Losing weight and developing a healthy lifestyle is one of the most challenging yet rewarding things you can do for yourself.
The challenging part is figuring out exactly what to do to trigger your body to burn stored fat, while also changing the bad habits that cause your body to store additional fat. The rewarding part is seeing those pounds and inches drop off when you finally strike on the right “formula” that works best for you.
For virtually everyone, cutting calories is going to be a crucial part of that formula.
Eating too many calories is one of the major causes of overweight and obesity, simply because your body can”t convert large quantities of calories to fuel if you aren”t extremely active. A sure recipe for weight gain includes eating more calories than your body needs for fuel and living a sedentary lifestyle.
When you cut calories and start getting more active, the natural result is . . . (drum roll, please) easy weight loss!
This guide is going to share dozens of simple ways you can reduce your calorie intake each day. Believe it or not, you DON”T have to sacrifice flavor and satisfaction to lose weight – you can enjoy plenty of delicious meals and snacks.
Before we get to those tips, it”s important to note that cutting calories alone may not always be enough. Getting and staying as active as you can will help you burn a fair amount of calories each day, which not only allows more flexibility in your eating plan, but also helps speed up your metabolism.
It”s also important to drink plenty of water since your fat-burning machine (i.e. the liver) needs to be fully hydrated to function efficiently – in fact, all of your organs and muscles function better when you drink plenty of water. Bottom line: losing weight is much easier and quicker when you are fully hydrated.
Caution should be taken not to cut your daily calorie intake down TOO low – starving yourself will result in strong negative consequences that simply aren”t worth it in the long run.
Eat for energy and balanced nutrition, but avoid eating so much that you keep storing more fat.
Calorie Cutting: The Strategies
Below are some easy, effective strategies for cutting calories and eating less. You don”t have to use all of them at once, but rather choose some that best fit your lifestyle and preferences.
• Halve Your Portion Sizes
One of the easiest ways to cut calories is to start by putting approximately half of the amount of food on your plate that you think you will eat. If you start with smaller portions, you”ll probably discover that you”re satisfied after eating them and you don”t need to go back for seconds.
• Listen for Hunger Cues
If you typically eat at set times each day, try eating ONLY when you experience physical hunger pains (i.e. hollow feeling, tummy growling). Avoid eating just because it”s noon time or dinner time – let your stomach tell you when it”s ready for food. You may find that you eat far less that you normally would.
• Use Special Dishes
Rather than eating from normal sized dinner plates and soup bowls, get some smaller sized dishes especially for you. Use a dessert or salad plate for meals, and use a mug or custard bowl instead of larger soup and cereal bowls.
• Eat More Fiber
Eating fiber-rich foods is a great way to keep your stomach feeling full and satisfied so you eat less overall. Include plenty of green vegetables, beans and whole grains in your diet to reduce cravings and keep your digestive system healthy.
• Zero-Calorie Beverages
If you normally drink a lot of sweetened beverages, start reducing them and eventually eliminate them altogether. It”s possible to cut out hundreds of calories a day with just this one tip!
• Go Skim
If you usually pour cream or half and half into your coffee, switch to skim milk instead. You”ll save an average of 20 calories per cup of coffee with that one small change alone.
• Skip the Sugar
Likewise, if you normally pour sugar into your coffee or tea, drink it unsweetened or use a natural no-calories sweetener like stevia. Not only will you cut a fair amount of calories, you”ll also help keep your blood sugar levels stable which can help prevent intense cravings for sugar later.
• Eat Lighter Foods
Do most of your meals feature heavy, fried, meat-based or gravy-laden dishes? Start gravitating more toward lighter foods like vegetables, whole grains, fish, seafood and poultry. You”ll save calories while also avoiding that sluggish, stuffed feeling after meals.
• Eat Less at Each Sitting
Do you normally keep eating until your plate is empty or you feel too stuffed to continue? If so, you are probably taking in roughly double or triple the amount of calories your body needs. Eat less at each sitting by paying close attention to how your stomach feels. When you start feeling satisfied (as in, no longer hungry), that”s the time to stop eating – long before you feel stuffed.
• Forget the Toppings
If you usually add toppings to your foods, leaving them off could cut hundreds of calories a day from your diet. Toppings like gravy, cream sauce, sour cream, butter, caramel and fudge sauce, and whipped cream are high in calories and fat. If you must put a topping on your food, choose from one of these lower calorie options: low-fat yogurt, salsa, low-fat sour cream, hummus – or use dry seasonings and spices.
• Avoid “Fake” Food
One of the easiest and healthiest ways to cut calories is by avoiding most of the packaged, prepared foods available today. Not only are they usually loaded with preservatives, sodium and sugar; they are most often high in calories and fat too. Opting for whole, natural foods is a great way to eat fewer calories and enjoy a higher quality of food at the same time.
• Ditch the “Energy Drinks”
Do you reach for an “energy drink” when you feel tired? Many of these drinks are high in sugar and calories. They may indeed give you a little boost, but you”ll pay for it with a serious crash later. One of the healthiest natural energy drinks you can enjoy each day is a tall glass of water with a wedge of lemon. You”ll hydrate and energize your body, cut out a couple hundred calories from your daily diet, AND avoid that low-sugar crash a few hours later.
• Substitute Turkey
If you eat bacon, sausage, hamburgers, meatballs or meatloaf regularly, consider switching to turkey meat instead of beef or pork. On average you can reduce the calories by half (or more) with this one small change. For example, compare 4 ounces of ground beef at 380 calories to 4 ounces of ground turkey at 170 calories.
• Healthier Muffins
Do you buy coffee at a donut or coffee shop? If so, skip extras like muffins, as most of them contain 500 calories or more. Instead, make your own (much smaller and healthier) muffins at home and take one with you each morning. Good choices are bran muffins, cranberry muffins, blueberry muffins, and banana nut muffins – with all recipes, reduce the amount of sugar you add, or use an alternative sweetener with fewer calories.
• Eat Slowly
When you eat fat, you automatically eat larger quantities of food. Slow down and take your time eating, and you”ll probably eat far less. Put your fork or spoon down between bites, pause for a minute or two before taking another bite, and it will take longer to finish a smaller meal.
• Chew Twice as Long
Start chewing each bite for twice as long as you ordinarily would. Not only will this make you eat more slowly, but your stomach will be able to digest your food more easily.
• Fresh Fruit Instead of Fruit Juice
If you were to substitute fresh fruit for a serving of fruit juice, you”d consume 50-100 calories less. Even better, whole fruit contains fiber so it doesn”t spike your blood sugar so severely, unlike fruit juice.
• Hold the Bagel
A typical bagel contains anywhere from 250 to 300 calories. An English muffin has only 135 calories, making it a wise substitution for breakfast or a snack.
• Spread Fewer Calories
Rather than spreading butter and jam on your English muffin, opt for light margarine and a serving of fresh fruit. Or sprinkle a little bit of ground cinnamon and stevia on top.
• Watch the Cereal Serving Sizes
Did you know that most cereal serving sizes are only ½ to ¾ cup? When most people eat “a bowl” of cereal they are consuming 3 to 4 times that amount. Eat your cereal from a smaller dessert bowl or a small mug and you”ll be less likely to overdo it on calories.
• Hold the Cheese
If you typically add a slice or two of cheese to your sandwiches, eliminating it could cut 50-150 calories from your daily intake.
• Hold the Mayo
One tablespoon of mayonnaise contains nearly 100 calories. If you used mustard instead, you would cut out about 85 calories. You can also experiment with alternative spreads like mashed avocado, garlic hummus (or other flavored hummus), or even low-calorie salad dressing.
• Grilled, Not Fried
Not surprisingly, fried foods are loaded with fat and calories. Opting for grilled instead of fried can reduce your daily calories by a couple hundred or even more. Other good options besides grilling: steaming, baking, broiling, or stir-frying (with broth instead of oil).
• Add Ice
If you must drink sweetened beverages, be sure to add a lot of ice to your glass first, which will reduce the volume of liquid in your glass so you drink less of it. Also sip slowly; don”t gulp.
• Just Add Water
Drink at least one full glass of water for every glass or cup of other beverages you drink throughout the day.
• Go Low-Fat
With any dairy products you typically eat – like yogurt, sour cream, cheese – opt for the low-fat varieties. You can usually cut the calories by half with this one small move.
• Just the Whites
Did you know that an egg yolk contains just over 60 calories, while the egg white itself only has about 15 calories? Needless to say, having an egg white omelet rather than a regular omelet can save you a few calories. Include a bunch of chopped vegetables to add flavor and color.
• A Healthier Tuna or Chicken Salad
Do you love tuna salad or chicken salad mixed with mayonnaise? Mayonnaise is very high in fat and calories, but you can easily substitute fat-free ranch dressing for a similar flavor and save about 70 calories.
• Add Lettuce
If you typically eat your tuna or chicken salad on bread, try putting a scoop onto a bed of romaine lettuce or baby spinach leaves. You could even use the romaine leaves as a “wrap” and put the salad filling inside. This will deduct 75-150 calories from your meal.
• On the Side
Always keep dressings and sauces “on the side” rather than pouring them directly over your food. Slightly dip each bite of food in the sauce before eating it. You”ll greatly reduce the amount of sauce or gravy you consume with this smart move.
• Choose the Right Soup
If you have a choice of soups at a restaurant, go for the vegetable varieties, and choose clear broths instead of creamy.
• Have a Salad
Better yet, opt for a salad instead of soup.
• Choose the Right Dressing
Avoid creamy salad dressings and instead choose a low-calorie version. If low-calorie dressing isn”t available, your best bet is oil and vinegar – just go light on the oil.
• Watch the Salad Toppings
When you make salads at home, do you normally add a lot of extras to your salad like bacon pieces, sunflower seeds or croutons? These small additions can really add up! Instead of high calorie extras, add more vegetables on top of your salad to add color and flavor. Good choices are sliced radishes, shaved carrots, capers, olives, and even fruit like sliced apples or berries.
• Skip the Cocktails
When you eat out at a restaurant, drink ice water or seltzer water instead of soda or alcoholic drinks. You”ll still enjoy your meal but consume fewer calories.
• Eat More Fish
Rather than eating beef or pork several times a week, eat a couple of servings of fish. A 5 ounce steak can contain up to 350 calories, whereas an equal size serving of cod fish has less than 200 calories.
• Enjoy a Healthy Slice
Are you a pizza lover? Not surprisingly, pizza that is loaded with cheese and meat is also loaded with calories. Opt for a slice of plain cheese or vegetable pizza and you”ll consume about 100 fewer calories.
• Make Your Own Pizza
Better yet, make your own healthy pizza at home! Use whole grain pita bread, split to make two rounds. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce, then pile on the chopped or sliced vegetables, and sprinkle just a little bit of low-fat cheese on top and bake. You”ll consume far fewer calories and still enjoy it.
• Healthy Dips
At parties, stay away from potato chips and creamy dips. Instead, munch on some raw vegetables dipped in salsa.
• Stay Away from Temptation
Avoid sitting or standing right near the food tables at a social function so you don”t keep munching mindlessly. Take a small plate of healthy foods and then move to another location.
• Out of Sight, Out of Mind
At home, be sure to keep all sweets and fattening snacks in a place where you won”t see them often, like on a high shelf of a cupboard you don”t need to open often. For refrigerated items, move them to the very back of the shelves, or all the way on the bottom shelf so you”ll be less tempted by them.
• Front and Center
Keep low-calorie, healthy foods front and center in your cupboards and refrigerator. Low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, and single serving packs of unsalted nuts are good choices.
• Cool Treat
Have a popsicle instead of a ½ cup of ice cream and you”ll consume about half the calories. If you make the popsicle a sugar-free one, you”ll consume fewer than 20 calories.
• Better Than Pie
Rather than having a slice of apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert, enjoy a baked apple with a few raisins, chopped walnuts, rolled oats, cinnamon and nutmeg. You”ll save almost 200 calories so you can even add a spoonful of low-calorie whipped topping if you like.
• Cut the Oil
When making cakes and muffins at home, you can often replace the oil in the recipe with applesauce and you”ll never notice the difference.
• Smarter Sweets
Did you know that you can have 8 graham crackers for fewer calories than you would consume from three small chocolate chip cookies?
• Bring Your Own
You are guaranteed to slash calories by packing your own healthy lunches and snacks to bring to work; otherwise you”ll be tempted to visit the vending machines and fast food restaurants. Buy an insulated lunch bag and pack healthy foods to eat during the day, like a small salad, raw vegetables, fresh fruit, an ounce of nuts, low-fat yogurt, or sliced egg whites.
• Take Single Servings
When you snack at home, don”t eat from the big bag or bowl – take a single serving and leave the rest of it in the kitchen. It”s far too easy to keep munching if it”s sitting right in front of you.
• Manage Your Emotions
If you tend to eat for emotional reasons like stress or depression, find better ways to vent your feelings. Exercise, journaling, and creative pursuits are all excellent ways to express your feelings rather than trying to smother them with food.
There are a few great benefits from making small changes like the ones we”ve described here.
1. The changes are all easy to make and take almost no extra time or preparation.
2. You”ll reduce your daily calorie intake so you”ll have an easier time losing weight.
3. You”ll discover that your food tastes just as good as it did before.
On your next visit to the book store, invest in a good calorie guide. There are several good ones that cover regular foods as well as national chain restaurant meals and packaged foods you can buy at the store. This way you”ll never have to guess about the calorie count of any food or beverage – just look it up in the book and you”ll be able to make the best decision.
Over time you”ll discover that cutting calories does not have to be painful or difficult. It just requires a little conscious awareness and the determination to make wise choices for your waistline and your health.