Small, Cheap Steps to Weight Loss
There really is no magic diet plan that can help you lose& weight — the key is to burn more calories than you consume.
Eliminating calories from your diet doesn't have to involve drastic cuts or detailed meal planning. You don't need a gym membership to get exercise. If you prefer baby steps to great strides, try these tips and tricks for cutting calories from your diet and burning off some extra pounds. The results may take longer than what you would see with a crash diet or personal trainer, but because these changes are more incremental, you might find them easier to stick with. [Note: this is not medical advice; I'm just a blogger who refuses to pay for a Jenny Craig diet. As always, consult with your doctor before making any big changes in your diet or routine].
Eating less can be a bit tough, because we are often so busy and in such a hurry that we scarf our food down while standing up, or in the car. Also, so many people are emotional eaters that gorging becomes the trend, rather than the exception. Here are some simple ways to eat less.
Fiber and Water
You've probably heard that eating more fiber can help fill you up faster and keep you satisfied longer. You've probably also heard that drinking water before a meal can help you eat less. Well, there's an easy way to combine these two bit of advice into one: Metamucil.
[insert 'regularity' joke here]
Yeah, yeah, I know it's sort of a grandma thing, but it actually works. Metamucil is a fiber supplement in a powder form. You mix a tablespoon with 8 ounces of water and drink it before it gets too gooey. The taste is rather like Tang, but less overtly sweet. The sugar-free versions only have 20 calories per serving. Increasing your fiber intake can have a number of health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of digestive issues in the future. It's important to get helpings of both soluble fiber (the kind found in Metamucil) and insoluble fiber (the kind you get in vegetables). Although they seem to counteract each other (soluble fiber absorbs water in your intestinal track, which means that it takes you longer to digest your food, resulting in a feeling of fullness; insoluble fiber sends the food through your intestines faster), they are actually complimentary.
If taken before a meal, soluble fiber (like the kind in Metamucil) will help you eat less by making you feel fuller faster. But if you eat enough insoluble fiber in your meal, your food will still move through your system in a timely manner.
It might sound like you're in for a real colon blow, but Metamucil is surprisingly gentle on your digestive track. I was surprised how much less I ate the first time I tried drinking a glass before a meal, and I didn't find myself stuck on the porcelain throne for days or anything.
Eat a Salad/Soup Course
I've written before about how eating meals in courses makes it easier to eat less. Anyone who knows me well knows that I really don't like preparing and serving food, but there are easy ways to break your meal into baby steps. One of these is to eat a vegetable bisque or salad course before you eat the rest of your meal. This can provide the aforementioned insoluble fiber, and will also fill you halfway up.
By the way, one of the only problems I have with salad is that I often find myself forced to drench flavorless lettuce leaves in a creamy dressing in order to make them halfway palatable. There are two things I have done to change avoid this:
1. Eschew romaine lettuce. I know it lasts a long time and is always crispy, but darn it, the flavor can be downright nauseating. I now try to buy more exciting lettuce (baby romaine or mixed spring greens or red leaf), especially when it's on sale for a 2-for-1 at Safeway.
2. Use herbs like they are any other green. I use my plentiful herb garden all the time, and I tend to eat most of the herbs raw. I'll throw plenty of basil, oregano, arugula, thyme, and tarragon into any salad, and the wonderful flavors more than make up for the relative blandness of the lettuce. As a result, I don't have to use an excessively decadent dressing — just a light oil-and-vinegar dressing will be enough to dress the whole thing.
By the time you finish your soup or salad, you'll probably notice that you're already partway full. Take advantage of this and only eat 50% of what you would normally eat for a main course.
American dinner plates are huge. I've quit using mine altogether, and serve my food on my salad plates. A very healthy serving looks positively HUGE when served on a smaller plate, and I can't really overload it in one trip to the stove.
Sit Down, Slow Down, Turn Off the TV (Mindful Eating)
It's much easier to overeat if you aren't paying attention to what, and how much, you are eating. Although it seems incredibly tedious to chew your food, put your fork down between bites, and drink small sips of water when you are finished chewing, it goes a long way into keeping you from eating too much. You might think it's purely mental, but the truth is, it takes between 12-20 minutes for your mouth and stomach to inform your brain that they are fully satisfied. Most of us can easily wolf down a foot-long Subway sandwich in 6 minutes.
Eating while watching TV or surfing the internet is a sure-fire method for gulping down an entire meal without realizing it. It's OK to have some distractions (radio in the background), but while eating, try to concentrate on the act of eating. It's a form of meditation that we don't generally practice, and it can be hard to be "in the now" with such a mundane task, but try it once and see if it doesn't affect the amount that you need to eat in order to feel full.
Eat Decent Food
The key to eating slowly, of course, is to eat well. I don't mean that every meal has to be a gourmet masterpiece, but part of the reason we eat so fast is that we eat stuff that actually tastes pretty bad. Have you ever chewed a Doritos chip slowly and savored the taste? Probably not — chips are designed to be shoveled into our mouths at lightning speed. Try it one day — put a chip in your mouth and chew it very slowly, smelling the scent and noticing the texture. You may find, as I have, that it tastes odd and chemically.
Contrast this with the slow, mindful consumption of a ripe tomato or slice of freshly-baked bread with a smear of butter, and you'll understand why junk food and fast food are eaten quickly: because if you really take the time to taste them, you'll notice just how nasty they are.
You don't have to shop at Whole Foods to get good-tasting food — frozen meats and veggies can be made into delectable pot roasts and casseroles. The trick, though, is to eat food that is not heavily processed, but rather largely made from scratch. You don't have to make Beef Wellington every night, but try substituting real meat and vegetables for canned food.
Cut Calories from What You DO Eat
Cutting calories doesn't really have to be about deprivation. Try these tricks to cut a few dozen calories out of your diet every day.
Change Coffee Habits
While I don't loathe Starbucks (I actually quite like the one in my neighborhood), I think that morning beverages have gone too far. I have a former coworker who has a real love of Frappucinos, so much so that during the summer, she would get one every day at 10AM. If this were her breakfast, it might be one thing, but this was a midmorning snack. A midmorning snack that contains 420 calories.
A normal cup of drip coffee served black has roughly 8 calories.
If you're in it for the caffeine, consider being a regular Joe and just...getting a cup of regular joe (I'm also quite fond of Diet Red Bull, despite my better judgment). If you crave the sweetness, ask for your drink to be made with half the normally allotted amount of syrup, and add Splenda if you need more sweetness. If it's the overall package (the sweet, the caffeine, the whip cream), order the same drink in a size smaller, or see if you can make such coffee drinks more of a splurge (every three days or so) rather than a daily event.
Skip the Beer/Wine (or water it down)
This one really pains me, because my feelings on alcohol are: it makes life worth living. However, beer and wine contain a lot of calories, and even if you limit yourself to one drink per night, that's still an extra thousand or so calories a week. A Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve has about 130 calories in it. A Jack and Diet Coke has under 70.
A glass of red or white wine is still delectable if watered down into a spritzer using Fresca.
Exercise is one of the hardest things to desire once you are significantly out of shape. But you don't have to pour yourself into a pair of sweat pants and get tangled in a pilates machine to shed some pounds. Consider some of the easier options.
Park a Block Away
It's funny how some people will circle a parking lot for minutes trying to find a spot that is close to the entrance. Not only does it waste gas (and ultimately time, as it's faster to park far away and walk than to wait five minutes for a good spot), but usually, people who engage in this behavior are about to go into a mall and walk a good mile to two miles.
Rather than looking for that perfect spot, save time and money and just park a block away from the entrance of wherever you are going. It's not the biggest workout in the world, but the added exercise makes a difference over time.
Stride Around the Mall
Shopping burns calories. If you can happily window shop without blowing all your money, do it. Malls are generally comfortable and safe places to walk around, especially during cold winters.
Take the Stairs
Lordy, I hate taking the stairs, but the difference that it makes in your quads and hamstrings IS remarkable. If you have fewer than ten flights to go up (any more than that gets ridiculous), see if you can avoid the elevator.
Climbing actual stairs is much more difficult than the "stair climber" at the gym, so even people who work out regularly find themselves struggling to keep their breathing even after a six-flight traipse. Take your time — if you get winded, you can stop and rest. When I first started taking the stairs, I used to stop after three flights, walk across the length of the office building hallway, and then finish the rest of the flights.
Dance Around Your House
If you can't afford a Wii fit or just hate trying to get exercise in front of a TV, there's no reason you can't shake your booty all over your house for a decent workout. No one has to see you — draw the curtains or blinds, blast your favorite playlist, and make like a pudgy Paula Abdul (C-c-c-cold hearted snake! Look into his eyes...). Shake what your mama gave ya, and you'll find that, in time, you'll be jiggling less than before.