(Editor’s note: Rebecca Moonitz is a digital marketing specialist and a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She’s an avid hiker and loves being outdoors.)
Recently, the FDA passed a new regulation requiring some restaurants to advertise the number of calories in their menu items. In many ways, this clarity can be really helpful.
In other ways, it can be mortifying.
Milkshakes are my comfort food. As a teenager, I once thought I completely bombed a chemistry test. I had visions of my high school career and college prospects going down the drain. I was devastated (and a little dramatic).
When I relayed my utter failure and mounting despair to my mom, she immediately turned the car around and we landed in the Steak n Shake drive-thru. From then on, whenever I was feeling down, my mom and I would get two chocolate milkshakes with whipped cream, no cherries.
Recently, I found myself in need of a pick-me-up. As I stood in line to order my chocolate milkshake, no cherry, I noticed the calorie count listed next to it on the menu.
I was horrified. 630 calories in one milkshake!
Could I justify drinking this milkshake by vowing to exercise-off the calories? How many miles would I have to suffer through on the treadmill?
Weight loss and weight maintenance can be simplified down to calories in versus calories out. In reality, however, there’s nothing simple about that.
It’s difficult to know how many calories we actually consume in a day, how many we should consume, and how much of a role exercise can really play.
It turns out, research shows that what you eat has the biggest impact on your weight loss. If you’ve ever eaten a sweet and told yourself you’ll burn off those calories at the gym, consider how much exercise you’d really need to do:
As you can see, changing your diet can have a much larger impact on weight control than sweating it out on the stair climber.
If these calorie counts seem daunting, don’t be discouraged.
The journey to losing weight is a long one, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and painful. There are a number of small, simple steps that you can take today that will significantly lower your caloric intake and help you meet your health goals.
The idea of a quick-fix to all weight loss problems contained in one little pill is appealing beyond all else.
I just said weight loss can be simple — what’s more simple than taking a pill?
Diet drugs have been on the market for decades, and some people can say they’ve found great success in taking them.
These drugs usually promote weight loss in one of three ways:
Sounds like the weight should just melt right off!
However, when you start to look into the risks of these drugs and their potential side effects, the moderate results may not be worth it.
For example, garcinia cambogia extract (as seen on Dr. Oz) has been shown to cause only modest weight loss — about 2 pounds on average over several weeks. Coupled with a side effect of mild digestive problems, the results may not even be noticeable.
Another example is Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA, a popular fat loss supplement. CLA is more effective for weight loss, but the side effects are also much more serious. It can cause digestive problems, as well as contribute to fatty liver, increased inflammation, and insulin resistance in the long-term.
Diet medication may initially seem like the way to go for an easy solution, but the dangerous side effects often outweigh the positive results.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other simple solutions out there. There are ways to change your diet naturally and achieve weight loss without serious side effects.
Dieting doesn’t have to be a huge, overnight lifestyle change, either. I’ve learned that making small changes one at a time is more sustainable, and therefore more likely to be successful, in the long-term.
Consuming fewer calories doesn’t necessarily mean eating less often. It’s actually quite the opposite — you can and you should eat all day long!
Consuming huge meals is a significant source of excess calories. Frequent snacking can help stave off hunger and prevent overeating at meals. If you choose healthy snacks on top of that, the benefit is compounded.
Here are four steps you can take to achieve successful snacking:
Now that you’re thinking of snack ideas, you should be considering fruits and vegetables. After all, it’s good to snack, but it’s better to snack healthy.
Every time I go to the grocery store I try to pick up a few vegetables and one or two kinds of fruit. How often do I end up throwing out extra produce that has gone bad? Every week. The only reason? Laziness.
I love snacking on fruits and veggies, but it’s so much easier to just grab some chips than to go through the process of washing and cutting fresh produce.
That’s why this tip is all about making it easy on yourself. You’re much more likely to pass over the cookies and grab some celery if it’s ready to be eaten right away.
If you can’t find packages of pre-cut, pre-washed fruits and veggies in your grocery store, or if you just prefer fresh produce, here are five steps that will make snacking healthy as easy as opening a bag of chips.
This may seem silly and way too simple. But the thing is, portion distortion is rampant in our society, and simply changing your perspective of what you eat could make a big difference.
Portion distortion occurs as restaurants increase their portion sizes bigger and bigger, which leads us to believe that those sizes are normal. We begin to think that these portions, which are really enough for two people in some cases, are actually appropriate for one. In turn, our stomachs start to believe they should be getting that amount of food at every meal, so when we eat a portion that is actually appropriate, we are left feeling hungry and dissatisfied.
Along the same lines, when we eat a meal, completely filling up our plate with an entree and sides feels like the right thing to do because we are accustomed to huge portions. If we were to measure out an accurate portion, there would be so much empty room on the plate that our mind would tell us we’re not getting enough food.
Using a smaller plate tricks your mind, and in turn, your stomach, into believing that you’ve had enough food. You will feel full and satisfied without overeating.
The next time you’re sitting down for a meal, grab a lunch or dessert plate instead of a full-sized dinner plate. For reference, dinner plates are generally 10-12 inches and lunch/dessert plates are about 9 inches. A few less inches on your plate can lead to a few less inches on your waist!
Restaurants are infamous for providing huge portions. When you’re out to eat, remind yourself that it’s okay to leave some food on your plate and declare yourself to be done.
Don’t feel obligated to finish everything on your plate just because you’re paying for it — leftovers are nothing to be afraid of! You can be economical without overeating, and your body will thank you.
Here are four steps to avoid the temptation of overeating:
If you’re committed to monitoring your caloric intake, it’s important to make each calorie count. You may not realize that you’re wasting away valuable calories on things that don’t even fill you up — drinks.
It’s no secret that soda is bad for you, but you may not realize that a lot of other beverages are as well — even some that are marketed as healthy!
The excessive amounts of sugar in these soft drinks can trigger an appetite for sweets, and can even contribute to serious health problems like diabetes.
Here are some drinks that you should consider cutting out of your diet, and some ideas for alternatives:
We are led to believe that drinks like orange juice and apple juice are healthy options. In reality, however, a lot of brands load these drinks with sugar and calories. Here are some better alternatives that still provide a delicious, thirst-quenching drink:
The health concerns surrounding soda like Coca Cola and Mountain Dew are well-known, and yet it’s still hard to give up the caffeine, carbonation, and refreshing taste.
Club soda is a great alternative to these high-calorie drinks. It can still satisfy that craving for carbonation, and if you add natural flavoring, you can still get a great taste. Try flavoring club soda with:
Even trading out just one or two sodas a week for one of the above alternatives can make a difference.
As you saw above, one Starbucks Caramel Macchiato requires five miles of biking to burn off the calories. Most sweet coffee drinks, like Macchiatos, Frappuccinos, and flavored iced coffees contain high amounts of sugars and calories.
Is a minor caffeine kick worth the calories? Consider these alternatives instead:
Here are some other fun, healthy alternatives and step-by-step instructions on how to make them:
Drinking water has a lot of health benefits, but add lemon to it and you’ve got a game-changer.
Water with lemon is beneficial for so many reasons:
Here are some steps to take to make sure water with lemon is as accessible as a bottle of Coke:
It is extremely difficult to monitor your caloric intake if you can’t remember exactly what you’ve eaten throughout the day.
If you’re trying to decide whether you can treat yourself to a bread roll with dinner, you need to know your calorie intake for the day.
Trying to lose weight and eat right is difficult enough, don’t make it harder on yourself! Log what you’re eating, and know what it takes, in terms of exercise, to burn off those calories. For example:
A food diary can be more than just a log, too. It can be a way of keeping yourself accountable. It’s easier to disregard a splurge or slip-up if you just put it out of your mind; once it’s written down, however, there’s concrete evidence that you can’t ignore.
It’s also a great opportunity to see your progress! You can flip through your food diary and literally watch your habits and choices become healthier over time. It’s a great way to celebrate your accomplishments, and it will also provide motivation to continue on.
In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that simply keeping a diary of food intake doubled total weight loss during a five-month study.
If you’re more inclined toward a pen-and-paper kind of food diary, so here’s what we suggest to stay on track:
If you want to take calorie counting into the digital age, read on to our next tip about great health and wellness apps!
Using an app is a great way to make something extremely difficult, like losing weight, just a little bit easier.
Apps can help you calculate how many calories are in your food, and they can keep track of how much you’ve consumed throughout the day. Using pen and paper to quickly scribble down calorie counts can easily become disorganized.
Staying organized is the best way to make this process easier on yourself, and by using an app, everything you need to stay on track is right there on your phone.
And let’s face it, when was the last time you were without your phone?
But the question remains — how do I know which apps are actually the best? There are tons of apps out there that claim to provide the most accurate calorie counts and the best plans to facilitate weight loss.
We’ve sifted through them all to give our recommendations for the best apps to help you achieve your health goals.
The first step in any weight loss journey is to create a goal. For calorie counting, that means figuring out how many calories you should be consuming each day in order to achieve your ideal weight. There are a lot of tools that can help you determine this baseline and then track your daily progress.
If you’ve read all these tips and you’re ready to make changes in your life, but you’re still a little unsure about how to put them into practice, consider meal planning.
Meal planning is great because it gives you the time to really think about what you’re eating and figure out ways to incorporate your health goals into every snack and meal. If you plan everything out ahead of time you’re less likely to be scrambling for ideas come dinner time. And let’s face it, an unplanned dinner is more likely to end up as frozen waffles than anything healthy.
Fortunately, you don’t have to invest in expensive meal planning services. There are apps that help you find recipes and make suggestions for foods that incorporate your goals.
Figuring out what to cook for myself has always been the hardest thing about eating well (and being an adult, to be honest). If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate these apps because they do all the legwork for you!
This may seem like a pretty obvious tip, but it is still so important to keep in mind!
We’ve talked a lot about portion control as the root of limiting caloric intake. Eating directly out of a jar or container is the easiest way to overeat and throw all of that out the window!
When you take a spoon directly to a carton of ice cream, there’s nothing signalling you to stop. You can eat and eat and not even realize how much. Before you know it, you hit the bottom of the container and you’ve downed 4 serving sizes of Rocky Road in one sitting.
If you first scoop some ice cream into a bowl, however, once it’s empty, you know you’ve finished the appropriate portion and you stop.
Eating from the container also makes it impossible for you to accurately record how many calories you consumed during that meal or snack. You can’t calculate how many calories are in an unknown amount of food!
Even though it might take a little more time, measuring out proper portions before you eat is what will keep you on track and make your health goals possible. In this tip we outline some methods for measuring portions correctly.
It’s important to not just be mindful about what you eat, but also what you do while you eat.
Even if you have the appropriate proportion completely measured out, and especially if you don’t, you need to listen to your body.
If you feel full, that’s a sign to stop eating, no matter how much food is left on your plate. But to really know when you’re full, you have to give yourself the chance to notice the signs.
Here are a few ways to learn to listen to your body:
The easiest way to control overeating and take in less calories is to abide by serving size recommendations. It can be difficult to know what one portion of food looks like, however, when restaurants are “supersizing” every meal we eat.
Here are 3 ways to determine portion sizes:
|Object||Portion Size||Food Item|
|Baseball||1 cup||1 serving of leafy green vegetables, cereal, yogurt|
|Computer mouse||1/2 cup||1 serving of rice, fresh fruit, vegetables|
|Check book/deck of cards||3 ounces||1 serving of meat, fish|
|Your thumb||1.5 ounces||1 serving of cheese|
|Ping pong ball||2 tablespoons||1 serving of peanut butter|
Cravings are natural; we all get them. And you don’t have to fight or deny them to lose weight!
It is essential, however, to know what you’re craving.
If we’re not exactly sure what food we’re looking for, we usually just start to grab things in an effort to satisfy the craving. And when it’s not satisfied right away, we’ll keep eating until it is.
As a result, cravings often lead to overeating. They don’t have to, though! Learn to listen to your body using these few steps:
If you don’t feel completely satisfied by your snack, you most likely didn’t identify the right snack in step 2. That’s okay, though! It might take some time to learn your cravings, and to make sure you have appropriate snacks on hand.
When you’re trying to lose weight, every calorie counts.
While you don’t have to deprive yourself of the foods you love, it is difficult to maintain bad eating habits and still limit caloric intake.
When you choose healthier alternatives, you’re getting more bang for your buck, so to speak.
Some alternatives to your favorites contain fewer calories per gram. Some keep you full longer. And some need more energy to digest, so by eating them, you gain calories back.
If you find that counting calories leads to portions that are too small and constant hunger throughout the day, consider the foods you’re consuming. By choosing to eat better foods, you could eat more and still lose weight.
Consider some items that are found in a typical diet, and then consider their healthier alternatives:
|“Bad” Food||Calories||Portion Size||“Good” Food||Calories||Portion Size|
|White Bread||79||1 slice||Wheat Bread||69||1 slice|
|Mayo||94||1 tablespoon||Brown Mustard||9||1 tablespoon|
|Potato Chips||152||1 ounce||Veggie Chips||134||1 ounce|
|Candy (M&M’s)||1023||1 cup||Frozen Grapes||62||1 cup|
|Ice Cream||137||1/2 cup||Frozen Yogurt||114||1/2 cup|
|Milk Chocolate||1120||1 cup (chocolate chips)||Dark Chocolate||280||1 cup (chocolate chips)|
|French Fries||365||117 grams||Sweet Potato Fries||90||100 grams|
Some other things to keep in mind when making better food choices:
Like many of our tips, this may seem overly simple, but that’s the beauty of it! Contrary to popular belief, losing weight doesn’t always have to be complicated.
If you think about it, the feeling of freshly brushed teeth signals to your body that you’re done eating.
I know there have been many times when I’ve brushed my teeth for the night and someone offers me a snack (that I normally would’ve eaten without hesitation), but I turn it down because I don’t want to have to re-brush.
Snacking is a good thing, but only if you’re hungry. You probably won’t be hungry for a while after eating a full meal, so brushing your teeth afterwards is a really simple, easy way to prevent yourself from reaching for snacks when you don’t need them.
The great thing about making small changes in your diet naturally is that you don’t have to deprive yourself of the foods you love.
A diet can only be effective if it is sustainable long-term.
If you love chocolate milkshakes more than anything in the world, a diet that prevents you from having a shake now and then will never work.
You need to treat yourself once in a while to keep yourself going!
When you’re counting calories, you can easily adjust your other meals throughout the day to compensate for a treat now and then. You’ll have that flexibility, and the apps we mentioned above will be really helpful in determining when and how much to treat yourself so that you stay on track with your goals.
After all, do you want to live a life that doesn’t include chocolate milkshakes?? I know I don’t.
It’s difficult to adopt a new diet and completely change your lifestyle all at once, but it’s not difficult to make one or two small, concrete changes.
Start to transform your life one step at a time.
Adopt one of our tips today. Adopt another one next week.
Be sure to consult a dietitian or physician if you have any questions or concerns about your health.
Once you start to take control of what you put in your body, you’ll start to see real changes. But, to be successful, you have to start somewhere!
The weight loss infographic mentioned throughout my story is easy to download and free to share. Share it with colleagues, classmates, teachers or anyone looking for tips on how to lose weight. Simply copy and paste the embed code below and share it with your friends and family. Thanks for reading my story!
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