Cutting your calorie intake is necessary for losing weight. There are plenty of strategies you can use to lower your intake, some of which can improve your overall health and help you lose weight while others will simply lead you to failure. The way in which you cut your calories will largely determine whether or not you are successful.
Weight Loss 101
Losing weight is fairly simple. If you burn more calories than you eat, your body will turn to fat stores for energy and over time, will cause weight loss. When you burn more calories than you eat, you create a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is the difference between how many calories you burn and eat. A deficit of 500 calories means that you burn 500 more calories than you eat each day. This shortfall forces your body to look for that 500 calories from non-food sources, mainly body fat. You can use the calorie calculator to help you figure out a calorie intake that is appropriate for weight loss.
Eating Less vs. Eating Smarter
There are plenty of ways you can cut your calorie intake. The best way is to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy food options. While it is possible to get fat from eating too much healthy foods, it is a lot harder. Healthy foods are typically lower in calories and do more to quell hunger than unhealthy food options. When you replace unhealthy food with healthier options, you won’t necessarily decrease the volume of food you eat, simply the amount of calories.
Energy Dense vs. Nutrient Dense Foods
When cutting calories, you should focus on getting rid of energy dense foods. Energy dense foods are high in calories (empty calories) but low in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. This is the exact opposite of what you want. Replace energy dense foods with nutrient dense foods which are low in calories but very high in nutrients. Nutrient dense foods can also be energy dense. When picking a food, always check out its calorie content. Below are a few ways you can lower your calorie intake by making smart food replacements.
Meat is a staple of the American diet. Popular meats such as beef and pork are high in calories. These fatty meats are loaded with saturated fat which can lead to higher cholesterol levels, and over time, heart disease.
While you’re on a diet, replace high fat meats such as beef and pork with lean meats such as turkey, chicken and seafood. Lean meats have the same amount of protein as fatty meats but are much lower in fat content and overall calories.
Dairy is another animal product that can be very high in saturated fat. Replace whole dairy products such as milk and cheese with their low fat or fat free counterparts. Just like meat, low fat dairy contains the same amount of protein as whole dairy but is lower in calories.
Consider replacing butter and margarine with “butter” made from vegetable oil (ex: Smart Balance Buttery Spread). These vegetable oil “butter” spreads have the same calorie content as regular butter but are high in good (unsaturated) fats rather than bad (saturated) fats. Unsaturated fats can lower your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for heart disease.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Low carb diets work not because carbohydrates make you fat but because too many calories makes you fat. Cutting carbs out of your diet will lower your overall calorie intake.
A smarter approach than removing all carbs from your diet is to get rid of the bad carbs. Carbs can be split up into two broad groups: simple and complex. Carbs are made out of sugar molecules. Simple carbs contain just a few sugar molecules while complex carbs are made out of hundreds or even thousands of them put together. The number of sugar molecules linked together makes all the difference.
Because simple carbs are made up of only a few sugar molecules, they are digested and absorbed very quickly. This quick digestion process means that simple carbs do not keep you full. Simple carbs promote hunger and overeating. A diet high in simple carbs will do nothing to keep you full throughout the day.
Because complex carbs are made up of hundreds or thousands of sugar molecules, they are digested a lot slower than simple carbs. This slow digestion process will keep you full for a longer period of time. Four hundred calories of complex carbs will keep you full for a much longer time than 400 calories of simple carbs.
Replacing simple carbs with complex ones will help you lower your calorie intake because complex carbs keep you full. Examples of foods that are high in simple carbs include: doughnuts, honey, syrup, muffins, milk chocolate, soda, fruit juice, sweet tea, refined/white flour and foods made with a lot of sugar. Examples of foods that are high in complex carbs include vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, 100% whole wheat flour/bread/pasta and brown rice.
Eat More Fiber
Fiber is a special type of complex carb that humans can’t breakdown for energy. Like complex carbs, fiber is digested very slowly and can help you lower your overall calorie intake. Unfortunately, the American diet is very lacking in fiber because of its reliance on processed foods. Processed foods, though convenient, come at a price.
That price is in the form of a lower nutrient content. Fiber is usually stripped away from grains to improve taste and texture. White bread, pasta and rice contain much less fiber than 100% whole wheat bread, pasta and brown rice. Products with a high fiber content will keep you full for longer and help you save calories by reducing hunger.
Fiber also has some additional health benefits. Fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure and prevent certain forms of cancer. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, 100% whole wheat bread/pasta, brown rice, beans, legumes, nuts and dark chocolate. Replace foods that are low in fiber with foods high in fiber to help you decrease your calorie intake.
Liquid calories fall in the same category as simple carbs. Liquid goes through your system pretty quick. When that liquid is filled with sugar (soda, fruit juice, sweet tea), it not only adds a lot of calories to your bottom line, it also does nothing to keep you full. Replace liquid calories with water to stay hydrated.
The Bottom Line
Eating less is the key to losing weight. The best way to eat less is to replace unhealthy foods that are high in calories with smarter choices that are low in calories but high in nutritional content. These healthier options will help you reduce your calorie intake, lose weight and improve your overall health.