If you’re trying to lose weight walking, a few small but high-impact food tweaks can make a huge impact in reducing calories and eating healthier. Calories are everywhere these days – we start our mornings with a large latte, grab some fast food for lunch, snack on chips in the afternoon, and then order takeout for dinner. Eating healthier may seem a daunting challenge, but starting by cutting out empty calories and making small behavioral chances can actually make a big difference in your overall calorie intake.
These 9 eating tweaks and food swaps will get you started eating healthier and reducing your calorie intake. You can start making these small changes right away, and we think you’ll notice the difference!
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Swap Sugary Drinks
Juice, soda and sports drinks are a huge source of empty calories – basically sugar and water with little in the way of useful nutrition. Liquid calories are easy to consume very quickly, and since drinks don’t fill you up you’ll still be tempted to eat more instead. It’s not just sugary drinks that can be problematic, as it’s easy to go overboard when adding sweetener and milk or cream to our morning coffee or tea.
Swapping out soda and high calorie drinks with water can be a huge first step towards weight loss. Water doesn’t have to be boring! Lightly flavored or plain seltzer can add a splash of fizz, making it easier to give up soda, and infusing plain water with fruit flavors like lemon, lime, strawberry, or cucumber will add flavor without adding calories. Look for other low or no-calorie drink options, like unsweetened tea or black coffee. If you do need to sweeten those drinks, add just a splash of creamer or a little sugar. If you gradually reduce your sweeteners, getting used to unsweetened drinks will save you a lot of calories in the long run.
Think of the last time you ate too much and your stomach hurt. Chances are that you ate very quickly because you were so excited about the food options available. It takes time for our stomach to send signals to our brains to let us know that we’re full. Eating more slowly means that you’re less likely to blow past fullness signals, which means you often simply not want to eat more.
Be mindful of how quickly you’re eating the food in front of you, and try hard to slow down, chew thoroughly, and savor what you’re tasting. Pay attention to when your body is telling you that you’re filling up, and stop before you feel completely full. Drink plenty of water with your meals, as water can help you feel more full as well as creating natural breaks in eating.
Avoid Deep Fried Foods
Ordering a side of fries to go with a sandwich adds more calories than you think. Oils are some of the most nutritionally dense food items that you can find, and deep frying infuses even “healthy” items with tons of oil and calories. Even a small portion of fries can end up being an extra 200 or 300 calories due to the high-calorie oil. Deep fried foods often have little in the way of fiber, and you can eat a lot before you start to feel full.
Try to avoid deep fried foods when possible and instead swap them out for baked or lightly oiled dishes. When eating out, try to focus on your main dishes and pass on deep fried appetizers and side items. They’ll only take away from your focus on your favorite dish, while adding lots of calories in the process. If you miss crispy side dishes, try making your own oven fries with white potatoes or sweet potatoes. They still have that delicious texture you crave but aren’t fried in oil. Even better, add low-calorie raw veggies to make an even healthier side.
Limit Snack Portions
How many times have you sat down with a bag of popcorn, chips, cookies, or pretzels and ended up eating the whole bag? When you don’t portion out your snacks, you’ll inevitably eat too much. Snacks like chips are often sold in huge bags, but the calorie counts on the label are misleading because they only capture one “serving” when the entire bag can be 10 servings or more!
While carb-filled salty snacks are ok as a treat now and then, portion them out instead of eating from the bag to ensure that you’re eating the right amount. Pour some in a bowl, or divide up a larger bag into containers or plastic bags. That way, you can grab a portion of chips and not worry about overeating. If you notice that proper portions of your favorite snacks are extremely small, that’s a signal that you should probably swap that food item to something that offers you more snack for the calorie count.
Keep Healthy Snacks On Hand
If you don’t have healthy snacks readily available you’ll be likely to grab the quickest, least health snack available. You won’t need to run to the vending machine for a quick afternoon pick-me-up when you have something healthier within arm’s reach. You can’t assume something healthy will be easy to find on the go so take the time to prepare and box up some healthy snacks so you’ll reach for them first.
Cut up fruits and veggies with a small portion of dip will fill you up with fiber, while lightly-salted nuts give you a boost of protein and healthy fat. Greek yogurt, a single portion of string cheese, or a few whole-wheat crackers topped with nut butter are also great snack options to reach for when your cravings strike. If you find yourself constantly reaching for high-calorie snacks when you have healthy options available, fight your battles at the supermarket and stop purchasing those chips or cookies.
Use Smaller Plates
Try using smaller plates when you serve your dinner or other meals. Studies show that a bigger plate sizes can lead to us taking substantially larger portions. Instead of starting with a big plate at mealtimes, start with a smaller portion and wait until you finish everything on the plate to go back for seconds. Drink a glass of water between servings, and try waiting up to 15 or 20 minutes before going back for more. If you find that you still feel hungry after that time passes, you can take a second portion. You’ll often find that, given some time, you’ll realize that you’re no longer hungry.
Fill Up On Fruits and Veggies
During meals, fill up your plate with lots of fruits and vegetables, and a portion of whole grains as well. Because these options are loaded with healthy fiber, they will help keep you feeling full. While it’s a good idea to include a moderate amount of lean protein in your meals too, focus on the fruits, veggies over starchy carbs and high-calorie, fatty meats. Green veggies are naturally low-calorie and filling, which will help you reduce calories over time.
Cook At Home
Ordering takeout is often a one-way ticket to eating too many calories. Restaurants want their food to taste great so that we keep coming back, so they add plenty of extra fat, sugar, and salt. Portion portion sizes are often way bigger than they need to be, which can even skew our impressions of what home-cooked meals should look like!
When you cook at home, you can see exactly what is going into everything you make. You can limit the sugar, fat and salt content of your meals, and you can serve more realistic portions with less meat and starchy carbs and more green vegetables.
Limit Distractions While Eating
It’s easy to eat too much when you’re distracted by work, television, or video games. Whether you’re eating a meal or snacking while doing something else, you may not realize just how much you’re eating until you end the distraction and see how much food is already gone.
Set aside meal and snack times to be free from distractions. Don’t have the television on and put away your laptop and smartphone. You’ll enjoy mealtime more and you’ll be more mindful of what you eat. If you do need a distraction while eating, set up your portions ahead of time (this includes snacks as well!) and turn off the TV or phone for a while before going back for seconds.
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