Article last updated: February 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
My own diet philosophy is based on simplicity.
I never wanted to count calories and macros (protein, carbs and fat) because to me it’s “obsessive behavior”.
Counting calories and macros takes the fun out of eating and makes the whole process feel “robotic”.
Despite never counting my calories or macros, I lost 60 pounds of bodyweight by following these 10 simple diet tips and got lean for the first time in my life.
However, the problem with my 60 pound weight loss was the amount of time it took me to lose it all.
It took me 18 months to lose 60 pounds. This translates to a 3.33 pound weight loss per month which is extremely slow.
An optimal weight loss for a guy my size would have been about 8 pounds per month, therefore I’ve realised that I would have been able to lose all this weight much faster if I had counted my calories and macros and in this article I will explain why that’s the case.
The Benefits Of Counting Calories and Macros
Weight loss is largely a science.
If you consistently consume less calories than you burn, you will shred fat and eventually become lean.
Let’s assume that you’re an average skinny-fat guy who burns 2,800 calories per day and you get on a diet plan that has you eat 2,300 calories a day.
If you stay in this deficit for months you will make huge changes to your physique.
Each month you will get lighter and shred fat. In some cases you will stay at the same bodyweight while losing inches around your waist because you gain muscle mass while losing the weight.
Now assume the reverse scenario of someone who just “eats healthy” without counting his calories. The guy eats all the right foods, but he’s not in a caloric deficit.
No matter how healthy his food intake is, he won’t shred any fat.
And that’s why counting calories a huge benefit if you start out.
By tracking your food intake, counting your calories and tracking measurements and bodyweight regularly you will have hard data that shows exactly how your diet plan works.
If your diet plan doesn’t work, you can adjust it so it starts working. The data helps you adjust your plan so you’re on the right track.
Without the data you have to 1) rely on weight loss experience and 2) know your body very well. Most beginners can’t do either of these two.
How Much Effort Does It Take To Count Calories?
The number 1 reason to why I and many other guys don’t count calories is because of the effort it takes to do so.
Here are the general steps that I take when I create diet plans for clients:
- Estimate the client’s daily caloric expenditure (DCE). Muscle mass, overall size and activity levels determine the DCE.
- Determine the correct macronutrient split (protein, carbs and fat). The more active you are, the more carbs you generally need.
- Determine the right foods for the client’s goal. It doesn’t matter if milk is the healthiest food in the world if you hate eating it and don’t respond well to it, right?
- Find out how many protein, carbs, fat and calories there are in each food, then play around with the foods in excel until you create a diet plan that hits the client’s estimated DCE and optimal macro split.
- Find several options for each meal so the client doesn’t get sick and tired of eating the same foods day in and day out.
- Include regular refeed meals to ensure optimal testosterone levels.
And after I go through these steps, the client has to do the following to ensure that he sticks to the diet plan:
- Buy the right foods.
- Prepare them.
- Weigh them out for each meal and eat the correct amount.
- Each week he has to take bodyweight, waist and hip measurement. If the measurements go down, then great. If not, then dietary adjustments are needed.
As you can see, this is a lot of work, especially at the beginning where you have to do a lot of research and set up your diet plan.
In the next section, I will help you avoid the top 5 mistakes people make when setting up their diet plan.
5 Mistakes People Make When Setting Up Their Diet Plan
I know how difficult it can be to set up a diet plan when you’re a beginner and I learned during my personal trainer education that almost 9/10 people who lose weight, regain all of it within 2 years.
They regain it because they make a lot of basic diet mistakes, some of which I will list now:
- Too few calories: Starving yourself is a recipe for disaster. I can’t count the amount of times I see 200 pound guys go on 1800 calorie diets to lose weight fast. By doing stuff like that you mess up your hormones, lose muscle mass and feel like crap throughout the process. Aim for losing 8-10lbs. a month at most. Anything out of this range is usually muscle loss and water loss so don’t bother losing “weight fast”.
- Following a fad diet: Low carb, low fat and low protein diets are all fads. Your body needs all of them to function when you exercise regularly (which you hopefully do).
- Lacking diet flexibility: If I told you to eat chicken breast, tuna and brocolli with every meal, you would most certainly lose weight, but how long would you be able to sustain this? It’s human nature to crave variation, so don’t try to fight your nature. You will eventually lose and compensate by binging on all your favorite foods.
- Lacking refeed meals: Having your favorite foods once in a while is a great thing even though you are trying to lose weight. By having regular high calorie refeed meals, you ensure that testosterone levels stay high, that you maintain muscle mass and that you feel good throughout the weight loss.
- Not tracking progress: It doesn’t matter how well your diet works in theory. What matters is how it works in real life. You need to track progress every week to see if the diet plan works. If not, make adjustments. No online calculator is more precise than your own body’s response to a diet plan.
If you can avoid these 5 diet mistakes while creating your own diet plan and following it, you will be better off than 90% of people who regain their fat after dieting down incorrectly.
Client Case Study: From 0 to 10 Pull Ups In 5 Weeks
Setting up a diet plan and following it is a lot of work, but it’s worth it for those of you who are serious about transforming your skinny-fat physique.
One of my latest transformation program clients went from 0 to 10 pull ups in 5 weeks while working out just 80 minutes per week at home and sleeping 4 hours per night due to a demanding career.
And surprisingly, his bodyweight is almost the same as 5 weeks ago, but his waist and hips have both gone down in size which indicates that he shredded fat while gaining lean muscle mass.
Now imagine what he can do in just 1 year provided he sticks to the diet plan and we keep increasing his training intensity, frequency and volume.
He will shred fat, gain muscle mass and completely transform his physique from skinny-fat to lean and muscular.
Those are the type of results that a good diet plan combined with a good training routine can create.
In fact, my client’s progress has motivated me so much that I have finally begun to count calories myself to shred weight for summer.
My Experience With Counting Calories After 5 Years Of Not Counting
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t enjoy counting calories at all and I’m not nearly as strict on it as my own clients.
I don’t eat the right macros, and I don’t eat all that healthy.
When you’re lean and muscular and you train hard everyday your body is extremely good at partitioning foods for muscle gains.
That wasn’t the case when I was skinny-fat and couldn’t train hard everyday.
Back then, I needed to be much more strict on my diet to lose weight. Just looking at a cake made me fat.
With that said, I still have to put in everything I eat into a diet app called MyFitnessPal to ensure that I’m below my caloric maintenance which is around 3,500.
For example, today I ate a bunch of high calorie polish foods such as pierogi ruskie, kotlets and also yoghurt with dark chocolate for desert.
I put all these foods into my diet app, and I make sure that no matter what I eat, I stay under my target calories.
At this point in my training, it doesn’t matter as much what I eat as long as I hit my caloric target and get good variation in my diet.
Does this mean that I plan to count calories forever? Definitely not.
Once I’m 10% body-fat, I will stop counting calories and do my best to maintain my body without any obsessive counting.
If needed, I will kill myself at the gym for 2 hours a day to make sure that I don’t put on fat. I would rather do that than obsess about every single food I put in my mouth for the rest of my life.
Should You Count Calories To Lose Weight?
The answer to this question is simple:
If you’re skinny-fat and you have never been able to get to a lean 10-12% body-fat and maintain it for over a year, then you want to go 100% all in on your diet and do it right.
Make the best possible diet plan, weigh your meals, count your calories, track progress and make regular adjustments.
By doing this, you will be able to shred down and get lean in 3-6 months without starving yourself. (Unless you’re obese or lack the discipline to diet properly).
If you’re already lean or you have been able to lose weight before without a diet plan, then just do what worked for you without counting.
Remember, the goal of dieting is not to do it forever.
The goals of dieting are to 1) get lean, 2) stay lean and 3) learn how your body works and the basics of dieting.
You want to learn how many calories there are in different foods and how many calories you can eat to maintain your lean physique.
Eventually, you will be able to eat a relaxed diet that doesn’t require any counting while making consistent lean muscle gains, and you will only have to diet occasionally for 3-4 weeks at a time.
To me, this balanced approach to dieting is much better than the obsessive diet approach followed by people who count calories their whole life and can’t enjoy a meal without putting it into their calorie app.
I hope this post helped clear up some of your doubts about dieting.
Be proud but stay hungry,