Calories matter in weight loss. Current diets focus on protein, older diets focused on carbs, and who knows what future diets will focus on. But at the end of the day, calories do matter in weight loss.
Although I didn’t count calories very often when I was losing weight, I had a very good sense of how many calories were in a serving of foods because I was an avid label reader and measured my portions until I knew exactly how much food was in a serving. I call this calorie awareness.
For example, I knew that a serving of Ritz crackers was five crackers and had 80 calories, a serving of ice cream was 1/2 cup and had about 120 calories, and a serving of grapes was 1 cup and had about 100 calories.
The easy trick I used to cut calories was to cut portion sizes.
For example, this plate of pasta probably has 500 or 600 calories between the sauce, the noodles, and the fake cheese sprinkled on top. If you cut the portion in half, you’ve cut the calories in half.
This trick comes in very handy if you are having a meal like the one pictured above. High calorie foods can blow your diet faster than a Mississippi minute because they are so incredibly calorie dense.
Whenever I eat at a restaurant and order a standard entree, the first thing I do when the food comes is divide the high calorie foods in half. I leave the steamed vegetables and salad alone, but the entree, the bread, and any other higher calorie foods get chopped in half first thing. (And even then, I may not eat all of it.)
Automatic calorie control — provided I don’t go back and eat the rest.
When I’m at home, I simply serve myself the right portion from the beginning so I don’t have to make any calorie cuts. I know which of our family’s standard dishes are higher in calories than the others, and make sure to serve myself a smaller portion of those particular foods. For instance, when I make Asian stir fry, I have a tiny amount of rice and lots of vegetables. And if I make vegetarian lasagna, I have a lot of salad and a little bit of the main dish.
Using portion sizes to cut your calories is a sure-fire way of reducing how many calories you consume without feeling totally deprived. If you choose to eat an occasional dessert, using this trick to cut calories can help you enjoy that dessert or “off-limits” food without blowing your diet or feeling guilty.
The key for this technique is knowing what foods are calorie dense and that takes some research. Don’t just guess. Use the USDA Nutrient Data Labs search function, Sparkpeople, or MyFitnessPal to develop your own calorie awareness.
Over time, this will become second nature and is a technique that you can use whether you are losing weight or trying to maintain your weight. It’s part of the reason I have been able to maintain my weight for almost 16 years. Calorie awareness, portion control, and exercise. It works.
How are you at staying within your calorie budget? Do you have tricks that help you avoid overeating? Diane