What’s Your Number?
The weight-loss formula is one of the simplest in mathematics: Consume fewer calories than you burn, or burn more than you consume.
It’s really all a numbers game. If you need 2,000 calories a day to maintain your current weight but you take in 2,100 instead, every day your body will store that extra 100 calories. Over the course of a year you’ll gain more than 10 pounds. By contrast, consume 1,900 calories a day and you’ll lose more than 10 pounds in a year.
If you want to shed pounds, it helps to have an idea of how many calories you need to maintain your current weight so that you can figure out what calorie limit you’ll need to live within every day to lose weight. According to the nonprofit Calorie Control Council, most people leading moderately active lives (exercising regularly — at least three times per week for 30 to 60 minutes each time) need about 15 calories per pound per day to maintain their weight. For a 130-pound woman that’s 1,950 calories (130 x 15). If you’re inactive, you need fewer calories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most inactive women need about 1,600 calories a day, and most inactive men need about 2,200.
To lose a pound a week you’ll need to cut 500 calories a day from your diet. Or better yet, cut 300 calories and burn an extra 200 through exercise. Eliminating those calories (as well as burning more through exercise) doesn’t have to be painful. Starvation and deprivation diets simply don’t work. Instead, the little things are what matter. Here are seven ideas to get you started:
1. Eat breakfast. A study published in the February 2002 journal Obesity Research found that eating breakfast was a key behavior among people who averaged a 60-pound weight loss and kept it off an average of six years. Participants told researchers that skipping breakfast made them so hungry that they overate during other meals and snacked on unhealthy, high-calorie foods.
2. Measure that cereal. The average serving of cereal is 1 cup. Yet most adults pour out at least twice that.
3. Scoop and save. Every now and then someone comes up with such a cool kitchen utensil that you just have to rush right out and buy it. That’s Lé Scoop. Its function: to scoop out the inside dough from a bagel, leaving you with the outer crust (and, of course, less fat and fewer calories). Fill the inside with nonfat cottage cheese sprinkled with ground flaxseeds for an easy, low-fat, low-calorie breakfast.
4. Buy the smaller size. The larger the portion in front of you, the more you’ll eat. It’s a proven fact. When researchers sent 79 parents home with a video and either 1- or 2-pound bags of M&M’s along with either a medium or jumbo size tub of popcorn for each family member, they ate more M&M’s from the 2-pound bag than the 1-pound bag, and about half a tub of popcorn, regardless of the tub size.
5. Make smart switches. See how much you can save by switching from high-fat, high-calorie indulgences to lower-fat, lower-calorie options.
6. Skip the soda. If you drink nondiet soda, you can cut 160 calories (per 16 ounces) out of your day just by switching to diet soda. Better yet, drink green tea or water flavored with a squeeze of lemon or lime.
7. Start with soup. Studies show that people who start a meal with soup — especially broth-based soup — end up eating fewer calories by the end of the day without feeling hungrier.
8. Keep a diary. Studies find that people who keep a food diary are more likely to lose weight and keep it off. To make the most of your food diary:
- Write the whys. Make a list of all of the reasons you’re trying to lose weight. Not just to lower your cholesterol, but so you can live to see your children and their children grow up. So you and your husband can take that cross-country trek when you retire. So you can have the joy of burning the mortgage when it’s finally paid off. You get the picture.
- Write the worries. What are you worried about in terms of your ability to lose weight? Do you think you won’t be able to give up fried chicken or resist your mom’s death-by-chocolate brownies? Certain the holidays will derail your efforts? Writing down your worries and developing an action plan to address each one will keep you in control of your goal.
- Record your triggers. Every time you eat something you think you shouldn’t, document how you felt when you ate it. Soon you’ll see patterns, like the fact that you tend to dig into the ice cream when you’ve just had a fight with your daughter, you hit the drive-through when work gets stressful, or you eat the chips on the restaurant table because everyone else does. You may not be able to eliminate these triggers, but you can change how you react to them.
9. Don’t eat like him. If you’re a woman trying to lose weight, one of your biggest roadblocks may be your husband. Studies find that women often put on weight soon after they get married. The reasons are varied. He eats bigger portions and you try to keep up (you only need about two-thirds of what he eats). You’re cooking a full dinner every night, whereas in your single days a salad may have sufficed (a large salad with a bit of tuna for protein and an olive oil-based dressing can work well for both of you). Or you eat out more (it’s far easier to eat healthfully at home).
10. Downsize your plate. Start using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate to encourage smaller portions.
11. Use the toothpaste trick. Brush your teeth immediately after dinner to stave off late-night noshing. (When your mouth feels clean and minty, you’re less likely to think about eating.)
12. Feel the difference. Carry around a 5-pound bag of sugar for a day. Then notice how much lighter you feel when you put it down. That’s how you’ll feel when you lose 5 pounds.