In many countries, too many adults are overeating—including in the United States. There are various reasons for this, from rising portion sizes to people choosing to eat out more frequently than in the past. In other words, if you struggle to limit calories, you’re not alone.
That doesn’t mean overeating is okay. Eating more than you need on a regular basis puts you at risk for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and plenty of other unwanted health problems.
Want to change your habits? Accomplishing that doesn’t require a diet of water and crackers for the rest of your life. There are many simple ways you can start to consume fewer calories throughout the day. While you should make an effort to change your overall lifestyle if you’re addicted to junk food, starting with small, easy changes is key to building momentum. These incremental adjustments will eventually lead to major shifts in the way you eat.
If you’re looking for simple ways to limit calories, give these strategies a try:
Avoid Hidden Calories in Drinks
It’s important to remember that what you drink contributes to weight gain just as much as what you eat. You might think you’re not overeating by ordering a salad, but if your drink of choice is soda, you’re getting approximately 150 calories (assuming you’re only drinking one can) with that meal.
That’s why one of the best ways to start cutting back on calories is to check the labels of all beverages you drink. Although it might take some discipline at first, your goal should be to avoid sweet drinks entirely in the long run.
Remember: that includes fruit juice.
Consider making the shift to drinking water by opting for a can of flavored seltzer instead of soda. This simple change can make a big difference.
Cook Your Own Meals
This is an obvious tactic. However, it bears repeating because people aren’t practicing it enough. The habit of going out to restaurants or ordering takeout has become more common in recent years.
It’s also a recipe for consuming far too many calories. When you cook your own food, you can exercise better control over how many calories you take in. You’ll also save a lot of money.
Focus on Your Food
People have busy lives; you can probably relate. The urge to multitask by eating while working (or watching TV, or browsing the internet, etc.) is an understandable one.
The problem is, when other attention-grabbing experiences distract you, you’re going to pay less attention to your food.
Research confirms this. When people eat in distracting environments or situations, they are more likely to eat too much. Prevent this by choosing to eat when it will be the one thing you focus on.
Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
The point above illustrates an important phenomenon: We tend to overeat when we’re not thinking about it. Thus, eating too much can often be a habit we don’t notice.
Luckily, there’s a very simple way to change that. It may sound a little strange, but it’s effective. Researchers have found that people asked to eat popcorn while watching a movie at the same amount regardless of whether it was fresh or stale. However, when asked to eat with their non-dominant hand, they ate less.
Why? Because changing the way you eat forces you to pay attention to how much you’re eating. When you can easily grab a handful of popcorn, you’ll do so habitually. That changes when you’re more mindful of the experience.
This isn’t to suggest you should always eat with your left hand if you’re a rightie (or vice versa). Trying it a few times simply helps you get into the habit of eating mindfully. In the long run, you should be able to do this without using your non-dominant hand.
Drink Water Before Eating
Telling yourself you’re going to eat less at a meal is easy. Actually following through can be tough when you’re sitting in front of a tempting plate.
You can boost your willpower with another simple trick. One study separated obese people on a low-calorie diet into two groups. One group drank two cups of water before each meal; the other did not. At the end of the study, researchers found that people who drank water before meals typically ate less than members of the other group. Cold water may act as an appetite suppressant.
Keep it Quiet
Even if you decide not to eat in a distracting environment, you might still think it’s okay to play some music in the background during meals.
However, research shows that may not be a good idea. According to a study, people eating in quieter environments eat less than people eating in loud environments.
Again, it’s about being mindful of your habits. You’re more likely to hear yourself chewing when you eat in silence. This is particularly true if you’re having crunchy foods, such as pretzels. Hearing yourself chew makes you more aware of how much you’re eating.
Use Small Plates
This is a classic tip, but that’s because it works.
People who overeat often feel the need to clean their plates. This can be a habit they developed as kids thanks to “well-meaning” parents concerned for growing children and food waste reduction. As a result, some people don’t feel a meal is complete until their plate is empty.
Does this sound like you? If so, all you have to do is serve your meals on smaller dishes. You can still clean your plate, but you’ll eat less than you otherwise would have with a large plate. There’s less space for food, which easily limits portion sizes.
Adjust Your Snacks
You don’t need to give up on snacks entirely to reduce caloric intake. You don’t even need to give up the snacks you truly enjoy. You might just need to make some small changes to them.
For example, maybe you like chips and dip. Substituting veggies for chips while keeping the dip is a simple way to compromise.
Take it One Meal at a Time
Cutting calories effectively is all about baby steps. After all, most people quit healthful diets within seven days of starting them. That’s often because making big changes right away is really hard.
You’ll be more likely to change your lifestyle for good if you take it slow. Instead of trying to revamp your diet completely, start by committing to one low-calorie meal a day. It doesn’t matter what meal it is. While you’ll probably get more benefits from a low-calorie dinner than a low-calorie snack, the main point is to ease yourself into making healthier choices.
Soon you’ll find it’s easier to replace two meals with low-calorie options. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you can go entire days without calorie-packed meals.
That’s the most important point to keep in mind: Limiting calories and losing weight takes time. You need to be patient with yourself. These easy but effective tips can help you get started.
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