How to Cut Calories to Lose Weight (Without Sacrificing Flavor & Cravings) – 8 Clever & Easy Tricks

eat healthy scaleSo, the winter holidays are finally over with. All those cookies, turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake have been eaten. And now?

Your waistband is feeling a bit tight.

There’s an urban legend that goes around every year which says most people will gain 5 to 10 pounds through the winter holidays. The good news? It’s truly a myth. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most of us gain around one pound.

The problem is that we often don’t lose that pound once the holidays are over. It sticks around and, according to the NIH, can contribute to obesity in the years to come. So, it needs to come off – which is probably why it’s usually one of the top New Year’s resolution ideas.

Taking part in consistent exercise routines and programs is absolutely the best way to get, and stay, healthy. Our bodies were designed to move, a lot, and they’re happiest when they can do that. Best of all, exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. There are some really fun ways to sneak a workout routine into your day without hauling yourself to the gym. Staying in shape can also help us avoid expensive health expenses down the road.

In addition to regular exercise, however, here are 8 clever ways to cut down on the number of calories you eat every day so you can lose weight fast without sacrificing flavor.

1. If you’re hungry, drink first
Like most people, I often put on a bit of weight during the winter months. It’s cold, I’m inside a lot, and the temptation to snack can be irresistible. Plus, I work at home so the temptation is always there to head into the kitchen for a break…

Before I snack on anything, I make myself drink a full cup of water. Many experts claim that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Whether or not that’s true, dehydration does make you think you’re hungry, when really you just need water.

I sip water constantly throughout the day, but before I snack, I down an entire glass. I always eat less when I do.

Often, the urge to snack is simply a response to boredom and a desire to enjoy some flavor. So, make yourself a creamy cup of tea when you feel the urge to munch. My favorite is Dilmah’s Irish Breakfast with a bit of soy milk. It’s hearty, flavorful, and helps take away the craving to snack.

2. Use smaller plates
Most of the time when I eat dinner at home, I use a salad plate, not a full dinner plate. This helps me keep the calories down because I’m not filling up a gargantuan plate full of food.

3. Use honey instead of sugar
You’re craving something sweet, and you’re not going to stop until you get it. Instead of a gobbling up a king-sized Snickers bar, slowly eat a spoonful of honey. Honey is much healthier than refined sugar and sweet enough to satiate your craving. One tablespoon of honey has 64 calories; one Snickers bar has around 270 calories. That’s a very big difference. I do this all the time and, at least for me, it works.

If you’re still craving food, then drink a glass of water, make a cup of tea, or move on to #4.

4. Snack smart
Want to know what I eat when I really want a snack and I’m trying to save my calories for dinner?

Pickles. I eat a lot of pickles.

I love to eat pickles (and dilly beans, and other pickled vegetables) because many of them have zero calories (yes, zero), they’re filling, and they have a strong and satisfying flavor. Learn to snack on pickles. You won’t be sorry.

Another good alternative is air-popped popcorn. I’m not talking about buttery, calorie-laden Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn. I’m talking about loose popcorn kernels that you can make in your microwave in a brown paper lunch sack or in a skillet on the stovetop. With a bit of salt, this is a low-calorie, fiber-heavy snack that is satisfying because it’s crunchy, and a little salty.

5. Take home half your restaurant meal
When I go out for dinner, I always ask the waitstaff for a to-go box the moment they bring out my plate. They give me a funny look every time.

Before I start eating, I put half of what’s on my plate into the to-go box for tomorrow’s lunch. Restaurant portions are huge and most of the time, when we go out, we stuff ourselves. This is an effective tip to save money eating out at restaurants as well.

Cutting your meal in half before you even start eating is an easy way to cut calories and force yourself to savor the correct portion that’s now on your plate.

6. Hide your leftovers
Here’s the scenario: you’re at the table, and you’ve finished eating, but you have left a sizable amount on your plate for lunch tomorrow. Everyone else is still eating and talking, however. So what do you do? Almost unconsciously, every few minutes, you take a bite or a nibble of what you left on your plate as you talk.

Do that for 15 minutes and before you know it, you’ve finished the food you deliberately left on your plate. I used to do this all the time.

You can avoid this situation by discreetly laying your napkin over your plate when you’re done. This is a visual signal to your brain that you’ve stopped eating and it will stop the temptation to keep nibbling at your food.

Alternatively, you can follow tip #5 and put away a certain amount of food before you even begin eating, whether you’re at home or out at a restaurant.

7. Have a big breakfast
When I was in college, one of my friends gave me a great piece of advice I’ve never forgotten.

She said, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

I’ve aimed to do just that ever since.

Experts have touted for decades that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So if you’re going to have a big meal, do it at the beginning of your day. This will give you the energy you need, and you’ve got all day to burn off the calories.

8. Revise your dressing
Salads are great for helping you eat healthy on a budget and lose weight – they’re extremely nutritious and low in calories. That is, until you dump a gigantic blob of ranch or blue cheese dressing on them. Most commercial dressings, especially creamy ones like ranch or French, are loaded with calories and sugar.

Instead, I use olive oil and red wine vinegar every time. I go light on the olive oil, heavier on the vinegar, and then sprinkle a high quality, tasty salt on top (like Black Lava or Pink Himalayan salt). This adds a ton of flavor, and very few calories.

Do you have any clever ways for cutting calories out of your diet without sacrificing good taste and flavor? I’d love to hear from all of you about this in the comments below.

  • Karmella

    I do the same with the pickles, and the leftovers! One of my points of emphasis for the new year is going to be drinking water before I eat, every time.

    I just don’t buy things that I’m not supposed to be eating – if I buy it because it’s on sale or on impulse, when I get it home it’s fair game and I almost always regret it – and I evaluate the basket before I check out to see what I’m actually about to buy.

    And I remind myself that if I want a piece of cake, I should have the best possible piece of cake, not just any old piece I happen upon – and sometimes that reminds me that I only kind of want whatever it is that I’m about to eat…

    • Heather Levin

      Karemella, I hear you on not bringing that stuff into that house. I battle that every day because my husband has an enormous sweet tooth (and an incredible metabolism). He can eat the stuff multiple times a day and not gain a pound. I’m envious!

      You’re right on about deciding to eat the best possible piece of cake, instead of any old piece. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Miss T @ Prairie EcoThrifter

    Great post. We do some of the same. We eat on smaller plates and using smaller bowls. Helps with portion control.

  • Lulu

    I use honey as well instead of sugar and I love it. I also drink water instead of juice for at least one meal a day and that saves a few calories as well.

  • Kevin Vesga

    I once tried using honey in my tea but after putting a spoonful in, I found I could not taste any difference in taste or sweetness. I still like honey for food items though.

    BTW I’m a big fan of “Eat This, Not That”. Unfortunately even with their recommendations, I’m still very worried about sodium levels in fast food.

    • Heather Levin

      Kevin, I know…fast food is full of things we don’t really need to be eating. I stopped eating meat years ago, and never eat fast food anymore. Becoming a vegetarian is a great way to cut a lot of “bad options” out of your life! :)

  • Dennis

    A couple more:

    NEVER go shopping when hungry. You will hoover the shelves. Make a point of always going after meals.

    NEVER put food on the table and allow people to serve themselves – everybody eats too much. Serve the food onto the plate in the kitchen, and turn off the stove – even start putting leftovers in the fridge BEFORE the meal.

    Buy real bread that has some body. In many countries, supermarket bread is not much better than fairy floss – even the stuff that claims to be healthy. If you can push your finger into the loaf without a knife – it’s too soft and mushy. Start to buy something that goes ‘THUD’ when you drop it on the counter, not something that goes ‘PLOP’. It’ll leave you satisfied.

    Beware cheese – a bit is ok, but many American meals seem to be drowning in the stuff (most of it tasteless but calorie laden). One standard American pizza has about enough calories (from the cheese) to last normal people for a week. Similarly with salad dressings. When in the US, I have lunch with colleagues, etc who claim to be eating light (dieting). They have a 1/2 gallon salad bowl, with dressing all over it and a cup of cheese on top!!! That’s a main meal for a marathon runner!

    Portion control – ok, so you don’t do the snacks and candy bars? You don’t munch fries with every meal? But still gaining weight? My experience is that many people (Americans especially) eat about 2 x the portion size they should (and it’s worse in restaurants). We aren’t digging holes with shovels any more – we don’t need that much food. Small plates is definitely a start. I used to be severely overweight – and lost it. It’s amazing how little food you need.

    Make meals a bit more boring (ok, not fun, but). Meals used to be a means of sustenance. Now it seems people use them as a ‘reward’. Reminds me a bit of alcoholism, cannot have a drink without it becoming a ‘party’. Similarly with food, slightly boring food will be far less tempting to overdo (I also use olive oil and red wine vinegar as dressing). Make it more of a bodily function and less of a celebration. For this reason, I also snack on pickled vegetables (onions, beetroot, etc) rather than potato chips or candy bars.

    Similarly – a treat is a treat!! A single plain donut with coffee at the Friday Team Meeting is a treat. A twice-daily mega-muffin is just gluttony! Similarly with meals. A family pizza (not one each!) on Sunday night (with a salad to supplement) is fine. Rotating the daily dinner meal between Maccas/KFC/Pizza Hut isn’t.

    MEAT! You don’t have to be vegetarian, but make it the HIGHLIGHT of the meal, and NOT the MAIN GAME. Buy a small steak (trimmed) and fill the plate with potatos/pasta (not fries) and vege/salad. Don’t just make the meat the meal. (Luckily, I live in a country where meat is horrendously expensive, which make it easier).

    And remember, nothing tastes as good as being thin feels – it’s worth it!!

    • Dennis (again)

      One more thing I forgot…

      Breakfast cereals: in many cases, they aren’t food, they’re candy!!

      When I first started to lose weight, I used to eat a lot of breakfast cereals, thinking they are a healthy alternative to a main meal. How WRONG I WAS!!!

      Many are fat-laden, sugar-encrusted rubbish. And I don’t wish to pick on the US, but the US breakfast cereals are 98% appalling. They contain so much sugar, I now find them inedible. Amazing that if you eat the same (multinational) cereal in several countries, how much the sugar content varies (to accommodate ‘local tastes’).

      Really – looks at labels and buy non over-sweetened cereals. And chocolate in breakfast cereal – what a joke!!
      Would you drink 3-4 cans of sweetened soda for breakfast? Yukk. No. But that’s how much sugar you can be getting in a large bowl of many cereals.

      • Heather Levin

        Dennis, thanks so much for such a thoughtful, awesome comment! You bring up some really insightful points, especially about breakfast cereals.

        And you’re right about the pizza (and American’s obsession with cheese in general). We now order our pizzas with light cheese, and extra sauce, and it tastes much better (and has way less calories).

        Thanks so much for writing in with this great information!

  • Karen

    I agree that counting calories is VERY important, but don’t forget its also the quality of the food too. I was watching a show last night that said there was something called a “TWINKIE DIET!” I kid you not. The point the person on this “diet” was making was to show its not the quality but number of calories…but I still think that can be a big mistake.

    You also want to be a HEALTHY person…not just a thin one. Thin people can also have heart problems, and other body problems that can be averted w/ healthy eating and exercise.

    I think dieting is here to stay, but for goodness sakes people, be smart about it.

    I also agree you don’t have to be a vegetarian about it, you CAN eat meat…you can be healthy with or without meat…just probably wanna stay away from deep fried bacon grease bits…you know what I’m saying.

  • Robert

    Great artcle. I have heard in the past that our body or metabolism is like a fire and we must keep it burning by feeding it. Of course this means feeding with healthy nutrition.

  • Jazzy

    Pickles do have calories! Albeit, a small amount. Zero calorie foods are a myth. The label may say 0 calories, but this is because FDA regulations allow foods with less than 5 calories per serving to label them as 0.

    • Heather Levin

      Jazzy, wow I didn’t know that! It says 0 on my pickles, but I did wonder how a food could have zero calories. Thanks for writing that in!

  • Kazywaz

    Dennis you make some very good points but I disagree that making meals is boring. I love cooking and I love making tasty meals, that make you hum when you eat. Which brings me to another subject. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making meals a reward. There are very few joys in life and eating is one of them. It’s not a coincidence that the area in the brain where you receive pleasure from eating is right next to the area where you receive pleasure from sex. Eating is a very sensuous act. Yes, you can eschew it and ignore it by making unappetizing meals that don’t make you want to eat as much, but that’s not something I’m willing to give up and sacrifice. You can still lose weight by watching your portions and once you’ve achieved your weight goal, occasionally splurge on the week ends. You will not gain by occasionally indulging. I have kept my weight off for years that way, lowered my cholesterol and blood pressure. And this was after I stopped smoking.