Eating a Balanced Meal without Counting Calories

There are definitely times when counting calories needs to be utilized as a guide or a benchmark, but in my experience, when I explain to a new client that we won’t be tracking every single calorie they eat, there is a huge sense of relief.

Losing weight has been given the age-old advice of eating fewer calories and burning more in order to see results, but this isn’t necessarily the case to make the change sustainable and long lasting. Instead, we really need to focus on the quality of the calories we are eating instead of the number of calories. For example, an apple and a 100 calorie cookie snack pack might both have 100 calories, but the nutritional content varies vastly. One is loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber and the other is completely nutritionally devoid (we refer to these calories as empty calories because they are doing nothing for the body except spiking blood sugar and making the liver work harder than it needs to).

Macros as Tools

So if we aren’t counting calories, what do we do? We use our plate as a reference to estimate macros. Let’s dig into this a bit…

Macronutrients refer to three main nutrient categories of food types:
protein, carbohydrates and fats. A well balanced meal has components of all three main nutrients. A snack might only have one or two of these components present.

In order to eat a balanced meal without counting calories, try dividing your plate into three main sections for the three nutrient components, while also putting an emphasis on eating more plants. Your protein intake can be plant protein or animal protein or a combination of both. Your carbohydrate intake should come mostly from vegetables and fruits with the addition of unrefined grains, if desired. And your fat intake should come from foods like avocados, oils, nuts, seeds, and even overlap into the protein section with things like fatty fish (i.e., salmon).

If you’re building from the plate up (like a salad), here is another look at how to stack macronutrients:

Choosing High Quality Calories
Like I said before, it isn’t only about the number of calories on your plate, but the quality. Let’s take a look at some healthy food options you could include in each category.

Starchy Vegetables
(generally higher in carbs and higher in calories)

  • Legumes like beans and lentils
  • Potatoes
  • Yams
  • Squash

Non-starchy Vegetables
(generally lower in carbs and lower in calories)

  • Zucchini
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Salad greens


  • Tropical fruits (bananas,
    mangos, pineapples)
  • Temperate fruits (berries)

Unrefined Grains

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Barley

*Keep in mind that some of these vegetables are also great sources of protein.

Protein Plant Based

  • Unrefined grains
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Leafy greens
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables also have varying
    amounts of protein

Animal Protein

  • Lean types of meat
  • White meat chicken
  • White meat turkey
  • “Loin”, “tenderloin”, or “pork
    chop” cuts of pork
  • Ham, although high in sodium
  • “Loin”, “sirloin”, or “round”
    cuts of beef
  • Ground beef, no more than
    15% fat
  • Ground bison
  • Wild game
  • Fatty types of meat
  • Dark meat chicken
  • Dark meat turkey
  • “Steak” and “ribeye”
    cuts of beef
  • Bacon
  • Fish
  • Salmon
  • Albacore Tuna
  • Herring
  • Anchovies


  • Avocados
  • Coconut products
  • Oils (olive, avocado and
    coconut oil)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Example given below of a salad containing all the macronutrients. Can you identify all of them?

Moving towards a less restrictive way of eating frees up time and energy to really focus on consuming the most nutrient dense options available. The shift towards whole, clean food and ingredients instead of counting calories goes a long way in properly fueling the body and ensuring long term results and sustainability. Give it a try and see how you feel!

Recipe by

Stephanie Wharton

Stephanie Wharton is a Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and part of the Lending Hearts Up Street team. You can learn more about her at