Fat loss isn’t always easy, and it isn’t as simple as most people think, either. A lot more research needs to be done on the science of fat loss. Is a calorie just a calorie? To what extent does gene expression influence fat loss? And so on.
Conventional wisdom says that weight loss boils down to burning more calories than you consume. While this is largely true, a 2011 study shows that it’s not as simple as cutting 500 calories a day to give you a pound of weight loss in a week. That’s not to say that calorie-reduction doesn’t work for weight loss, because it definitely does – it’s just that it’s not as linear as most people believe. In fact, many weight loss anecdotes reflect this – is the science catching up?
The other issue: it isn’t really about weight loss, it’s about fat loss, which is something completely different. For example, you could lose a lot of weight (short-term) by starving yourself; along with that you’ll lose a lot of muscle and you’ll spend most of the time very cranky and listless. Don’t know about you, but we don’t think that’s a fun way to spend your day.
Bottom line: starvation and crash diets(a.k.a. dramatic reduction of calories) don’t work long-term because they’re very hard to stick to. In fact, because of metabolic slow down and the rebound effect, you can often end up putting on more weight after the diet. The result is often the ineffective (and unnecessary) spiral of yo-yo dieting.
So the key isn’t to think of fat loss as a diet, but rather as incremental lifestyle changes. This means trading dramatic diet changes (and the misguided hope for instant results) for slower, more consistent changes. Think of it as a process of kaizen rather than jumping into the deep end and you’ll be much more likely to stick to it.
The mainstay of fat loss is frequent, vigorous and varied exercise combined with consistent healthy eating. Which means hitting you daily caloric requirements, and reducing it a little (500 – 750 calories less than your daily requirements) if you want to lose fat, because the research shows that a calorie-controlled diet absolutely does work.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just need to do it most of the time.
Given all of that, it’s useful to know where you could cut some calories and make some healthy swaps to get you closer to your fat loss, fitness and health goals. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones we could find to help you do that.
Disclaimer: As always, check with your primary health care provider before you attempt any weight loss.
22 Easy Ways to Cut Calories
Eat more… lean protein.
A moderate increase in protein consumption can promote fat loss. The reason is three-fold: eating protein curbs your appetite by making you feel full (due to certain amino acids); it has a higher thermic effect than carbs and fat (i.e. the energy required to digest protein is higher); protein aids maintenance and growth of lean muscle.
Of course, you would need to combine this with a calorie-controlled diet and physical activity. If you’re already eating a ton of protein, then it’s not going to make any difference. If you’re going way over your daily calorie requirements, then it’s not going to make a difference either. But, for instance, if you get most of your calories from carbs, you could try a moderate increase in protein to promote fat loss.
Eat more… healthy fats.
Healthy fats are good for you and they aid fat loss. Yes, you read that correctly, they aid fat loss. The reason is simple: fats promote saiety – that feeling of satisfaction you get at the end of a good meal. They also add tremendous flavor to your meals. Your food tastes better and you get slimmer and healthier.
Of course, you still need to stay within your caloric requirement guidelines (especially since fats are very high in calories). You also need to avoid trans-fats as best you can (e.g. spreads, packaged foods, fast food, fried foods, etc.), limit many saturated fats (pizza, cheese, many deserts, etc.) and stick to the healthier mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (nuts, fish, avocado, etc.).
Note: while saturated fats have been tarred and feathered with the ‘bad fat’ brush, several recent studies seem to suggest that this isn’t true – a highly controversial finding in the dietary world. Further, many people are questioning the conventional wisdom of saturated fats = bad (especially those in the paleo crowd). Could it be that saturated fats have gotten a bad rap for the past few decades? More research needs to be done before we’ll have a definitive answer.
Cut out refined sugar.
If you do just one thing to cut calories, cutting out refined sugar will probably give you the most bang for your buck. It’s tough (at least for the first 3 – 4 days, then it gets easier), but it’s oh so worth it.
And to make it easier, we’ve put together a guide to help you cut down on sugar.
An easy way to cut down on sugar is to simply cut out regular treats like desert after dinner; do that for a month and see what kind of results you get. If you crave some sweetness, grab a banana instead!
Avoid drinking your calories.
The rule of thumb is to get your calories from food; your drinks should be to hydrate you. The best hydration comes from water (or an electrolyte solution for some flavor). Swap fruit juices and sodas for water; they are both are packed with sugars.
We’re talking about the food equivalent of naturism; each slice of white bread has about 66 calories, so by stripping your sandwich of its bread, your burger of its bun, you’re going to be cutting out quite a few calories.
Lay the filling down on a bed of spinach, lettuce, or whatever greens you enjoy and voila, you’ve got yourself pretty clean meal! If going totally naked is a bit too much, start by simply removing one slice (or half of the bun) and work up to it; you could even try lettuce wraps if you wanted.
Watch the mayo.
A single teaspoon of mayo packs an impressive 34 calories; contrast this with a teaspoon of just-as-delicious mustard which comes in at a paltry 3 calories! So try some mustard on your sandwich for a change. If mustard doesn’t cut it, you can try substituting with Greek yogurt; also about 3 calories per teaspoon.
Watch the cheese.
Cheese is packed with goodness: protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B-12; but it also packs a serious calorie punch – one slice will contain upwards of 100 calories. Even the low-calorie options are pretty calorific, and strip out a lot of the healthy fats. Swap out cheese for extra relish on your burger, add avocado to your sandwiches instead, and you’ll cut down those calories dramatically.
Skip the fries; go for salad.
We love French fries, but sneaking in 365 calories (medium serving), it seems like they don’t have much love for our waistline. Swap those fries with a simple salad and you’ll cut out most of those calories.
Swap olive oil for lower calorie toppings.
Moderate use of toppings (e.g. parmesan) taste great and work out to fewer calories. Olive oil is packed with healthy fats, but if you do use it, be careful with how much you use; those calories add up fast!
Use a full fat dressing, but use much less.
Dressings with high fat content actually help you to feel fuller for longer (e.g. olive oil) which as a result can mean you consume fewer calories during the day. The main issue is that most people use far too much which means some serious calories, so just use sprinkle it on (less than a teaspoon).
Squeeze some lemon.
Instead of olive oil, or other dressings, squeeze some fresh lemon and add a touch of ground black pepper for a really calorie-friendly option. You can also add a tablespoon (or two) of hummus for a bit more flavor.
Swap soda for water.
If you’re a regular soda drinker, this will make a huge difference because you’ll be cutting out a ton of empty calories. Don’t switch to sugar-free or diet versions either (packed with artificial chemicals) – cut out the soda completely.
Spice up your coffee.
Rather than using sugar and syrup to add sweetness, try using nutmeg, vanilla or cinnamon. The great thing about spices is you can be liberal with them and not worry about your waistline.
Drink your coffee black.
A little more extreme, but it’s not that bad, you may even prefer it. Nothing quite like a quick shot of espresso in the morning.
But if you love lattes…
Think about switching to smaller cappuccinos. You’ll spare yourself about 100 calories and still get that necessary (for us at least), morning caffeine. And remember to skip the whip: you’ll cut out about 150 calories with one simple step.
Watch the cocktails!
If you enjoy cocktails (and who doesn’t) then take heed: some of these bad boys contain enough calories to fuel a marathon. Okay, not quite, but you get the point. For example, our delicious pineapple friend and Summer superstar – the pina colada – contains about 100 more calories than a Big Mac. Whoa.
Want to cut down on the caloric punch? Go as close to neat as you can: rum and soda, appletini, wine spritzer, and so on. Whatever you do, stay away from those Long Island Iced Teas.
Swap regular beers for a light brew.
There’s a reason it’s known as liquid bread. The lighter counterparts contain about 30 – 50 fewer calories and a lot less carbs. If you want to take it further, try a non-alcoholic brew.
Reduce your intake.
Instead of having three glasses of wine (cocktails or beer), just have two – you’ll cut out over 100 calories. If you’re celebrating (at a party, nightclub) then alternate your drinks with soda water and fruit juice.
Probably the most simple way to reduce calories on those special treats, is just to share it with someone; you’ll instantly halve the calories. If it’s really decadent, share it with two friends!
Replace sweets with fruit.
Fruits are high in natural sugars (and quite calorific) but they usually contain far fewer calories than candies, cakes and deserts. Still, you’ll want to have fruits in moderation. And if you don’t find that they satisfy, try something like apple slices with nut butter (almond, cashew, etc.) It makes a satisfying and yummy treat (plus the protein and fat helps to stave off hunger)!
Substitute with Greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt (full fat and non-fat) makes a good substitute for sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise… Use it in egg salad, burritos, smoothies, mashed potatoes. The list goes on and on; you can even use it as a sandwich spread – don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!
Carrots and celery make a great snack.
Put down the tortilla chips (which weigh in at about 293 calories per cup) and switch it up for some carrot and celery sticks and salsa. It’s healthy, it’s tasty and it’s about 250 calories less per cup!
Sandwiches, Burgers etc.
Candies, Treats, Deserts, etc.
What are your favorite low-calorie swaps? Let us know in the comments section below!