The macro diet or counting macros was trendy last year, and I suspect it will be this year too. Counting calories has been a solid strategy for longer than I can remember. And 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 nutrients of any kind! Here are some awesome strategies that simplify healthy eating!
15 Ways to Eat Healthy
Here’s a no-counting way to eat healthy! To see my views on IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and counting calories, see below.
- Plant-slant your diet. I bring this up pretty often. And no, I don’t mean to eat vegetarian or vegan – though these are certainly fine options. All I mean here is to fill your plate and your belly with the best that the vegetable kingdom has to offer: legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains. See my discussion about three popular plant-based eating plans. The more wholesome plants you eat, the more phytonutrients you get. Variety and abundance are critical here because each plant food has a different array of these health-shielding compounds. And while you’re plant-slanting your plate, be sure to include legumes – beans, peas and lentils – a few times each week. We get to call legumes longevity food because they’ve been linked to long life in a study covering four countries: Japan, Australia, Sweden and Greece.
- Add vegetables to the foods you’re already eating. In my practice, I find that even veggie-loving people often fail to eat the recommended 2 – 3 cups of vegetables daily. The reasons? Lack of awareness, too much trouble, family doesn’t like them and on and on. My favorite solution is to slip them into foods that you’re already eating. Here are 6 Ways to Eat More Vegetables.
- Eat a protein-rich food at breakfast. Breakfast often gets short-changed when it comes to protein, but it’s smart to enjoy lean meats, fish, lentils, beans, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt or other protein-rich foods at each of your three main meals. You don’t need a high-protein diet, but do spread your protein intake out over the day. Your muscles – and maybe even your energy level – will be glad that you did.
- Balance your meals. If you do this three days a day, you definitely don’t have to count macros. Eat some protein-rich foods, some vegetables and some high-fiber grains, starchy vegetables or legumes. In fact, I really like the looks of this new Canadian Food Guide plate.
- Eat meals (and snacks, if hungry). I know that you grazers are hating me right now. Sorry. But I really feel that we are not supposed to always be in the fed state. That’s when insulin levels rise, blood sugar and triglycerides go up, fat is laid down, and the liver is working to process all of those nutrients. All those things need to happen, but they sure don’t need to be going on all day long.
- Make your snacks count. Have a list of 5 or so wholesome foods that 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! Ugh! I learned long ago that it’s better to skip the negotiating with myself and head straight to “no.” My rule is to never eat food brought into an office except under two circumstance. You can read about how I use rules with exceptions to help me avoid lots of irritating, tiresome conversations with myself in How to Handle Office Junk Food.
- Turn cooking into a meditation. I know that this sounds silly, but I’ve been doing this for a few 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.
- Leave the 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.
- 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 that 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, and you learn why I advise skipping bottled teas in favor of home brewed.
- 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. And starting a meal with a low-calorie salad can help us to rein in total calorie intake.
- 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. To learn more about portion control, check out Dr. Lisa Young’s website and new book, Finally Full, Finally Slim.
- Treat yourself to dessert. I HATE the notion of cheats, cheat meals and cheat days. Cheaters are bad, and I don’t want you to think badly of yourself for cheating. For goodness sake, 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.
- Stock up on canned foods. They sure do help me get a meal together quickly 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 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
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 7 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 annoying, 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 have to 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 are coming from, I often recommend a short-term calorie counting experiment – say no more than two weeks. It’s a lot 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. I know that to maintain my weight I need to manage my calorie intake. I read labels to see how various foods fit into my personal calorie goal.
So, what about you? How do you eat well? Do you count calories? Count macros?