March 19


How to Eat well without counting calories

EDIT: Corona Virus Lockdown Series – No1


The purpose of this post is to show you how you can sustain a healthy balanced diet, without having to count calories every time you eat. However, if you have a specific goal to lose body fat, and maybe you have struggled before, then you will need to do a certain amount of calorie counting for a short time. If you need some assistance in getting to this stage, contact me for more details about my online health coaching.

That said, the following article outlines a way that with some knowledge of your foods,  you can maintain weight and even lose body fat without counting each calorie you consume!

Despite what anyone else says, the ONLY way to lose body fat is to be in a caloric deficit. This is when you burn more calories than you eat. Your body will then start to use the stored fat as fuel, and slowly burn of the excess resulting in a loss of body fat.

The one thing all fad diets have in common is that they cut something out which results in a caloric deficit, that’s it! The only problem is that many of them are too extreme and unsustainable, so what the point? Simple changes that you can keep up forever are the best way, even if the results are slower.

However, you will need to have an idea of what your daily requirements are and be confident in adjusting your intake as you go. Just guessing and sticking to something that isn’t working won’t get you anywhere.

Nutrition and Diets – Where do we start?

In the world of fad diets and miracle products where do you start? Keto, low carb, low fat the Atkins diet?

Super-foods and antioxidants, what the hell are they?

Trans fats, saturated fats, good fats, huh?

It’s all gone a bit mad over the years and we need to strip it back to basics and simplify. It doesn’t need to be this complicated!

First of all, what is nutrition? It literally means….

“The process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.”

That’s all it is, which sounds simple right? So why are we getting it so wrong?

Obesity in the UK

That’s the word we keep hearing these days, and it’s no wonder! Obesity in the UK affects 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 kids ages 10 and 11. That’s not including those of us that are just overweight. There are many reasons why we find ourselves in this situation, and it has crept up on us over the years.

Unhealthy processed and manufactured foods fill the supermarkets shelves, fast food and takeaway is available via apps, eating out is easier and cheaper than ever. Add that to our busy lives and the fact we don’t get taught to cook at school like we used to (although how good that ever was is questionable), it’s no wonder we reach for the easy option.

Basic nutritional information

Understanding what a good nutritionally balanced diet actually is, will give you the building blocks to go on and change your health for the long term.

The foundations of our diet are:

Macro nutrients – Carbohydrates (Carbs), Fats and Proteins.

Macro nutrients give us energy in the form of calories. Each one also has its own role within the body, enabling it to perform certain functions. Examples of these roles are:

Healthy Fats 

  • Provides energy
  • Can be stored as a reserve energy source
  • Provides insulation
  • Is used to transport key vitamins
  • Is used for cell construction
  • Prevents water loss by evaporation

Carbohydrates – these come in various forms and have different roles such as

  • Provides energy, especially to nervous system and brain
  • Preserve muscle mass by providing that energy and preventing the body breaking down muscle for energy
  • Help with digestion system

It is important to distinguish between so called “good and bad” carbs. These can be described as Sugars and Starches. Basically, more starches and less sugars are the way to go.


  • Create, repair and maintain muscle
  • Helps form skin and hair
  • Forms fibrous connective tissue

Micro nutrients – the vitamins and minerals found in food that are essential for a number of functions within the body. You will have heard of many such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron and Calcium. They all help with things like keeping your immune system strong (Vitamin A, C), which fights infection and disease. They also help do things like build strong bones (Calcium) and help produce red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body (Iron), and lots more.

How do we get this in balance?

You can define a well-balanced diet as one that includes a well-proportioned amount of all the food groups, containing adequate levels of both macro nutrients and micro nutrients.

But this is where people get confused with how to actually eat a healthy balanced diet and get all the right amounts of everything inside of them.

Let’s start with whats what

For the purposes of this I am going to refer you to the UK Gov Eatwell Guide. Now there are things on this that can be improved upon and as with anything there are many conflicting opinions of the guide. But none of that helps and this is as the name suggests, a guide. Not a prescription!

It shows 5 food groups which you should make your plate up from when cooking.

  1. Fruits and vegetables – Protection

Think of these as the foods that give you your daily dose of medicine. They are packed full of all the Vitamins and Minerals that your body needs. Without these you will become sick.

  1. Starchy foods – bread, rice, potatoes and pasta

These are packed full of Energy, in the form of Carbohydrates. This is your fuel for the day. Aim for the ones higher in fibre, lower in sugar. Don’t fear the carbs, they are the best fuel for you on a daily basis. We can however take a flexible approach to how much and when we have them, but I will go into that in the next section.

Stick to wholemeal all the way with the bread, pasta and rice. Now many people will look at bread, pasta and bagels and say they should not be encouraged because they are processed foods. But look, we all like these things and if all we want to do is live a little healthier, as long as you aren’t having bread with every meal and snack, what’s the harm!

  1. Dairy and alternatives

Dairy products such as milk and cheese provide a good source of things like protein, calcium and other vitamins. They are often high in fat so as you can see in the Eatwell Guide chart, smaller amounts of these should be consumed.

  1. Oils and spreads

Again, these are used in smaller amounts. They can give you some good fats but can be high in bad fats too so use sparingly when cooking. Choose Olive oil or rapeseed oil for cooking, olive oil for drizzling over salads and I would go for a butter or olive oil-based spread. Whatever you use, just use sparingly on your toast!

  1. Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

These are your sources of Protein, which is a very important part of your diet. They provide the means for your body to repair, maintain and create muscle fibre. If you cut your calories and are in a deficit (eating less than you burn) and you don’t have enough protein, your body can effectively start to burn your muscles for fuel. That’s not good!


What do we put on our plate?

The Eatwell Guide image is a great visual aid to see what foods are and what they deliver. Now for the no calorie plate planning we are going to simply think of these as 3 types of function.

This is a simplified version of a method used by James Collins, the sports nutritionist at Arsenal when Arsène Wenger was in charge. They never counted a calorie in all the years he was there. Granted, they train a lot so know they have a huge output, but the principle is the same. They just eat more often than we would.

Fuelling food – Starchy Carbohydrates. This is your energy for training days and/or hard days at work. Yellow section on the Eatwell Guide.

Aim for slow releasing carbs such as:

  • Oats
  • Muesli
  • Rice (wholegrain, Basmati or wild rice)
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Rye, Spelt or Wholemeal bread

Maintenance food – Protein. This is what is going to keep your muscle mass intact. Pink section on the Eatwell Guide.

  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Prawns
  • Beans (Kidney, Black)
  • Tofu
  • Low fat Greek Yoghurt

Protection food – vegetables, fruits and good fats. This is your free medicine! These foods are going to supply you with most of your nutrients, your vitamins and minerals. Green and Purple section on the Eatwell Guide.

  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Onion
  • Courgettes
  • Green beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus

Dairy products fit into both the maintenance and protection category. They can be high in saturated fats so be aware of what you are consuming.

Building your plate – Portions and Proportions

Now we will go through how to build a plate and put together a meal with the correct amounts of each food type.


Forget the scales, we are using our hands to measure.

1 Portion = the following measures

  • Protein – the size of your palm
  • Carbs – 1 cupped handful
  • Vegetables – 2 fists full or cupped handful
  • Fruit – 1 fists full or cupped handful
  • Healthy fats – the size of your thumb

Adjusted portions for your size – Standard or Large

Obviously, we are all different shapes and sizes so one size doesn’t fit all, the same goes with this. So, we have a standard portion and a large portion. Regardless of your gender, if you weigh less than 75kg you take a standard portion as above. EG: Protein = 1 palm full.

However, if you are over 75kg (some nutritionists break this down to male/female) then you have 1.5 to 2x a portion, except fats which stay at a standard size. EG: a portion of protein becomes 1.5 or 2 fistfuls, vegetables become 3 handfulls.

Proportions – How much of each food group should be on the plate?

Think of your meals as having two different types of function. A Fuelling Meal and Maintenance Meal. There is also a Competition Meal, but this post is just in relation to every day living so I will leave that one out for now.

The main rule to remember is to always start with your Protein. Then build the rest of the plate according to what your day looks like. How active you will be, and how much energy you are going to need? More on that below when we look at the type of days you have.

 Fuelling Meal

  • 1 Portion of Protein
  • 1 Portion of Carbohydrates
  • 1 Portion of Vegetables/Fruits
  • 1 Portion of Healthy Fats

Maintenance Meal

  • 1.5 Portions of Protein
  • 1.5 Portions of Vegetables
  • 1 Portion of Healthy Fats


A similar approach goes with snacks. We are going for Maintenance Snacks and Fuelling Snacks. Again, there are competition snacks, but this is just for every day life, not full on sports nutrition.

Maintenance Snacks = Protein

Fuelling Snacks = Carbohydrates + Protein

Types of day – Which meals on which days?

The sections above show you different types of meals and how to put them together in terms of protein, carbs and fats. Now you need to know which types to eat on which days. This is simple with a little forward thinking and knowing what your days consist of.

Think of them as……

Medium days – regular day at work with one training session or exercise/activity session. Good for those with an active job.

  • Two fuelling meals
  • One maintenance meal
  • Two snacks, one fuelling, one maintenance

Low days – days when you are not training/exercising, generally less active. You can train on low days as part of a fat loss strategy, but don’t just make every day a low day and train! This needs to be carefully planned. Preferably with the help of a professional.

  • One fuelling meal (lunchtime is best)
  • Two maintenance meals
  • Two maintenance snacks

High days – strenuous days, double training session days.

  • Three fuelling meals
  • Two or three fuelling snacks

Which order you have your meals in on any given day depends on when you train or when you have strenuous activity. For example, you fuel yourself for a training session or refuel after it, and if you are less active in the evening it makes sense to make that the time for your maintenance meal because you need less energy.

Example days:

Medium day – AM gym, run, or walk.

  • 8 am Breakfast – Fuelling
  • AM snack – Fuelling or Maintenance
  • Lunch 12 pm-2 pm – Fuelling
  • PM snack – Fuelling or Maintenance
  • Dinner 7pm-9pm – Maintenance

Low day – no exercise, maybe a travel or meetings day at work.

  • 8 am Breakfast – Maintenance
  • AM snack – Maintenance
  • Lunch 12 pm-2 pm – Fuelling
  • PM snack – Maintenance
  • Dinner 7 pm-9 pm – Maintenance

High day – double training day (not many of us will need these very often!)

  • 8 am Breakfast – Fuelling
  • AM snack – Fuelling
  • Lunch 12 pm-2 pm – Fuelling
  • PM snack – Fuelling
  • Dinner 7 pm-9 pm – Fuelling
  • Snack – Fuelling or Maintenance optional


Just think ahead and keep it simple!

This is not supposed to be complicated so don’t over think it. If you break it down all you are really doing is adjusting the amount of Starchy Carbs (energy for fuel) you eat, depending on what you need for the day, while making sure you get enough protein and micro-nutrients. That’s it!

If you know you are not going to be very active in a day, eat less fuel/carbs. Less, not none!

If you know you are going to be kicking the arse out of the day and need lots of energy, eat some more.

All the above does is give a few guidelines so you can get the right amount without having to resort to weighing and calculating. Obviously, if your weight starts to change in a way you were not expecting, you may be applying it incorrectly and will need to adjust your intake or speak to a professional.

Top Tip – don’t start by trying to think of new recipes and meals, assess the ones you already cook and adapt them to fit.


I have a handy guide that shows you what the portion sizes above look like and how you can get them right without the need to measure or weigh anything.

Simply enter your email below and I will send it straight to you free of charge.


Calories, Nutrition

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