Weight loss is not about tricks or gimmicks. It is caused by a very simple mathematical principle—subtract a larger number from a smaller number to get a negative. The larger number in this instance is the amount of calories you burn. The smaller number is the amount of calories you consume. This creates a calorie deficit and your body starts to burn off its fat stores to compensate for the lack of calories.
The amount of calories you cut out does affect how quickly you lose weight, but keep in mind that there is a point of diminishing returns. If you cut out too much too soon you can actually make it harder for your body to lose weight because it will think you are starving and take measures to hold on to every ounce of fat you have.
The recommendation is to lose about one to two pounds per week. That doesn’t sound like much but if you want to maintain your weight loss and never gain it back—slowly and steadily losing the weight week by week is what’s going to get you there.
On average, you’ll need to remove 3,500 calories from your diet to lose one pound. That’s 500 fewer calories a day if you’re trying to lose a pound a week. Exercise can help you cut out a lot of those extra calories, but it is important to eat smaller portion sizes as well if you really want to lose weight and burn belly fat.
Many of your calories can be cut with some simple substitutions. Switching to items labeled “low fat” or “nonfat” can do more good than you realize. For example, I don’t really notice a big enough difference between “real” cream cheese and the neufatchel cheese (cream cheese with 33% less fat) so that is a great substitution for me. I do notice the difference between fat free cream cheese and regular cream cheese though, so I cut what I can while still enjoying food.
I’ve even made cheesecake with the lower fat cream cheese and served it at parties where I received many compliments on a delicious cake. Fat contains calories too, and these are usually harder to burn off right away.
Here are several other ways you can cut calories by either substituting for healthier items or shaving off a few extra calories by burning them:
1. Bring your own coffee. Brewing your own allows you to control how much cream and sugar goes in. For that matter, use skim milk instead of half and half. Black coffee has little to no calories so the closer to that you can stand, the fewer calories you will drink.
2. Use skim milk instead of 1 percent or 2 percent milk in your cooking and with your cereal. I like to drink skim milk as well, but can understand that 1 percent milk is a little bit more enjoyable. These tips are about cutting where you can, right?
3. Switch to low fat, low calorie yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, etc. These save you both fat and calories and really stand up well to their higher fat, higher calorie counterparts.
4. Use a healthier kind of oil (extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, etc.) in your cooking instead of vegetable oil. These contain fat that is actually good for you (poly- and mono-unsaturated fats) and fewer calories. Try hemp seed oil.
5. Try turkey sausage, turkey bacon, or just eat turkey more often in sandwiches and with dinner. Turkey pepperoni is pretty darn good as well.
6. Substitute beans once a week as a source of protein at dinner instead of beef. They are high in protein and high in fiber, but low in fat. Again, cutting out calories from fat will help you lose weight more quickly. You can make a pretty hearty taco with beans, cheese, tomatoes, onion, peppers, romaine lettuce, avocado, and whatever else you like to add.
7. Use sharp cheddar cheese instead of mild or medium. Sharp cheddar has a stronger flavor so you can use less of it and still get the same satisfying cheesy taste.
8. When you’re craving fast food, substitute oven-baked fries for fried fries. They come out nice and crisp and can hit the spot while saving you some crucial calories.
9. Snack on pretzels instead of potato chips when you need something salty and crunchy. They contain way less fat and fewer calories. You can also get the baked varieties of potato chips if you must have the chips.
10. Use a nicely ripened avocado as a spread on your sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. Avocados contain unsaturated fats (again these are good for you and can actually help you burn calories more efficiently) and are so much better for you than mayo in so many ways.
11. Keep your servings of meat (even of lean meats like chicken breast) to about the size of the palm of your hand (don’t include your fingers).
12. Take as large of a serving of vegetables as you do of carbohydrates. For example, the broccoli should take up as much of your plate as the mashed potatoes. If you want to eat less broccoli, you will need to also eat less potatoes.
13. Drink water more often than you drink anything else. We drink so many of our calories these days. Keep in mind that diet sodas and other beverages are still bad for you—they just don’t have as many calories.
14. Eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice. You can save about 100 calories doing this and you get the added benefit of extra fiber—which keeps you feeling full longer.
15. Drink a glass of low fat chocolate milk instead indulging in a chocolate bar. This can help you get rid of the craving in a satisfying and guilt-free way.
16. Eat fresh grapes instead of raisins. Interestingly, grapes contain fewer calories than raisins. Who knew?
17. Eat fresh fruits instead of those canned in syrup (even light syrup adds unnecessary calories). If you must have the canned fruits, find varieties that are canned in water, not syrup. Check out more fruits that burn fat.
18. Put your salad dressing on the side and dip sparingly. You consume a whole lot less dressing this way but can still enjoy all the flavor.
19. Split an entrée between two people at the restaurant or order the half portion, if available. If you’re dining alone, tell yourself you will eat only half of what you’re given. It helps me to picture eating the delicious leftovers later. An added bonus is that this will save you money as well. Maybe you can buy a new outfit (in a smaller size) with the money you save and calories you lose.
To lose some extra calories by burning them (beyond your regular workouts):
20. Park far away from the store entrance. Walking across the parking lot doesn’t take much time and shaves off a few extra calories. When you’re losing weight, every little bit counts.
21. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or, if you’re scaling a sky scraper take stairs for part of the way up.
22. When you find yourself on a long phone call (even if it is at work) try standing up and moving around. If possible, start walking or doing simple standing leg lifts. This is especially good for your body when you have to sit for long periods at work.
23. Do squats, wall sits, or laying leg lifts as you watch TV. These burn a few extra calories, help keep you from becoming too sedentary, and build muscle as well. More muscle means a higher metabolism and more calories being burned by your body even when you’re at rest.
24. Use a small water cup or water bottle at work and drink a lot. You will have to get up and walk to the water cooler or break room frequently. Also, keeping well hydrated can suppress your appetite a little. Sometimes we think we want to eat when really we are just thirsty.
25. Make yourself do something to earn a treat or snack. Charge yourself 30 push ups or squats to eat that chocolate chip cookie or cupcake. It’s ok to indulge in treats every once in a while even if you are trying to lose weight, but keep it as an every once in a while thing.
Most of these tips are painless and pretty easy to implement. Saving 100 calories per day through a few little changes can get you that much closer to your goal of eliminating 500 calories each day. Exercising regularly will help you add a lot of deficit and eating smaller portion sizes can make up the rest.
One last tip for cutting down on calories is to serve yourself one to two bites less of food at meals than you would normally have taken. After you’ve eaten all the food on your plate, wait at least ten minutes to make sure you are actually still hungry before you take any more food. If you don’t feel hungry—don’t take more food.