It doesn’t matter what diet you’re following: Low carb, Keto, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and on and on… the crux of weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight is eating less calories.
It is somewhat tragic that as an adult in the modern world, if you just eat “normal stuff”, most people over age 25 will slowly gain weight year to year eating the standard American diet. In general it provides way more calories than we need each day.
On the other hand, people that (again, age 25+) seem to always stay thin regardless of what they eat, usually have some habits built into their daily eating routine that might not appear on the surface, but they’re there.
For example, I have relative through marriage that has always been thin and continues to stay thin, even though she eats dessert almost every night and shuns anything considered “health food”.
Being, for lack of a better word, jealous of her for this magical ability, I’ve paid attention to how she eats, and I realized she has a secret: She doesn’t eat very much! All this time I’ve been jealous of her and her family’s seemingly insane metabolism…. but it’s really just some good old-fashioned restraint and prudent habit.
I do however think there is a “secret” to cutting calories and eating healthier… and it is directly related to my relative’s “secret”.
The Secret to a Lifelong Healthy Body Weight
Are you ready for this? The secret is: Take self control out of the equation as much as possible. If everyday is a battle of willpower and you’re constantly having cravings for good food while trying to eat boiled chicken and steamed broccoli, you WILL fail.
Luckily, there are ways to cut calories and eat healthier foods that don’t require around-the-clock willpower and constantly torturing yourself.
7 Simple Ways to Cut Calories and Eat Healthier
#1: Cultivate Healthier Habits
This one almost seems like a cop-out because it seems so general, but it’s actually profound. Let’s go back to my relative who doesn’t eat health food but always stays thin. Her “secret” is that she just doesn’t eat very much. She eats the good stuff, just not very much of it, ever. While I’ve always had a “feast or famine” approach to dieting… meaning I’m either “dieting” or eating truckloads of food, eating just a little bit is just what she does.
She’s made it a habit… she doesn’t have to think about it, measure stuff, count calories, she just eats until she’s satisfied, and that’s just what she does. All the time, every time. She doesn’t have “free meals” and completely pig out, she simply never overeats.
Now… trust me, I realize… easier said than done. Food is good (food is God?), and it takes willpower and self control to cultivate healthier habits. But… a real, true “habit” is something that you do and you don’t have to think about anymore. So if you can just take your top 3 weakest food-related habits and turn them around, you’ll make huge strides.
As a side note, a few years ago I identified my #1 food-related weakness to be going completely overboard on “special occasions”, and eating until I was so full I was almost sick. And of course, these “special occasions” seemed to happen weekly or sometimes twice a week. Getting rid of that association and somehow justifying pigging out to the 10th degree has been the key to my being able to maintain a healthy weight the last few years.
#2: Cut Sugar In Every Way Possible
First and foremost, never drink sugar as part of your normal day. Truly special occasions or a cocktail as part of a reasonable reward meal is fine, but pouring sugar into your coffee or chugging soda is the same as smoking… it’s needlessly harming your body.
Cutting sugar obviously helps cut calories, but cutting out added sugars does wonders for your body beyond just the number of calories.
Look at the ingredients in your favorite condiments, in your favorites snacks, in your favorite drinks, etc… There’s probably a lot of added sugar you didn’t even realize. Find better alternatives and make the switch permanently, especially in the stuff you keep in your own home on a daily basis.
#3: Learn to Love Chugging Water
Without regurgitating all the benefits of drinking a lot of water, I’ll simply say that this daily habit can make eating less calories much easier.
It helps almost all your body’s processes work better, and it helps you feel fuller and satisfied and it helps you eat less at each meal. It also really reduces cravings for sweets and junk carbs, especially if you add a squirt of lime or lemon juice to your water.
To start the day off right, drink 16oz of water right when you wake up. This will fire up your metabolism, help you wake up and get your brain get going, flush out toxins, and help prevent cravings for pancakes covered in syrup.
Another benefit of this morning habit is that taking one healthy step helps you feel productive and in control, and you’re less likely to make bad eating decisions when you’re “on a roll.” So this helps your body get off to a good start but it also helps you mentally and behaviorally get off to a good start.
#4: Keep Junk Out of Your House
Like they say, your house should be a safe space. Safe from junk food that is nothing but bad for you. Remember the universal law of junk food: if it’s in your house, it will get eaten.
This tip goes directly with the idea of “take willpower out of the equation”… if it’s not in your house, you can’t eat it. Especially if you’re going through the initial period where you’re trying to develop better habits… you should have a zero-tolerance policy on keeping junk food in the house.
Replace junky snacks with healthy snacks like nuts, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, boiled eggs, etc.
Or even better, don’t snack. Stick to your set meals, eat healthy but filling foods, and try to just stick to the main meals each day.
As a bonus tip, if there are things like chocolate tips for cooking that you get into when you’re desperate (me), lock it up in a Kitchen Safe – an actual device with a locking lid that literally won’t open until the timer runs out.
Kitchen Safe pro tip: Since I use one of these weekly, set it to open in the mornings when you’re least tempted. So for the average week, the thing is locked 7-9 days at a time, and it will open in the morning. I see it’s unlocked, and just set it for another 7-9 days right then and there. These are also great if you keep kids snacks around for your kids but you end up eating yourself late at night (also me).
#5: Try Intermittent Fasting (AKA Skipping Breakfast)
This is something I’ve been doing for years now and it’s just a habit now. A true habit I might add – I don’t even think about breakfast anymore.
Intermittent fasting is simply limiting all your eating to a specific time window each day, normally a span of 8 hours. I think by far the easiest way to do it is to simply not eat until noon each day, then you’d just eat from noon to 8pm. That’s basically skipping breakfast, then having lunch like normal and then dinner around 7pm so that you’re done eating by 8.
Intermittent fasting has a few huge benefits that help you “take willpower out of the equation”:
First, most people aren’t that hungry in the morning anyways. It’s not that hard to skip breakfast and just drink water and coffee until lunch (black coffee though).
Second, it hacks off 1/3 of your calories you’d normally eat.
Third, it lets you eat 2-3 bigger meals that are really satisfying instead of eating a bunch of 300-400 calorie meals that just feel like snacks. Let’s say you’re counting your calories and trying to stick to something like 1,600 calories a day. If you start eating at 7am, and you’re going to eat every 3-4 hours, you’ll only be eating 300-400 calories at a time.
It’s also a lot of work and time to eat that frequently and prepare things that are healthy that you don’t get sick of.
With intermittent fasting, you can eat 2 meals of 800 calories… it doesn’t even feel like you’re dieting at that point. So at dinner you eat a big meal and you’re done eating by 8… when you eat a meal that big you won’t have cravings before bed because you’ll be full. And again, eating just twice a day is a huge time saver and makes meal planning and grocery shopping infinitely easier.
#6: Cut Out or Switch Out Condiments
Condiments and sauces are diet-killers. Full-strength mayo and salad dressings pack a ton of fat and calories, and a lot of our favorite condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce are basically liquid candy.
You can save a significant amount of calories each day by find suitable alternatives to your favorite condiments… and they do exist.
For BBQ sauce, try just yellow mustard or one of the many flavored mustards out there. Just check the labels because some types of flavored mustards have a lot of sugar as well. There are also sugar-free BBQ sauces that are really good, such as G Hughes BBQ sauces.
For salad dressings, Litehouse makes a vinaigrette-based line of salad dressings, as well as yogurt-based alternatives to creamy dressings like ranch and blue-cheese. These are all delicious and less than half the calories than normal dressings.
For things you put ketchup on, try hot sauce instead. Don’t be afraid of the word “hot sauce”… some brands like Cholula is really stretching to call itself hot sauce. There are many that aren’t hot at all. Franks Red Hot has delicious flavor and a tiny bit of spice.
Everything is personal preference, especially when it comes to “spicy”, but don’t be afraid to dabble in the hot sauce world because there are so many brands and flavor variations, and hot sauces are basically flavored vinegar… meaning they are extremely low calorie.
For mayo, even the reduced fat mayo is a huge improvement, or try Miracle Whip. A lot of people prefer the tanginess of Miracle Whip to mayo, and you could even go for reduced fat Miracle Whip – which is still awesome on a turkey sandwich or lettuce wrap.
Another thing that adds flavor and moisture to almost anything is salsa or picante sauce. Pace Picante Sauce is a staple in our house. Try it on fried eggs or grilled chicken breast.
The bottom line is, be calorie-aware and the next time you’re at the grocery store grab a few replacements for some of your favorite condiments. This alone is an easy way to hack 500+ calories a day off what you would normally eat.
#7: Get More & Better Quality Sleep
Sleep is probably the most important part of maintaining a healthy weight that is rarely talked about.
Aside from all of the actual processes in your body that sleep affects, one of the biggest factors is simply how much it affects your decision making.
You know how this works: when you had a bad night of sleep, you don’t feel like being productive, you don’t want to exercise, and you have cravings for junky foods.
Your brain’s reward center goes into overdrive, and wants you to do or eat something that feels good (or tastes really good). It also leads to late night snacking, and just overall lowers your commitment level to your own goals and the productive or healthy things you’re trying to do each day. Studies show that you eat more when you’re tired, and again, that you crave foods that are bad for you instead of healthy foods.
Lack of sleep also triggers a spike in cortisol, which puts your body into energy-preservation-mode, so your body is more likely to hang onto body fat and store food as body fat instead of use it for fuel.
One study performed on dieters cut one group’s sleep, and that group lost 55% less body fat vs the control group, while eating the same amount of calories. That is a huge, direct effect caused by lack of sleep.
Sleep is absolutely crucial to our health and overall well-being, but it’s even more so when we’re trying to change our habits and stick to a diet or healthy-eating plan.