USDA Calorie Cutting Tips


You've set your course for weight control. You've determined how many calories you need to eat, and how many you need to burn to drop the pounds. You've successfully assessed your dietary intake and physical activity routine. You've adopted a new food pattern to eat fewer calories. You've even set goals to be more active. Now it's time for a little finessing.

This article offers the practical tips and advice that will help you successfully modify your behavior so you eat fewer calories and become more active. Some of the tips may be familiar; these will reinforce what you already know. But the article is chock-full of new tips, too, and these will be your inspiration for cutting your calories. Before you start, remember to try just a few new strategies at a time. Practice them until they become routine or automatic, then pick a few new ones and do the same. Your habits shape your daily behavior, so work toward gradually internalizing as many smart calorie-cutting habits as possible. See below for the first calorie-reducing strategy so you can tip your energy-balance scale toward weight loss.

Portion Distortion: Consumers are finally recognizing that portions have become increasingly larger over the last decade or so. It's been a gradual increase, and we've adjusted our expectations accordingly. But this trend for larger portions has wreaked havoc with our waistlines. As restaurants and food manufacturers increase the size of their portions and single-serving foods, calorie consumption has climbed and so have the rates of overweight and obesity. Once you realize that you're accustomed to eating much larger amounts than you should, you can retrain yourself by shrinking your portions. Smaller portions automatically mean fewer calories.

The following are strategies for eating smaller portions:

  • Serve smaller portions than normal. Cut them down by one-third at first. If you ate very large portions before starting your weight-loss journey, eventually cut your portion size in half.
  • Avoid food portions larger than your fist (except for veggies!).
  • Use a smaller plate, such as a salad plate instead of a dinner plate, so that small portions look generous.
  • Spread out your portions, rather than piling them up, so they take up more room on your plate and look bigger.
  • Avoid putting serving bowls on the table. That makes it harder to have seconds.
  • If you do have seconds, choose the lowest-calorie foods. Fill up on the vegetables and salad with low-fat dressing--or no dressing at all.
  • Discontinue your membership in the "clean plate club." Don't finish all the food on your plate. Either save it for another time or throw it away. Next time, take a smaller portion.
  • Eat half a sweet treat, pastry, or dessert. Share your piece with someone else or save it for another time. You still get to enjoy the flavors you like, with only half the calories!
  • Keep your portion size from growing unintentionally. While cooking, take only the minimum number of small bites you need to taste and adjust flavorings. And put leftovers into small containers so you won't be tempted to nibble on them while you're cleaning up the kitchen
  • Create obstacles for eating large amounts of high-calorie foods. Divide up a large bag of chips or box of cookies into individual servings and store them in recloseable plastic bags. Not only will you limit the amount you eat, you'll readjust your eyes to the proper serving size. Cut high-calorie foods such as cheese and chocolate into small pieces. Eat only a few small pieces, and put the rest away. Freeze foods such as muffins and cakes. If they're frozen, you can't grab and eat.

Don't think we're done discussing calorie-cutting tips! The next section will introduce even more ideas, including grazing throughout the day and fighting that ever-present tempation to eat junk food!

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Team 'Em Up: Fiber and Water

There's no doubt about it: High-fiber food helps you feel fuller longer. It passes through the digestive tract more slowly than starch, which digests in a matter of minutes. Your hunger is more easily satisfied when the foods you eat are full of fiber. Team fiber up with fluids to make it expand in your stomach.

As your stomach stretches, it sends a signal of fullness to your brain and you stop eating (if you're listening, that is!). Fluids alone can also expand your stomach, triggering the "full" signal. Make sure water is one of your main fluids. It helps transport the nutrients you need to metabolize fat, as well as carry away unneeded by-products of the fat breakdown process. The standard recommendation of 6 to 8 cups of water per day will serve your weight-loss regimen well.

Here are some other fiber and water consumption tips:

  • Drink 1 cup of water about 30 minutes before a meal to help expand your stomach and help you feel full on less food.
  • Serve broth-based soups (not cream-based soups) often. The liquid helps you feel full.
  • Keep whole-grain crackers, such as Triscuit and Rye Crisp, on hand. A few crackers and a glass of water will satisfy your hunger between meals.
  • Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in water as well as fiber. If you base your eating pattern on fruits and veggies, you'll get both fiber and water in one package!
  • Create vegetable snack bags that have a variety of colorful veggies. Use washed and cut broccoli, red bell peppers, baby carrots, and some white cauliflower -- or whatever veggies you like. Toss in some unusual ones to add interest and variety. Grab a bag and add it to your lunch, or use it for snacks.
  • Be sure to include at least one high-fiber food at every meal or snack.
  • Avoid drinking more than about 1 cup of water with your meal, so that digestive juices aren't overly diluted.
  • Drink lots of water between meals. Keep water bottles placed strategically around the house or yard so you can see them and remember to drink. Also keep water bottles in the car so you can quench your thirst without spending money or expanding your waistline on sugary beverages.
  • Feel like nibbling? Drink a big glass of water or other nonsweetened beverage instead.

Don't think we're done discussing calorie-cutting tips! The next section will introduce even more ideas, including grazing throughout the day and fighting that ever-present tempation to eat junk food!

Grazing and Boosting Nutrients

Luckily for you, we've got a seemingly-endless supply of calorie-cutting tips. Let's jump right back in with a look at more ways to trim your waistline.

Grazing Is A Good Thing: Eating small, frequent meals and snacks keeps your metabolism revved up. Continually eating small amounts of calories throughout the day will reassure your body that food is not in short supply, so it can keep humming along at a rapid rate. A faster metabolism burns more calories. Keep yours going by eating three small meals and two small snacks each day.

The foods you choose need to be nutrient-dense -- low in calories and rich in nutrients. Eat small amounts to stay within the calorie limits of your selected food pattern. Eating frequently also ensures you won't get overly hungry and then binge on high-calorie food or whatever's on hand. Don't skip meals. Eat small, eat often.

Here are some more grazing tips:

  • Eat something within two hours of getting up. It doesn't need to be an entire meal, just a few calories to let your body know that starvation is not imminent. This keeps your metabolism running at a faster rate. People who skip breakfast continually lower their metabolism to the point that they can gain an extra pound every seven weeks without eating any extra food.
  • Partially prepare your breakfast the night before so you don't run out of time in the morning and skip it.
  • It's better to eat three modest meals and two small snacks or mini-meals instead of eating one or two large meals. Make sure your meals have foods from every food group and that snacks have foods from at least two groups. Make wise choices so that you stay within your calorie allowance.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Eat before you get excessively hungry.
  • Prepare lunches the night before to take with you. Bringing your lunch ensures that you have something healthy and low-calorie to eat during the day, and it saves you time, money, and calories.
  • Toss extra food into your lunch bag so that you have healthy snacks to graze on.
  • Grazing is good, but avoid eating late at night. Set a time limit for yourself, about one hour after dinner, and do not eat after that time.

Boost Your Nutrients: By selecting nutrient-dense foods, you'll meet your body's requirements for vitamins and minerals. Adequate nutrient intake may make you less likely to crave certain foods and overconsume calories. And it will help metabolize stored fat and ensure a healthy weight loss. Nutrient-dense foods are low in calories. Make it easy for yourself to choose these types of foods rather than other, higher-calorie foods. There are more ways to boost your nutrients:

  • Make a snack basket in your refrigerator. Fill it with small bags of prewashed and cut vegetables for easy eating. Add containers of light yogurt, fruits, and low-fat cheese sticks for quick healthy snacks.
  • Fill up on nutrient-dense foods first, leaving less room for higher-calorie foods. Serve salads and soups as a first course -- you'll soon find that you're content to eat small portions of the higher-calorie main dish.
  • If you have to grab something on the go, choose items that aren't fried, creamy, or full of sugar. Look for the fresh stuff--salads and fruit bowls with low-calorie toppings.
  • Put away foods that are treats -- out of sight is out of mind -- hopefully!
  • Choose nutrient-dense foods that are as low in calories as possible (the leanest or lowest-sugar versions). This will leave a little room for discretionary calories -- those foods with added sugar or fat or alcoholic beverages.
  • Eat with an eye toward balancing your calorie scale. If you overindulge in discretionary foods or even in nutrient-dense foods, don't get frustrated. You can regain your calorie balance by increasing the amount of calories you burn. If you know you can't be active on a certain day, skip the discretionary calories.

Eat Mindfully: Paying attention to what you eat and eating it deliberately satisfies your senses and, ultimately, your hunger. When your mother advised you to chew your food thoroughly and put your fork down between bites, she was right. It's those types of behaviors that keep you tuned into what you're eating. Focusing on food increases the fulfillment you get from it. Have you ever eaten an entire meal or bucket of popcorn, then suddenly realized there's none left -- but you hardly feel you've eaten and you're still hungry? This is exactly the type of scenario you can avoid by eating mindfully.

Turn off the television, put away your book, and pay attention to your food. Eat slowly and deliberately. You'll find you'll feel fuller and more satisfied on less food, which means taking in fewer calories. More tips on eating mindfully include:

  • Eat sitting down rather than gulping food over the kitchen sink or in front of the refrigerator.
  • Eat in a designated eating place -- not in front of the TV.
  • Make an event out of your meal so that your meal feels more significant and fulfilling. Set the table attractively and include a simple centerpiece, even if you're eating alone.
  • Think about the taste and texture of your food. Chew slowly. Take small bites. Savor the flavor. Put your fork down between bites.
  • Make pleasant conversation at the table, and don't talk with food in your mouth -- this will slow down the rate at which you eat.
  • Check in with yourself -- are you getting full? You don't need to feast at every meal. No need to get as full as after a Thanksgiving dinner! Just get satisfied, then stop eating. It takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to signal the brain that it's no longer hungry. By eating slowly, you don't overeat before your body has time to send up the "full" flag.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

 

Resisting Temptation

Certain foods may always be tempting to you. Perhaps it's their flavor, or the fact you ate them growing up, or that they're part of a comforting routine. There are ways to avoid tempting foods, or at least minimize their hold on you. And it's okay to give in every once in a while by spending some of your discretionary calories to enjoy small amounts of the foods that tempt you the most.

There are other ways to fight the temptation. They include:

  • Don't make certain foods forbidden -- you'll only want them more. Instead, eat them less often and in smaller amounts.
  • Eat what you're craving but in a small amount. Eating around your craving usually means eating many extra calories before finally giving into your craving -- and all those extra calories, too!
  • Decide to eat dessert just once a week.
  • Keep small containers of healthy snacks in the car so you're not tempted to stop for fast food or at convenience stores or vending machines where high-calorie foods are often the only choice.
  • Don't bring home tempting foods. Having to go out to the store is a major obstacle that will keep you from impulse eating.
  • Avoid activities that trigger food cravings, such as watching cooking shows or smelling cinnamon rolls baking.
  • Distract yourself from going into the kitchen just to browse. Make a list of alternative things to do. Your list might contain tasks that you frequently put off because you lack time. Pick one and do it, telling yourself that you can go to the kitchen later, when that task is done. Chances are you'll forget about eating, or it will be meal time when you've completed the task. And you'll have accomplished something you've wanted to get done for a long time!
  • Find things you can do instead of rifling through the cupboards. Call a friend, do a hobby, turn on the radio and dance -- whatever makes you feel good.
  • Mute television commercials and do something else while they're on so you don't see and hear the constant barrage of tempting food advertisements.
  • At gift times, ask your friends and family to give you nonfood treats instead of special or tempting foods. Suggest gifts such as flowers or movie tickets. Treat yourself with nonfood items or events as well.

Think we're done with ways to cut calories? Hardly. In the next section we'll look at fat-fighting tactics like being a smart shopper and modifying recipes.

Smart Shopping

Our final two ways to cut calories involve a little planning and some moderate preparation. But we think the results are worth it. Don't you?

Grocery stores aren't designed to help you stick with your diet. Marketing ploys surround you, trying to get you to buy foods that are not a part of your pound-dropping plan. Why? Processed foods have a higher profit margin than many of the unprocessed foods such as vegetables and meat. But with planning and a few tricks in reserve, you can make it through the store unscathed -- buying mostly nutrient-dense, low-calorie food to further your weight-loss efforts.

Before heading to the grocery store, you should follow these calorie-cutting tips:

  • Make a list before you go to the store, and stick to it for the most part. Avoid impulse buys of food you don't need.
  • Try to go to the grocery store only once a week. Planning your meals and snacks for the week will help you get what you need in one trip and avoid the temptation of repeated trips to the store.
  • Don't go to the grocery store hungry. You'll be less likely to buy impulsively.
  • Shop the perimeter of the store first. Fill your cart with foods low in calories and brimming with nutrients, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, nonfat dairy foods, lean meats, and whole-grain bakery goods without a lot of added fat and sugar. These are the basic foods of your food pattern.
  • Shop the interior aisles of the grocery store with care. Stick to wholesome foods such as rice, pasta, beans, and peanut butter. Avoid processed foods in packages and boxes, such as cookies, chips, crackers, packaged snacks, soft drinks, and most convenience foods. Processed foods often have added fats and sugars, which will tip your calorie-balance scale in the wrong direction.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel on food products, but don't obsess about reading them all at one time. Choose a few items on your list each week to compare and make the wisest choice.
  • If you do buy processed foods, read labels and choose those that have less fat, sugar, and calories.
  • Don't buy problem foods that you know will call your name from the cupboard. Leave them and their calories on the grocery store shelf.
  • Shopping with young children? Make a firm agreement with them ahead of time about consequences if they pester you or throw a tantrum. Appropriate behavior earns a treat, such as picking out a new fruit that they want to try. Treats don't have to be food at all, and certainly not junk food.
  • Enlist older children to be label lookers and help you find the smartest choice of a product. This not only makes your job easier, it teaches them lifelong skills they'll need to manage their weight.
  • Say "No, thank you" to food samples offered throughout the store.
  • If possible, choose a checkout line that doesn't have candy or snack displays.
  • Small shopping trip? Carry a basket rather than pushing a cart. It uses more muscle, burns more calories, and limits the room you have for impulse buys!

See the next page to learn how to modify your recipes to cut calories.

Recipe Modification

You'll be surprised at how many calories you can save by making simple changes in your recipes, without sacrificing flavor or texture. Fat and sugar are usually the ingredients that contribute the most calories, so this section will give you techniques for cutting back on both of them.

To decrease sugar in a recipe:

  • In baking, reduce sugar by 1/4 to 1/3. There's no need for any substitutions. (However, don't reduce sugar in bread made with yeast, because the sugar is "food" for the yeast, which makes the bread rise.)
  • Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to your baking, fruit, or even to vegetable preparations to give the impression of sweetness.
  • Instead of frosting, lightly dust baked goods with a bit of powdered sugar.
  • Use frozen 100 percent fruit juice concentrate as a mild sweetener. Try it in tea or plain sparkling water.
  • Serve sweet foods warm -- it makes them taste sweeter even if they have less sugar in them.
  • Add fruit and decrease the sugar content. For instance, add raisins to rhubarb-apple crisp so you can get by with less sugar.
  • Replace chocolate chips with raisins or chopped dried fruit.

To decrease fat:

  • Begin by using low-fat versions of ingredients, such as mayonnaise, milk, and cheese. Use caution with nonfat products that normally have a high fat content (such as cheese and mayonnaise). When all of the fat is removed from such products, they often do not produce the flavor or texture you expect. If you try a nonfat item and don't like the results -- don't give up! Try another brand or use a low-fat version of the ingredient.
  • Replace whole milk in recipes with low-fat or nonfat milk.
  • Use evaporated skim milk to replace cream in soups and other dishes.
  • Replace sour cream with nonfat yogurt. If using yogurt in a heated dish, add 1 tablespoon cornstarch to each cup of yogurt to prevent separation.
  • Use smaller amounts of strongly flavored full-fat cheeses instead of a large amount of a mildly flavored cheese.
  • In baking, decrease the fat by one-quarter for cakes and by half for many quick breads, muffins, and soft cookies.
  • Use unsweetened applesauce in place of fat in baked goods. In homemade goods, replace about half the fat with applesauce. For boxed mixes, replace all the fat called for with applesauce because fat is already in the dried mix.
  • Reduce the number of egg yolks, since it's the yolk of the egg that contains fat. Use two egg whites in place of one egg. Baked goods made from scratch will probably still need at least one egg yolk, because eggs help provide structure, tenderness, and leavening.
  • Use vegetable oils instead of solid fats. To do so, use about one-fourth less than the recipe calls for. For cakes and pie crusts, use a recipe designed for oil, because sugar proportions are different and mixing techniques may vary.
  • Use only one part oil to two parts water and/or vinegar when making homemade salad dressings.
  • Cook with little or no added fat. Use nonstick pans, cooking spray, vegetable broth, water, or wine to sautee; or brown foods.
  • Chill soups, stews, and gravies, so the fat rises to the top and hardens. Skim off the fat before reheating.
  • To thicken soups, stir in instant mashed potatoes.
  • To thicken sauces and gravies, use cornstarch or flour stirred into a small amount of cold water. Stir this mixture slowly into your sauce or gravy, and return to a boil to thicken.
  • Use instant mashed potatoes to replace all or some of the egg yolks in deviled eggs.
  • Use a low-fat cooking method such as baking, broiling, steaming, or grilling.

Now that you know the basics, take a look at your recipes. Identify the high-calorie ingredients. Gradually adjust quantities of major ingredients. Be sure to write down your modifications so you can either repeat them or continue modifying your recipe.

Easy Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast can be quick, simple, and low-calorie. Just don't skip it! Here are some slimming and nutritious breakfast ideas:

  • Whole-grain toast with light margarine, 1 cup nonfat milk, banana.
  • Apple slices with thinly spread peanut butter and a glass of nonfat milk.
  • Half a bagel with a slice of reduced-fat cheese, melted, plus a small glass of juice.
  • Container of light yogurt in your favorite flavor, with toast.
  • Cold cereal or low-fat granola with nonfat milk and sliced fruit.
  • Leftovers from last night. Heat 'em and eat 'em.
  • Smoothie made with your favorite juice, your favorite fruit, a banana for creaminess, and nonfat plain yogurt.
  • Oatmeal made with nonfat milk and raisins. This cooks in three minutes in the microwave. Top with a little maple syrup.
  • Homemade pancakes and waffles from the freezer toast up quickly. Top with yogurt and fruit.
  • Breakfast roll ups. Spread pinto beans and cheese or scrambled eggs and salsa across a whole-wheat tortilla and roll them up.

We've just thrown a lot of calorie-cutting tips at you and it probably feels a little bit overwhelming. The good news is that among all the choices, there has to be something that will help you on your way to a healthier diet and lifestyle! Cut the calories! ©Publications International

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.