Getting active is only one half of the battle to get healthier and lose weight. Walking more is great for your health, but it’s much easier to eat more calories than it is to burn them! At its simplest, losing weight means burning more calories than you consume. Increase your activity and eat less – seems simple, right?
While it may sound simple, it’s not easy, particularly in this day and age. Many of the most popular and easiest to grab food options are nutrition poor and calorie dense. There are so many temptations and often seemingly not enough time in the day to work out or get your number of steps in. Fear not! Losing weight and getting healthy is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to be healthy AND happy, and to make healthy lifestyle decisions that you can live with for the long term. Here are some simple steps you can take to cut calories and drop pounds without resorting to fad diets or drastic measures.
Understand What Calories Are
The first thing you can do is come to grips with what calories really are, and what they aren’t. According to Merriam-Webster, a calorie is “the amount of heat required…to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius.” Applied to food, it basically equals the fuel your body needs to create that amount of heat or energy.
Pretty cool, right?
What you should also remember is that calories listed on nutritional labels aren’t exact. There are many factors for this, but they really aren’t that important. Calorie listings are a guide to follow, but don’t get hung up on perfectly reaching your calorie goals.
Track What You Eat
Before you can start eating healthier or cutting calories, it’s important to really understand what you’re eating to begin with. A great way to do this is to note down what you eat either in an app or on paper in a food log. You don’t need to change anything about the way you eat or cut anything out – your goal should be to actually understand your habits first. You also don’t need to be scientifically precise, so don’t let measuring portions down to the gram get in your way.
You’ll be amazed at how the numbers add up, but you need to be honest with yourself and diligent. It can be tempting to leave out things like little snacks, drinks or sweets, but it’s important to be honest with yourself and get a real picture of what you’re eating. It only takes a couple minutes, and you’ll have a better sense of what you’re eating, when you tend to eat things you know you shouldn’t and where you can make some small changes that can really add up in the long run.
Set Realistic Goals
Everyone wants to see fast results, especially with health and weight loss. Any weight loss program that promises really quick results is likely to be very hard to follow in the long-run. When it becomes too hard to manage, you’ll find yourself back where you started or even worse off! A better idea is to set long-term, gradual goals and commit to changing your lifestyle in increments to see sustainable results.
The best part of making incremental changes is that each little tweak to your habits is small. You may not even notice the changes as they happen, but if you take a look at your habits after a few months or a year you may find that you can’t believe the progress you’ve made.
Changes can come in form of activity goals (spending a half hour walking every day, hitting 10,000 steps, or 15 minutes of yoga before lunch, for example). You can also set healthy eating and small calorie cutting goals that can add up over time. You’re far more likely to succeed dropping 1 pound a week for several weeks than you are to “drop 20 pounds in five days.” If you can make healthy changes that cut a small number of calories every week, you’ll see great results over time. You’ll want to check back in and track how you’re doing after several weeks to see if you’ve really managed to cut calories and eat healthier.
Cut Out One Little “Guilty Pleasure”
When you write down what you’re eating, chances are you’ll identify a few snacks or foods that you know aren’t healthy. Is it pizza, chips, soda, or candy? If you think hard about it, how much happiness do you REALLY get from that soda during lunch? Does your body really feel better after you eat your dessert at lunch, or do you actually feel bloated and experience a sugar crash. Pick just one of those foods and try replacing it with a healthier option. Commit to doing it for a month – just one month. You can do it! You’ll often find that after that one month, you don’t even miss it anymore.
Some of the easiest “treats” to remove are “liquid calories.” Things like soda, blended coffee drinks loaded with sugar and fat, and sugary juices don’t have much nutritional value, don’t fill you up and often just spike your blood sugar and make you crash later. You may end up drinking them purely as part of your daily habits. Try removing just one and replacing it water (add fruit slices for some flavor), unsweetened tea or black coffee and you’ll be cutting a fair amount of calories just with that action!
Small Steps Make a Big Difference Toward Better Health
Anything worth achieving takes a little discipline, planning and a little sweat. Getting healthier is no different! Make it easier for yourself by committing to good habits that reinforce themselves every day. Each small change you make will have a positive effect and doesn’t take a ton of willpower on its own. Remember, you’re not punishing yourself with torturous calorie deficits or brutal workout regimens. You’re just swapping a treat with a healthier treat, a soda with a glass of water, or taking 1,000 extra steps every day. Make the choices that fit within your daily schedule, keep it simple, and stay committed. You’re in it for the long haul, so you might as well enjoy it!