A delicious way to slim down.
We’re living in a world where a cup of coffee—albeit a fancy one—can cost you 450 calories. A world where football-size burritos—that pack 1,000 calories—are the norm. Where even home-cooked meals can balloon out of control. A report in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the average number of calories per serving in recipes found in The Joy of Cooking jumped from 268 to 437 in the past 70 years, in part due to bigger portions. Is it even possible to lose weight in this modern society? Yes. Here are 6 secrets to help you.
Secret 1. Plan Ahead
What’s for dinner? Rather than striking fear in your heart, this question should be a joyful one. Plan dinners that you’ll look forward to eating. Once you’ve decided what you want for dinner, plot out the rest of your day’s meals.
According to one study, a menu plan for the whole day really does help you lose weight. Perhaps it’s because having a plan forces you to keep healthier foods on hand. Planning ahead also helps you keep your eating on schedule: if you already know what you’re having for lunch, you’re less likely to let 6 or 7 hours pass without having something to eat—a situation that usually results in eating too much when you finally do sit down to a meal.
First you need to decide how many calories you should be eating: 1,500 calories a day usually leads to a 1- to 2-pound weight loss per week, but maybe it just doesn’t quite work for you.
CALCULATE YOUR CALORIE GOAL
Your current weight x 12 = calories/day needed to maintain your current weight
To lose 1 pound/week: Cut 500 calories/day.
To lose 2 pounds/week: Cut 1,000 calories/day.
Don’t go under 1,200 calories a day, however: it’s hard to get the nutrients you need with that little food.
Tip: Write what you bite. Studies show writing down everything you eat helps you lose weight. Buy a journal or track it online. The more detailed your notes, the more they’ll help: to start, try writing down what you ate, how much, and the calories it contained. You might also note where you ate or how you felt.
Secret 2. Avoid “Portion Distortion”
When you’re trying to lose weight, one of the best skills you can learn is accurately sizing up portions. Studies show that almost everyone—heavy people and thin ones, nutrition experts and normal folks—underestimates how much they’re eating a lot of the time. Research by EatingWell advisor Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition and marketing at Cornell University and the former executive director for the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, shows that people tend to underestimate calorie intake by 20 to 40 percent.
Try these three easy tips to measure your portions without having to break out your measuring cups:
1. Compare things: 3 ounces of meat or protein is about the size of a deck of cards, a medium potato is the size of a computer mouse and a 1/4 cup is the size of a golf ball.
2. Use your hand: for small-framed women, 1 teaspoon is about the size of the tip of your thumb, 1 tablespoon is the size of your thumb and 1 cup is the size of your fist.
3. Measure once: when you’re at home, you’re using the same bowls and utensils over and over again. Find out how much they hold. Measure out the amount of soup that your ladle holds. If it’s 3⁄4 cup you’ll know forever that two scoops equal a satisfying 11⁄2-cup serving. On the flip-side, you can measure out a given portion of a particular favorite food and serve it in the dish you’ll almost always use when you eat that food. Once you know that one serving of cereal reaches only halfway up your bowl, you’ll know to stop there.
Tip: Cooking individual-size portions like Broccoli & Goat Cheese Souffle, which is made in a 10-ounce ramekin, will help you control calories without even thinking about it.
Secret 3. Enjoy a Balanced Diet
Of course, there’s more to good nutrition than counting calories. When you’re cutting down portions, you’re reducing your intake of helpful nutrients, too, so it’s even more important to make healthful choices. (In fact, it’s probably a good idea to take a multivitamin that provides 100 percent of the Daily Values, just to cover your bases.)
Here are the 5 foods you should be eating as part of a balanced diet every day:
Whole Grains: Whole grains provide fiber, trace minerals and antioxidants and slow-release carbohydrates that keep your body and brain fueled. Aim for 4 to 9 ounce-equivalents per day.
Fruits & Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, but high in vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals—compounds that fight disease-causing free radicals and amp up enzymes that clear toxins. Choose a rainbow of colors to get the widest variety of nutrients. Aim for 1 to 2 cups of fruits and 1½ to 3½ cups of vegetables per day.
Lean Proteins: Some studies show that, gram for gram, protein may keep you feeling fuller than carbohydrates or fats do. For overall health, choose sources that are low in saturated fat: seafood, poultry, lean meat and tofu. Eat 3 to 6½ ounce-equivalents per day.
Low-Fat Dairy: Nonfat (or low-fat) milk and yogurt provide a satisfying combination of carbohydrate and protein. They’re also good sources of calcium, which dieters often fall short on. Cheeses contain calcium, too, but pack in calories. Choose cheese with bold tastes so you don’t need a lot to get great flavor. Eat 2 to 3 cups of dairy daily.*
Healthy Fats: Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (in nuts, avocados and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (in canola oil, plant oils and fish) infuse food with flavor. Eat 4 to 8 teaspoons per day.
*Daily intake guides are those recommended by the USDA’s MyPyramid.gov for a calorie level of 1,200-2,600 calories.
Secret 4. Share Delicious Meals
You probably won’t be very happy nibbling on carrots and cottage cheese if everyone else at the table is enjoying pasta smothered in cream sauce. Studies show that people lose more weight when they do it together, so boost your chances for success: enjoy real meals with your friends and family.
Crab cakes, steak, dessert—they’re all possibilities on a diet. Tempt your family and friends to join you on your quest for better health with our recipes for delicious lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods. After they see how great your diet is, maybe they’ll pick up your healthier lifestyle changes, too, and suddenly you’ll have a whole slew of friends to join you in your weight-loss efforts.
Secret 5. Move On From Slip-Ups
You planned out your meal, snacks and treats too. So you “shouldn’t” have felt deprived and you “shouldn’t” have binged on that pizza, but—guess what—you did. It happens. Making a plan helps, but it doesn’t ensure total success. What you really shouldn’t do is throw in the towel and go on an eating free-for-all.
The key to overcoming slip-ups is to forgive, forget it and get right back on track. Guilt begets more bingeing; don’t give in to that. Don’t fall into the splurge-and-then-skip diet—it’s not healthy or enjoyable and you end up hungry and guilty. Besides, punishing yourself with tiny meals doesn’t inspire healthy habits you can keep and enjoy throughout your life. Plan a week’s worth of delicious calorie-controlled dinners so you can stay satisfied and happy.
Secret 6. Treat Yourself
You love chocolate; you live for chocolate. But when you’re trying to lose weight you aim for eating perfection. So you totally give it up and eat whole-grain toast, salad and apples instead. You feel virtuous because your diet is picture-perfect. But, for most people, it’s impossible to achieve every minute of the day.
Recognizing realistic expectations is the key to slimming down. Aiming to be “too good” sets you up to fail. Don’t deprive yourself of everything you love, just keep your little splurges in moderation and calculate them into your plan for the day. Dieting isn’t about perfection; it’s about balance. So if you love chocolate, eat a little, or if you love wine, drink a little. Just make room for the calories by passing on something else—perhaps bread. In other words, prioritize.