If you’re trying to lose weight then you have to eat fewer calories. It’s kind of a given right?
Whatever diet method you use, if you don’t sufficiently reduce your overall calorie intake you won’t shift the pounds.
There are lots of mixed messages coming out of the diet world right now with many suggesting that low fat is dead and low carb is the way forward.
The fact is regardless of whether you reduce fats or carbs, if you don’t reduce your overall calorie intake you’re not going to lose weight.
Personally, I’m all for balance and I’m not a fan of extremes when it comes to diet. The most effective way to ensure that you’re not eating too many calories is simply to track them. There are any number of smartphone apps to choose from, such as My Fitness Pal, that will help you to stay on track, or you could simply jot down everything you eat and keep track using a calorie counter book, Google searches and ingredient lists.
But there are a few simple things that you can implement that will help to reduce your calories with very little effort. I’ve put together 5 that you can get going with straight away.
1. Choose CLEVER low fat options.
Having spent many years jumping from one low fat diet to the next and gradually seeing my weight increase year on year, I became absolutely adamant that we should never be eating low fat products EVER as they’re full of sugar and added chemicals.
So why on earth would I include low fat foods in my list of suggestions?
Well, partly because I’m now older and wiser and a bit more moderate in my thoughts but also because whether we like it or not, fat contains 9 calories per gram compared to the other macronutrients, carbohydrate and protein, which both contain just 4g – therefore if we overeat fat it’s not going to be helpful to our ability to lose weight.
That said, I’m still not a fan of all low fat foods.
If you’re switching a regular chocolate muffin for a low fat muffin well, at the end of the day it’s still a muffin and probably not going to help you get to your goal. In fact, if you look at the calorie content, and also the sugar content, of the low fat muffin you might be surprised to find that the low fat version actually has a higher number of calories and a hell of a lot more sugar.
Plus, psychologically when we think about low fat foods we tend to give ourselves permission to eat more. We feel that it MUST be healthier so we are less careful about the amount we have.
But there are some foods that can be easily switched for lower fat versions, and that are good to include if you’re trying to shed the pounds.
Low fat cheese, hummus, greek yoghurt and cottage cheese are all a great way to enjoy these foods without eating extra calories.
It’s worth checking the ingredients list of both the full fat and the low fat versions of foods. Check whether the low fat version has simply had its oil or fat content reduced (good) or has the manufacturer added a whole load of sugar or artificial flavourings in order to counter the loss of taste from reducing the fat (bad).
It’s also important to consider taste and enjoyment. For some, having a smaller portion of a full fat version is preferable to having a bigger portion of the lower fat one. If volume is important then go low!
2. Be Buffet Savvy
Buffets can be a killer if you’re trying to lose weight. Especially the ‘all you can eat’ restaurant type buffets. But there are little tricks you can use to help stop you blowing your calorie budget.
While everyone else goes to the start of the queue and simply works their way along the servery, do yourself a favour and survey the whole buffet first, starting at the farthest end of the table!
A study by Cornell Food and Brand Lab found that 75% of people put the first item served onto their plate, regardless of what that item was. They also found that 2/3 of a person’s plate was filled with the first few items they came to. Amazingly, they also found that when less healthy foods were served first, people took more than 31% more food items overall.
Restaurants serving ‘all you can eat’ buffets also tend to put the starchier, cheaper, more dense foods such as chips, rice, pasta etc, first. Couple this with the stats I just mentioned and you can be easily piling on the calories before you get to any of the ‘healthier’ choices.
So, by surveying the buffet first and deciding in advance what you’re going to have you can overcome your brain’s habitual patterns and make healthier choices.
Other tricks such as going for a small, side plate rather than a full-sized dinner plate can help, as can finding a table as far away from the buffet as you can, and preferably sitting with your back to it.
3. Leave The Best ‘Til Last
If your favourite bit of a meal tends to be the highly palatable, high calorie foods, then leaving them until last can be a great way to limit the overall amount of calories you eat since you’re generally fuller by the time you get to them.
By piling your meal up with lots of low calorie vegetables and eating these first, you will be adding bulk so that your stomach feels fuller and you’re less likely to overeat.
Munching through a big plate of salad can take a heck of a lot longer than it takes to down a couple of slices of pizza. This means your ‘full’ hormones have time to register and you’ll be less likely to keep on scoffing the high calorie stuff.
In fact, simply slowing down in general will help. Putting your knife and fork down between each mouthful is a simple trick, as is making sure that you do actually use cutlery rather than picking with your fingers. And if you want to really test yourself, try picking up a set of chopsticks and using those instead!
Best of all, by leaving your favourite bit until last, you’re left with the flavour you like most lingering after you’ve finished – bonus!
4. Share the Love
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, then eating out can be difficult, especially when the waiter is waving the dessert board in front of you.
Choosing healthier options such a fresh fruit or sorbet is the best choice, but sometimes it’s just not going to cut it.
The whole point of dessert is that you’re left with a satisfying sweet hit at the end of your meal and not getting this can leave us feeling a bit miserable. But you don’t have to have much of a good thing for the ‘happy’ signals to be triggered.
Why not try sharing a dessert with your dinner partner. Some restaurants serve a selection of mini versions of different desserts which makes sharing even easier.
You could try asking the waiter to serve any syrups or sauces on the side so you get to control how much cream or ice cream you add.
When you’re eating at home try and leave a hefty time gap between the main course and dessert. You might find the urge to eat the pudding goes completely.
Finally, try to avoid ‘help yourself’ servings from the centre of the dinner table. Portion up the dessert and serve them that way, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for seconds (or thirds!).
5. Go Sparingly
Fats are good for us, despite what we’ve been told for many years. But as I said right at the start, they also contain a high calorie content gram for gram.
Including good quality fat sources into the diet, such as oily fish, nuts, avocado etc, is necessary for hormone production and a whole host of other reasons, but eating too much when you’re trying to lose weight will not be helpful and certainly eating high fat processed foods that provide little nutritional value are best avoided.
Here are some easy ways to reduce the amount of unnecessary calories you get from fat.
- Choose lower fat content meat when you buy things like beef and turkey mince.
- Choose leaner versions of things like steak and lamb.
- Use a measured amount of oil when cooking (personally, I’d avoid oil sprays!). A good non-stick frying pan and a bit of vegetable stock can really help to reduce the need for adding lots of cooking oil.
- Trim visible fat from things like bacon and beef.
- Allow butter to sit at room temperature so that it’s easier to spread more thinly onto sandwiches or try skipping it altogether.
- Choose higher protein content meat such as chicken breast and turkey over higher fat meats such as lamb and beef.
- Choose sausages with a high meat content.
- Check food labels and look at the percentage of fat – just make sure that the manufacturer hasn’t compensated by increasing the sugar and salt content.
- Avoid any foods that contain transfats and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
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Bev Thorogood is a Level 3 Qualified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach and owner of Floresco Fitness and Fatloss Coaching.