Last month, for three glorious lecture-filled days, I went to Austin, TX for the annual PaleoFX conference to learn as much as I could in a short period of time.
Before attending I looked through every lecture that was going to occur, and I have to admit sometimes it was hard to choose.
There were three different stages, two workshop areas, and a natural movement floor for physical training – and all six areas had sessions occurring simultaneously.
From the 100+ sessions vying for my attention, I narrowed it down to 15 sessions I would attend.
And from those 15 sessions, I’ve written up my thoughts on the three sessions that I found most interesting.
Today I’ll I summarize a talk I saw about a topic that almost everyone is interested in – getting lean without counting calories!
One of my core dietary beliefs is highly controversial, which is:
COUNTING CALORIES IS AN INSANE WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT!
There are tons of issues with trying to lose weight by counting calories that I won’t go into here, but the biggest reason it’s insane is that almost no one actually does it for more than a few days, it’s totally exhausting.
Unless you’re a physique athlete trying to get supa-dupa lean for competition, counting calories probably isn’t for you – it’s actually a surprisingly advanced topic with lots of nuances (like the thermic effect of food) that few people talk about.
Counting calories is not something that people trying to lose the first 20 lbs in pursuit of a healthy weight should waste time on.
And that’s why I found the title of this talk so intriguing!
How to Get Lean Without Counting Your Calories by Menno Henselmans
Menno Henselmans works with clients who want to get really lean and muscular WITHOUT having them count calories.
Menno Henselmans, Founder of Bayesian Bodybuilding
Was it too good to be true? I had to find out.
And I’m glad I went, Henselmans’ talk was great.
He showed some of the results that he’s helped his clients achieve without counting calories:
But he also made it clear what you’re NOT going to look like without being way more anal, like this guy:
Brad Schoenfeld, former bodybuilder
Which most people would say is fine, since bodybuilders don’t really look like humans on contest day anyway.
The benefits of being able to lose weight without counting calories are numerous, but the biggest ones are:
- It’s more sustainable (most people try calorie counting for a few weeks, if that, and then give up)
- It’s less stressful (trying to count every calorie, especially in a restaurant setting, can make almost anyone go crazy)
- It’s much more socially acceptable than counting calories! (no need to whip out My Fitness Pal or some other app to track your food)
So the question is, how exactly do you implement this in practice?
The answer, according to Henselmans, lies in something known as the satiety index.
Avoiding hunger while losing weight by utilizing the satiety index
As is well documented (and repeated ad nauseam in the fitness industry) if you want to lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn.
The trick, however, is to consume fewer calories than you burn WITHOUT feeling hungry all the time (something that 99% of dieters get wrong).
Constant Hunger = Guaranteed Diet Failure.
In fact, fear of being hungry is one of the biggest reasons people don’t even attempt lose weight in the first place!
Thankfully, there are many ways of losing weight without feeling hungry – which leads me back to the satiety index that Henselmans was talking about.
The satiety index is a list of foods, ranked from least to most satiating (that is, how satisfied you’re likely to feel after consuming them), based on research performed by Suzanna Holt et al. at the University of Sydney in 1995.
Since then, Nutrition Data has taken that research and created a similar metric known as the Fullness Factor which can be determined for almost any food in existence (unlike the study which was limited to 38 different foods).
From a high level, whether a food actually satisfies you is a function of the following:
- food volume (size)
- fiber content
- protein content.
Here are some common foods and where they show up on the satiety index:
Satiety Index, per Nutrition Data
The higher the number on the chart, the more filling the food is, simple enough.
It should come as no surprise that things like fish, chicken, and beef sirloin are very filling while things like honey, potato chips, and Snickers Bars are the least filling.
So how do you actually implement the satiety index in practice?
The idea, according to Henselmans, is not to try and limit your food consumption to foods high on the list (although clearly Snickers Bars are a bad idea!), but to understand where foods fall on the list so you can plan your meals throughout the day a little better.
That is, if you eat a bunch of foods that are low on the satiety index early in the day (e.g. bread, honey, raisins) then you should plan on eating foods for the rest of the day that are high on the satiety index (e.g. watermelon, beef, and chicken).
Just as important, you need to start actually LISTENING to the signals your body is telling you – when you’re full, push the plate away (no really, get it out of sight).
One big caveat I’d add to this approach is that the satiety index generally shows that fatty foods (e.g. grass-fed butter, pastured pork, etc.) fall on the low end of the spectrum, which would indicate that they are NOT satiating when consumed.
But at this point we know that’s simply not true.
There are millions of people who consume large amounts of high-quality fat and lose weight at the same time (in fact, there are over a quarter-million such people on Reddit alone), that we know that healthy fat is in fact satiating.
So what gives – how can fat be low on the satiety index but also help people lose weight without feeling hungry?
The answer lies in the short-term nature of the original study.
The original study from 1995 was conducted by having each person consume 38 different foods (not all at once, of course). Each food the participants tried contained the exact same amount of calories, and then the researchers recorded the participants’ perceived fullness after consuming them. Seems straight forward enough!
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that our hunger signals work over much longer time periods than just a single meal.
So even though fat appears not to satisfy people according to the satiety index, we know from the millions of people successfully utilizing high-fat ketogenic diets to lose weight that high-quality fat is in fact satiating – it’s just satiating over a much longer time horizon than a single meal. For example, if you eat a bunch of high-quality fat on Monday and Tuesday, you are more likely to naturally want to eat less on Wednesday and Thursday.
Even with that caveat, I still think the satiety index is worth understanding, especially if you’re looking to get extra lean (which generally requires avoiding even the healthy fats for a little while).
Some other interesting things Henselmans mentioned in his talk:
- Avocado and coconut oil are the most filling fats
- Appetite is sensory specific – the more flavor variety (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami) contained in a single meal, the more food you’ll eat on average (that’s one reason why you “always have room for dessert”)
- People eat approximately 92% of whatever’s put in front of them, regardless of portion size
- Your appetite has a circadian rhythm, and it takes about 2 weeks to adapt to new eating patterns
- People who typically sleep 6 hours instead of 8 consume approximately 20% more calories (so get some shut eye!)
- People order dessert 4x more often from a fat waiter than from a fit waiter
- Men eat approximately 2x as much in the presence of women
- Women eat the same amount in the presence of men but they report feeling like they’re eating more (interesting!)
If you’re interested in reading more of Henselman’s work, check out his website at BayesianBodyBuilding.com.
In my next post on PaleoFX 2017, I’ll talk about one of the most interesting talks of the entire conference, which is: