Counting calories is one of the most obvious and conventional ways of losing weight, but it’s not exactly a fun or easy way to maintain it.
Meticulously weighing every pound of food and tracking all those numbers in your app or notebook every single day is a lot of unnecessary work for the average person — and aren’t we all busy enough?
Not to mention that counting calories doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibility, and can quickly unravel in uncertain situations (travelling, eating out etc…)
So how do we maintain our feel-great weight without all the fuss? The solution lies in what I like to call, “ad libitum dieting.”
So What Is Ad Libitum ‘Dieting,’ Exactly?
Simply put, “ad libitum” dieting means eating until you’re full.
At first, you may think this is pretty bad way to diet. After all, if you eat till you’re full, you’ll definitely gorge on huge amounts of food to become satiated. That is, unless you adhere to specific eating (and drinking) guidelines to make ad libitum dieting work for you.
Also Read: Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work. Here’s Why
The primary goal is to induce as much satiety as possible, so you eat fewer calories without having to do all the work of counting and measuring.
The second goal — and this is just as important as the first, if not more so — is to make it an enjoyable process. If you hate your diet or it’s too difficult to maintain, you’re not going to stick with it in the long-term, and that’s not what maintaining your feel-great weight is about.
Here are the basic “ad libitum” guidelines, which I’ll discuss in further detail later on in this post.
- Every meal should include an adequate amount of protein.
- Eat multiple servings of vegetables a day.
- Drink water before every meal.
- Avoid sugar.
- Choose from a list of high-volume, highly-satiating foods (list below).
- Don’t drink your calories (except protein shakes).
- Eat on small plates.
- Eat slowly and mindfully.
- Make sure you get quality sleep.
- Keep your food choices simple.
Always Add Protein
One of the reasons people count calories and macros is to make sure they get in high amounts of protein.
The thing is, you don’t need to eat as much protein as you think.
Menno Henselmans did an amazing article that digs through a plethora of studies to prove there is normally no advantage to consuming more than 0.82 grams per pound of body weight of protein per day to preserve or build muscle for natural trainees.
There is only one advantage to exceeding that amount: protein is incredibly satiating, and satiety is the main goal of ad libitum dieting.
That’s why I recommend including protein in every meal. I typically like to cook massive amounts of chicken at the start of the week to make things easy (since chicken is so versatile and can be added to almost anything), but this works with canned tuna, eggs, tofu, legumes, etc. Or you could just add a protein shake.
The bottom line is, you don’t need as much protein as you think, but be sure to include as much as you need to induce satiety so you won’t go hungry and overdo it on the calories.
Eat Multiple Servings Of Vegetables Per Day
I know I’m stating the obvious here, but vegetables are one of the best things you can eat on basically any diet. This comes down to two reasons:
- They’re highly nutritious.
- They’re low-calorie and high volume.
- Vegetable intake does affect your body composition.
Green vegetables have a lot of nitrate, and a high nitrate intake reduces the oxygen cost of sub-maximal exercise. Translation? Eating lots of green vegetables can, in some circumstances, enhance exercise tolerance and performance, and that is always a good sign for
Other than that, they help in red blood cell production, inflammation control, cortisol response mediation, oxidative stress response, cholesterol synthesis and more.
Basically, you already know that veggies are good for you — so eat up!
Drink Water Before Every Meal
A study in 2009 found that people who drank 500 ml of water before a meal ate 40 fewer calories than those who didn’t.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Forty calories, that’s nothing!” But let’s do the math. If you, let’s say, eat three meals a day, that’s 120 calories less every day, 3,600 calories a month. Going by the 3,500 calories = one pound of fat rule (which is not precise but we’ll go with it) that’s an extra one pound of fat lost, just by drinking some water before a meal.
I think that’s worth it, no? (Bonus satiety points if you drink sparkling water).
In general, you should drink more water, both for health and for weight maintenance purposes, so be sure to drink plenty throughout the day.
Avoid Added Sugar
While sugar does not directly make you fat, it is highly unsatiating, especially when found in beverages.
That doesn’t mean you need to devoid yourself of sweet treats forever — just don’t eat them too often.
Artificial sweeteners are also unsatiating and trick your body into thinking you’re eating sugar. Plus, there’s no evidence to suggest that people who consume artificial sweeteners are thinner than their sugar-eating counterparts (in fact, some studies that suggest eating sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain), so stay away from the fake stuff, too.
Enjoy High-Volume, Low-Calorie Foods
I’m not saying the entirety of your diet should comprise of only these foods. Everyone is different, and everyone is satiated with different foods. Experiment, and use this list to get an idea of what you could include in your meal plan to feel fuller without adding a ton of unnecessary calories.
- Potatoes (not deep-fried)
- Soups (not really high volume, but they fill you up)
- Air-popped popcorn (ideal for a snack)
- Cod, tuna
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
Don’t Drink Your Calories
Studies have shown that liquid food is substantially more unsatiating than regular, solid foods. This comes down to their digestion — liquids are very easy and quick to digest — which means they won’t fill you up like real foods can.
Now, of course, protein shakes come to mind when talking about this topic. While studies have shown them to be filling, I haven’t seen any studies comparing solid protein foods with liquid ones.
If you’re strength-training and looking to maintain or build muscle, then by all means, include protein shakes into your regular diet plan. Otherwise, eat your food — don’t drink it.
Eat On Smaller Plates
This is a small psychological trick, which one study proved to be highly effective. With smaller plates come smaller food portions, thus reducing the number of calories you consume. Easy peasy.
Eat Slowly And Mindfully
It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re satiated, so why the hurry? Don’t eat while you’re watching TV or playing video games or scrolling through your Instagram feed for the hundredth time on your phone. Chew slowly and savour every bite.
Insufficient sleep has been labelled a public health epidemic and rightly so. Canada was recently declared the third most sleep-deprived country, with nearly a third of the Canadians (31%) feeling like they don’t sleep enough.
Aside from the grogginess, sleep deprivation can result in many detrimental side effects, to muscle loss and weight gain.
Not getting enough sleep can result in 55% less fat loss, 60% more muscle loss and 14% less testosterone than those who regularly catch their zzzs.
Getting enough hours of sleep isn’t the only important factor, you also need to get enough quality sleep. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure you sleep in a dark, cool room.
- Don’t stare at a screen for 1 hour before bedtime.
- Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine.
Keep It Simple
Palatability is a food property that defines how tasty the meal is i.e. how much pleasure you derive from eating that meal.
Obviously, higher palatability = more calories eaten.
When you’re dieting you want to strike a balance between palatability and satiety. You want to make your food tasty enough for psychological reasons, but filling and healthy enough for physiological reasons.
One of the major factors that increase palatability is having various food choices in your meals. The most common example is a buffet. When you’re at a buffet, you’re bound to eat more just because of the variety of food choices.
Based on that, it would be useful to keep your food choices simple, choosing them by using the guidelines listed above. You don’t need a million different ingredients and foods to make something that tastes great —
These guidelines will generally work on everyone, but there are some aspects of ad libitum dieting that vary from person to person.
Depending on your specific goals (weight loss, muscle building or both) there may be a different combination of macros that work for you. At the end of the day, however, nobody wants to be constantly counting calories in and calories out. Follow these basic ad libitum diet guidelines, and free yourself from doing math at the dinner table.