Maintaining a healthy body weight is something many people struggle with. Standard diet advice isn’t super-helpful, focusing on calories in and calories out without offering much guidance on how to actually tip the scales. And, while calories are ultimately the main reason why someone gains, maintains, or loses weight, actually adhering to a specific daily calorie count is not as easy as it sounds.
If you’ve tried to count calories in the past with little to no success, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are things you can do to maintain a healthy body weight without having to track every calorie you consume. Here are five tips for making it happen.
1. Eat more protein
Of the three macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein), protein is the most satiating, which means that eating it makes you feel fuller than eating carbs or fats would. This is important because the fuller you feel, the less likely you are to overeat.
In addition to making you feel fuller, protein also has a higher thermic effect of food (TEF), which basically refers to the energy required by the body to extract energy from it. The higher the TEF, the lower the net energy intake will be.
Protein is also crucial for preserving and building muscle mass, which is good news for weight maintenance. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories even at rest, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.
While protein recommendations can vary, striving to eat at least 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight (that’s about 0.72 to one gram per pound of body weight) will be enough for most individuals. To get more protein in your diet, emphasize protein-rich foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. (FYI: Eating a diet higher in protein not only supports weight maintenance but also contributes to other health benefits, such as healthy bones and blood pressure.)
2. Increase Your Step Count
Staying active is very important when it comes to weight maintenance. A systematic review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2014 identified physical activity as one of the key components of successful weight maintenance. Staying active has this effect by increasing the amount of energy you burn throughout the day. Resistance training, in particular, can also effectively build muscle mass and improves your body composition.
The general exercise recommendation for adults is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity per week. One of the easiest ways to work towards this goal is by increasing your step count. Whenever possible, get walking, whether by taking planned walks around the block, walking during your lunch break at work, or intentionally parking farther away when out and about so that you have to walk more to get to your destination.
3. “Snack” on Exercise
Another approach to increase physical activity is to try and complete “exercise snacks,” which are basically very short bursts of high-intensity physical activity done frequently throughout the day. Exercise snacks are a great way to break up prolonged periods of sedentary behavior (like working a desk job for eight hours of the day). Some examples of exercise snacks include jogging up and down a staircase or doing a set of jumping jacks for 20 seconds. Though brief (they’re typically just 15 to 30 seconds in duration), as long as you perform exercise snacks with high effort and intention, you can experience legitimate benefits.
4. Eat more fiber
Fiber is another nutrient that can help you feel full and has been shown to help maintain a healthy weight, in addition to other positive health benefits like decreasing cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels, and many more. The Adequate Intake for fiber is 25 grams for adult women and 38 grams for adult men per day. Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help you get more fiber in your diet.
Generally, making at least 50 percent of the grains you eat whole grains and aiming for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day can really help increase your fiber consumption. Otherwise, try to incorporate more legumes (such as beans and lentils) into your meals and add nuts and seeds to your snacks to up your intake.
5. Drink more water
Drinking more water can improve your health in a whole host of ways—and can also reduce how much you eat. Water is essential for maintaining your hydration levels, regulating your body temperature, supporting your kidney function, and promoting many more important body functions. Research has shown that drinking about two cups of water before a meal has the potential to make you feel fuller and reduce how much you eat during that meal, thus reducing how many calories you consume.
Fluid needs vary greatly from person to person, but it is generally recommended that most men consume around 3.7 liters (about 125 ounces) per day and most women consume roughly 2 .7 liters (about 91 ounces) per day. To achieve this, carry around a reusable water bottle to sip on throughout the day and try to refill it a couple of times.
In addition to having water with you, setting reminders on your phone and tracking your water intake can help you remember to drink more water throughout the day.
6. Prioritize Sleep
You know that sleep is very important—and that’s because it is when most of your body’s recovery processes occur. Sleep deprivation, meanwhile, has been shown to increase how much you eat which can then negatively affect weight loss or weight maintenance goals. In general, it is recommended that adults get about eight hours of sleep per night, so if you notice that you are consistently getting less than this, prioritizing your sleep schedule may be a necessary move for your weight goals.
In addition to setting a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at similar times each day and creating an environment that supports restful sleep (think no screens), make sure to avoid sleep disturbances caused by stimulants by avoiding caffeine for at least six hours prior to sleep. You’ll also want to avoid any foods that may cause indigestion or discomfort while sleeping. (Here’s a breakdown of some of the worst foods and drinks to have before bed.)
The Bottom Line
Counting calories may not be the best approach for everyone when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight. The above tips are great alternatives to consider and can easily be integrated into daily life. By focusing on protein-rich foods, staying active, eating more fiber, drinking more water, and prioritizing sleep, you can make progress towards your weight goals while also reaping additional health benefits. Remember, small changes can make a big difference in the long run, so start by incorporating one or two of these tips into your routine and tack others on from there.