most meals
- Eat a ton of non-starchy vegetables
- Throw in some fruit and dairy everyday
- Save room for my favorite dark chocolate-covered almonds or something similar
And voila, I have a balanced day, every day, and I don’t count a thing.
Side note: My clients with diabetes usually manage their blood sugar levels and overall health better when they count carbohydrates at each meal and snack. I typically teach them carb counting for this reason. I don’t instruct them to count fats or protein. Instead we usually develop meal-based guidelines like the ones above that I use for myself, however, the guidelines are specific to each person.
My thoughts on counting calories
For those people wanting to lose weight and don’t yet know where their calories come from, I often recommend a short-term calorie counting experiment – say no more than two weeks. It’s like budgeting your money. Once you have an idea of the cost of your usual items, you figure out how to cut back if necessary. Maybe that burger from the Cheesecake Factory isn’t worth 1750 calories (no, I’m not making that up). And maybe a slice of their carrot cake at 1710 calories is a big fat no thanks. But maybe 5 chocolate kisses, at 120 calories, become the perfect treat. I don’t calorie count, but I do pay attention to calories because I need to to manage my weight. I read labels to see how various foods fit into my personal calorie goal.
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I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.
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Welcome to my Blog
Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.
I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.
And I believe willpower is way overrated.
Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.