Small Subtractions Add Up
If you’ve watched your food intake for what feels like FOREVER, then you probably instinctively know what tends to work for you when it comes to keeping calories in line. Personally, I know not to bring tubs of ice cream into the house. I WILL dive butt-up into the deep freezer to kill a craving! Another danger zone—staying up past bedtime, which trips my severe snack attack switch. Each of us knows our little “molasses swamp” when it comes to eating more than we’d like... or planned... or promised ourselves we would.
To change eating habits, sometimes we only need a brief reminder of what works. At other times, we need to apply more effort, accepting our particular patterns and trying new tactics. Here are 10 basic calorie cutting approaches, some of which you may or may not have attempted, even if you’ve heard of them. Struggling to keep daily calories in check? What if, this coming week, you test one or two potential solutions or re-adopt a trusted one?
1. Take a 3/4 portion & only get up for seconds after gauging actual physical hunger. For example, if you usually have two scoops of ice cream, try one big one and give yourself some time to see if you really WANT another.We humans are such sense-driven creatures that just seeing and smelling food can spike our appetites, even if we’re already full. (Ever order a bucket of movie theater popcorn even though you just ate dinner? I think they pump that aroma into every crevice of the place to improve sales!) Having heaps of food on a plate before us just sets us up to eat it ALL. Serve yourself less at a meal and it may turn out to be the perfect amount.
2. Imagine a “hunger scale” of 1-10 (highest meaning most ravenous) and consciously, consistently stop eating at a “5” or “6.” This is a tried-and-true intuitive eating strategy. Instead of measuring and tracking food externally, tune into internal cues to evaluate hunger. How do you know when YOU are hungry? Sometimes stomachs growl, obviously. But by that time, we may have already reached an "8." For me, at a "6," my focus drifts a bit more and I get a little crabby. It takes practice, but when mastered, this approach can steady us for a lifetime of balanced eating. (I'm still mastering!)
3. Sub one calorie-free beverage (like water, seltzer, or decaf tea) for a sugary one every day. This very small change can really add up, slashing 150-200 calories every time you choose a drink. In fact, sugary drinks contribute more calories to the American diet than any other source. Drop these, and you'll make real headway on keeping calories in check. And once your tastebuds adjust, you likely won't miss the syrupy stuff.
4. Skip the fruit juice and eat a serving of the fruit instead. Fruit juice doles out tons of fructose, especially in the amounts we typically drink in a sitting. (Think of that tall glass of juice served at the diner.) Sometimes it even contains ADDED sugar. On top of this, it almost always deprives you of the fiber that comes with a whole piece of fruit.
5. Pad your plate with veggies. We all know this “trick,” but how many do it? Probably only a few, since according to the CDC, only 1 in 10 Americans eats the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Filling out meals with veggies in turn fills you up without lots of calories—not to mention deeply nourishes the body. Chop up a bunch at the beginning of the week, and this tactic becomes whole lot easier on a daily basis.
6. Pay attention to fatigue and rest rather than eat. This cuts calories by staving off the aforementioned snack attacks. Sleep deprivation has been directly linked, not only to overeating, but to overeating junk food! Instead of attempting to boost energy with a snack (and we all know we're not eating carrots at 10pm), set a bedtime alarm & go snuggle up.
7. Drop some sat fats. Small amounts of saturated fat are okay in the diet. Larger amounts of "bad" fats, however, not only pack calories but can impact health negatively. Skip the butter and use non-stick spray to sautee. Choose leaner meats. Drink skim or 2% rather than whole milk. (Careful with almond and many soy milks which can contain large amounts of added sugar. Also note that all dairy products contain some natural sugar in the form of lactose—not problematic for most folks.)
8. Don’t buy temptations in bulk! This sounds like a no-brainer, but faced with a bargain cost per ounce, this proves tough to do, especially right now, if you're one of the millions whose income has been impacted during the pandemic. We often tell ourselves we’ll ration portions and believe we’ll be able to resist big bags of treats, but reality tells a different story. Consider the extra pennies spent on smaller portions an investment in future health.
9. Focus on the food & nothing else. (Okay, definitely on the company, too!) Another cornerstone of intuitive eating, ingesting food mindfully permits the experience of actually tasting & enjoying meals, so that we don’t find ourselves seeking a “second try” soon after we’ve already eaten.
10. Read labels. This is a wake-up call when it comes to calories (not to mention nutritional value). When we don’t really know what’s in a product, it becomes super easy to ignore its detriments or even (depending on how it’s advertised) to believe it to be a healthier option than it is. Reading labels helps us skim away calories by a) downsizing portions or b) making another selection. This one’s literally an eye opening approach to food.
Whichever of the above options you might choose, just be sure they're doable and palatable (yes, a food pun) for YOU. If your immediate reaction to a suggestion is, “ah, NO WAY,” then don’t force yourself to try it...YET. Start simple and soon you’ll probably be layering on more tactics—and likely many of your own. Please share them. Our little community is always open to new ideas.