Wellness Nutrition Eat Well Ways To Manage Weight Without Always Focusing on Cutting Calories Losing weight can be about making small, manageable changes to your everyday life. By Shaun Chavis Updated on March 21, 2023 Medically reviewed by Allison Herries, RDN Medically reviewed by Allison Herries, RDN Allison Herries, RDN, is a registered dietitian for a telehealth company. In her role, she provides nutrition education and counseling to help her clients set and reach their personal health goals. learn more Share Tweet Pin Email You don't have to upend your entire lifestyle or cut an unreasonable amount of calories to lose weight. Instead, sustainable weight loss is made through small everyday changes, such as getting extra steps in or managing your portion sizes. These small changes can help you burn more calories than you eat—part of the key to weight loss. Weight loss can also occur when a person cuts calories, with 500 calories daily being the general guideline for losing about one pound a week. The idea is that one pound equates to 3,500 calories. So creating a calorie deficit by burning 500 calories or consuming 500 calories less daily could theoretically help you lose weight weekly. These numbers are theoretical estimates and do not consider the complex nature of weight loss. Overall, the amount of calories you need daily depends on your age, height, weight, metabolism, physical activity level, and other factors. Of note, everyone does not need to cut 500 calories every day since calorie needs vary from person to person. Also, cutting calories does not mean you need to eliminate foods or specific food groups. Instead, you can start by limiting certain foods, changing some of your meal-related habits, and building new habits around movement and sleep. These can help you decide the food choices you want to enjoy. Consult a trusted healthcare provider before engaging in a weight loss plan to determine your healthy weight. Pay Attention to How You Portion The bigger the serving bowl, the more you'll likely eat. Research has suggested that adults eat and drink more when offered larger portions. Pasta One cup of cooked pasta can be around 168 calories. Yet typical dinner portions at restaurants can double or even triple that portion. If you order a pasta dish at a restaurant, check the menu to see if they serve it in a smaller size or offer to split a full entree with someone else at the table. You can also ask for a to-go box to portion the meal yourself. Or, cook the dish at home, where you have more control of portions. Nuts Nuts have heart-healthy fats, protein, fiber, and other nutrients. If nuts are a go-to snack, consider having a small handful, or one ounce, at a time. If you're managing your sodium intake, you'll want to go for unsalted versions. If you have difficulty managing how many nuts you eat, try eating nuts that come still in their shells. Nuts with shells—like pistachios—can slow your munching and help you have a bit more control over how much you eat. Salad Toppings A big salad full of vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins is an excellent choice for your overall health and weight loss journey. Because salads are versatile, extra toppings can make your salad even more delicious. When creating or ordering salads, consider having the following toppings in moderation: Cheese crumbles Caramelized nuts Bacon Avocado Dried fruit Croutons Certain vinaigrettes You can also just add one topping, increase flavorful but lower-cal veggies—roasted bell peppers, grilled onions, or mushrooms—and use half the dressing. Chips or Crackers From a Bag When eating chips or crackers from a large bag or box, you might find yourself eating all of them. It could be because these snacks have a high salt content. Research showed that a lot of salt promotes "overconsumption"—even more so than foods high in fat. Try to stick to one serving, about 15 chips. Dividing the bigger package into smaller containers or putting a serving into a smaller bowl can help. You could also pick up some 100-calorie snack packs. Eat Certain Foods in Moderation Eating in moderation is a great way to still enjoy the foods you love, which can help your diet changes become sustainable. Certain Coffee Creations Drinking coffee has been connected with lowering the risks of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, you might change the sugar content of your coffee depending on what you add to your coffee. The recommended daily limit for sugar intake is 100 to 150 calories or 25 to 36 grams of sugar. Additions like whipped cream, syrups, and even some milk products can increase the sugar in the beverage, which typically has no sugar. Having a coffee drink with tons of toppings or sweeteners is OK occasionally. If you don't want to give up the additions, try to find low or no-calorie substitutes. You can also make the drinks yourself and control the amount of each ingredient you include. Desserts Added sugars and solid fats—like butter—are typical dessert ingredients. Because they are part of most desserts, they make it so desserts are best enjoyed in moderation. That means you don't have to skip dessert altogether. You can opt for lower-calorie treats and smaller portions. You can also substitute some dessert ingredients for nutrient-dense ones, like fruits or whole-grain flour. Make Variations of Your Favorites The following are just some foods and drinks that can change calorie content when you make them yourself. Sugary Alcoholic Drinks Alcoholic drinks, like margaritas, can include possible additives like syrups, processed juices, or salt and sugar on glass rims. Other than having these drinks occasionally, you can make your own versions by limiting the ingredients you use and the amount of each. Also, when you're out for a meal, consider ordering alcohol mixed with club soda, tonic water, and/or a squeeze of citrus. Smoothies Smoothies can be a low-calorie option, but the calories can add up depending on the smoothie size and what you're putting in them. When choosing smoothie ingredients, consider including ones that are filling, like fruits and vegetables. Also, find ways to stick with lower servings for each ingredient. You might only use one tablespoon of peanut butter, a single-serve container of Greek yogurt, and half a banana for a peanut butter banana smoothie. If you want other quick and easy breakfast options, try a filling lower-calorie starter of oatmeal with brown sugar and orange slices with a cup of black coffee instead. Popcorn The popcorn you buy at the movie theater can be nearly 1,000 calories. However, there's no need to give up popcorn. It's a great source of dietary fiber and offers vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, and magnesium. You could always ask if the movie theater has other ways to make the popcorn, like using less butter or salt. If you can wait until the movie you want to see hits a streaming service or comes out on DVD or Blu-ray, consider making the snack at home. The microwave-popped version usually has 90 calories for three cups, a typical serving. Consider Swaps You Can Incorporate Some foods and drinks can also be swapped out for other similar options. Sugary Drinks Drinks such as juice, energy drinks, and soda are generally high in calories due to added sugars. Instead of always quenching your thirst with sugary drinks, go for water. If water doesn't do it, opt for unflavored seltzer water. Researchers found people find cold and bubbly liquids more thirst-quenching. Also, juice can still be an option if you limit your choices to 100% juices that are pasteurized or diluted with water. Some of these juices can help you get a few servings of fruit. Oil Butter and margarine are cooking fats that often flavor meals but are best consumed in moderation. You can still make meals delicious by using plant-based oils like: Canola oil Olive oil Safflower oil Sunflower oil Peanut oil Sesame oil These oils have important health benefits. Plant-based cooking oils usually contain unsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy fats. Also, canola and corn oils can have protective effects against cardiovascular risks. You don’t always have to use oil—or a lot of it, anyway—for some recipes. If you’re sauteeing vegetables or roasting seeds, there are cooking sprays you could use. Pureed fruits may also work as substitutes for oils in baked goods. Change Your Meal-related Habits Making minor adjustments to preparing and eating meals can significantly impact your eating practices. Practice Mindful Eating A study indicated that those who engaged in distracted eating also tended to snack more, especially during midday and evening. Eating away from distractions such as the TV, computer, and phone can help you practice more mindful eating. Mindful eating means you pay more attention to your food and the experience of eating it. The goal is not to use mindful eating to lose weight. However, it may help you know when you're full and when you're not. If you want to eat and watch, opt for something you've never seen before. One study showed people who watched something new while eating tended to eat less than those who watched something they were already familiar with. Serve Yourself the Portion You Want Eating multiple servings of your favorite foods can be easy when they’re constantly in view. However, you can dial back on portions by putting food on individual plates—like in a buffet line—rather than having access to them at the table. You can also consider doing meal planning. You can decide how much goes into containers when you cook the meals. Doing this can allow you to limit yourself to whatever is in the container when it’s time for your meal. Volunteer To Host Offer to host a party or another get-together—that way, you can get some movement from grocery shopping and cooking. Preparing the food yourself can also allow more control over ingredients and serving sizes. Plus, you’ll get to spend time catching up with family and friends or making new connections with others. Choose Filling Options You can save daily calories by choosing low-calorie but nutrient-dense foods that keep you feeling fuller for longer. One of these gems is eggs, which research has shown can reduce calories consumed throughout the day when eaten for breakfast. Get in Tune With How You Feel Pay attention to how full you feel, and put down your fork when satisfied. This is a lot easier to do when you eat slowly because it takes time for your brain to register feelings of fullness. One study found people who ate slower consumed less than those who ate faster. Of note, feeling full after you eat is not based on your calories. Instead, it’s based on what and how much you eat. Adding foods with high water and high-fiber content can help you feel fuller. Check the Number of Servings The calorie count on the menu may tell you how many calories per serving. Still, it's tough to know how many servings you're actually getting so it's important to ask. If your meal has more servings than necessary for one person, save half for later or split it with friends. Build New Lifestyle Habits Making lifestyle changes can lead to reductions in consumed calories or increase in burned calories. Make More Small Movements Though intense physical activity can help you burn calories, so can small movements. The calories burned by doing daily activities are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. NEAT can include activities like sitting or fidgeting. If you want to up your calorie burn but only have a short period of time, you can stand and stretch while on the phone. Also, consider if you can have work meetings while walking. Try To Get Enough Sleep A lack of shut-eye may make you hungrier. Researchers have found that sleeping less than 7 hours every night has been linked to increased ghrelin and decreased leptin. Ghrelin and leptin are both hormones. Ghrelin lets you know when you’re hungry, while leptin lets you know when you’re full. When you don’t get enough sleep, the hormones may not work as they should—making you feel hungrier and less satisfied when you eat. You can start getting more quality sleep by engaging in sleep hygiene practices. These are actions such as: Sleeping in a cool and comfortable environmentSetting up a consistent bedtime routineGetting exercise in the daytime A Quick Review You can take many small, simple steps every day to achieve your goal of monitoring how much you eat. Many of these simple tips involve limiting certain foods, such as salad toppings, or substituting foods like cooking oil. You can also make small meal-time adjustments that may result in eating less or eating until you feel satisfied. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Finding a balance of food and activity. Egan AM, Collins AL. 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