If you cut calories without having a strategy, it’ll leave you starving and unable to stay on track for your weight-loss goals. But if you’re smart about cutting back, you can safely (and sanely) lose weight.
Here are 10 important guidelines to keep in mind:
Ignore the words “low fat.”
It may sound counterintuitive, but a Cornell study found that people eat up to 50% more when a product is labeled “low-fat.” This is known as the ‘halo effect,’ ” says Heinberg, because it makes the product appear healthful, prompts us to feel virtuous and—you guessed it—we end up eating more.
Plus, the lower-fat version often contains more sugar than the regular one in order to overcome a lack of mouth-feel and flavor.
Here’s the rule: Eat the same amount of the “skinny” version as you normally would the “fat” version and you’ll cut calories.
Exercise in the morning
Women who work out in the AM reduce their appetite and boost their total physical activity throughout the day, according to researchers at Brigham Young University.
But here’s the fine print: The appetite-reducing effect only lasts for a short time, until body temperature returns to normal after exercise.
However, since moving in the morning apparently encourages more movement all day, Arvon recommends four to five short bursts of activity (you know the drill: take the stairs, park in the outer reaches of the parking lot, do some crunches…) for best results.
Up the protein
Including a bit of protein with every snack and meal will help you eat less in a couple of ways. “Protein takes the longest to digest in comparison to carbohydrates and fat,” explains Goodson.
“Metabolism rises approximately 20% to digest protein.
Thus, it gets you full faster and keeps you full longer.” She suggests adding low-fat Greek yogurt to fruit, salmon or chicken to salad, string cheese to half your normal amount of crackers, and a palm-size piece of lean beef to your veggies. Doesn’t sound like a diet, does it?
Read your cereal box
Cereal is a convenient way to get breakfast in, and it can also be a healthy one.
But a box that seems healthy on the front can reveal a lot of added sugar and empty calories when you check out that nutrition label on the side.
So do that — read the nutrition label on your go-to cereal. Then see how you can improve upon it: look for an option with more fibre and protein, and less sugar.
And measure to find out how much your “serving size” really is compared to what they suggest on the box.
That doesn’t mean you have to eat less if you truly need that much, but knowledge is power.
Try frequent eating
Chef Alexander says that eating five smaller meals daily instead of three larger ones works in her favour. “Snacks, to me, are like mini meals,” Alexander says. “Just a smaller version of the kinds of foods I’d eat at mealtimes most days.”
If you like sandwiches or subs, consider going with a different meat. If you usually go for salami or roast beef, try roast chicken or turkey.
Leave off that bacon, or ask for half. Get a sub with one kind of meat instead or two or three. Protein is great but we could all do with fewer processed meats.
Get your carbs
Some people cut out carbs almost entirely in order to lose weight — and while this can reduce calorie intake it can also leave you susceptible to cravings and exhaustion. “I know a lot of people think you can’t eat carbs and be fit,” Alexander says.
But if I don’t eat carbs I don’t have energy to work out or even get through my day.” Choose carbs that are more nutrient dense in order to get the most for those calories: for example, whole-grain foods have more filling fibre than refined versions.
Count Your Calories
One way to make sure you don’t eat too many calories is to count them.
In the past, logging calories was quite time-consuming. However, modern phone apps have made it quicker and easier than ever before to track what you eat.
Some apps, such as Noom Coach, also offer daily lifestyle tips to help keep you motivated. This may be more useful than just logging your intake as it could help you form long-term healthy habits.
Don’t Drink Your Calories
Drinks can be a forgotten source of calories in your diet.
Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as soda, are high in calories. They’re also linked to obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes.
A single 16-ounce (half-liter) bottle of Coke can contain nearly 200 calories, including 44 grams of sugar.
One study suggests that drinking lots of sugar-sweetened beverages not only adds lots of unnecessary calories to your diet — it may also increase your hunger later on.
Use Less Sauce
Adding ketchup or mayonnaise to your food can add more calories than you think. In fact, only 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise will add an extra 57 calories to your meal.
If you use a lot of sauce, try eating a bit less (or not using it at all) to reduce the number of calories you’re eating.