First of all, there are three types of calories: ‘Empty‘ calories, ‘Nutrient-Dense‘ calories, and ‘Extra‘ calories. Empty calories are calories from foods that contain little to no nutritional value. A few examples of this would be: sodas, candies, most fast foods, desserts, and alcohol. Nutrient-Dense calories are calories that are full of micronutrients and often contain fiber, anti-oxidants, phytonutrients, and Omega-3’s. Extra calories are calories that you consume above what your body requires, and so it stores it as fat. Extra calories can be empty calories or nutrient- dense calories. If you over consume calories whether they be organic and healthy, or processed and empty, you will gain weight.
For an inside on which foods to eat, click here.
Empty calories are the calories that you want to limit. It is fine to eat them occasionally, but can be detrimental when the majority of your diet comes from them. Empty calories are often processed, which means that they contain multiple preservatives in order to prolong shelf-life. These preservatives include salt, increased fat, and chemical preservatives such as nitrates/nitrites, sulfates/sulfites, acetic/ascorbic acid, BHAs/BHTs, etc. For a list of allowed additives in the United States, click here.
The best strategy I have found to help limit these calories is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The first step is to get rid of all the empty calories in the house – if they are not on hand, it is much more difficult to consume them. If you have a sweet tooth, or want to indulge in a dessert or glass of wine/beer, then there a couple of excellent strategies:
Sweets/Candies: Place them in a location far away from the room you spend the most time in. A great place would be in a linen closet on the top shelf, or out in the garage in a cabinet. The more inconvenient the location, the less likely you are to go get it.
Alcohol: Keep alcohol out of eyesight; in the garage, or a room you do not frequent. If this does not work, keep only one beer in the fridge at a time so that you have to put a warm one in the fridge every time you want one. Keep red wines in the fridge and white wines in the pantry – this way you need to wait for reds to come to room temp, and whites to chill.
Fast Foods: We turn to fast food when we do not bring our own lunch or we feel like we have no time to make something. Your best bet to combat fast food cravings is to make and bring your own food. If you feel like you do not have time for this, consider purchasing a slow cooker/crock pot, and a rice-maker. These two tools can make bulk cooking a snap with very little prep time. If you make bulk food on the weekend, you will not have to lift a finger during the weekday.
Nutrient-dense calories are what I consider the biggest bang for your buck. Not because they are calorie-dense, but because they are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants, phytonutrients, and Omega-3’s. If you would like to find out more about these nutrients, click here.
Eating more nutrient-dense calories gives your body the micronutrients it needs, and thus reduces cravings for empty calorie foods. Below are a number of strategies you can utilize in order to increase your nutrient dense calorie consumption.
Keep healthy snacks on the counters: Keeping fruits, nuts, jerky, and healthy snacks out in high-traffic areas such as the kitchen counter increases the likelihood of weight loss and healthy eating habits.
Keep the fridge stocked with healthy foods and snacks: Keep your fridge full of dark veggies, lean meats, and low-fat dairy that can be grabbed and munched on. Great examples are: string cheese, veggie sticks, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, and hummus. Keeping snacks at eye-level in front of other foods will make you more likely to reach for those before others. Want to cut down on food prep time? Many stores have pre-sliced vegetables that can be quickly added to dishes. Or, to save money, you can pre-slice them yourself and add them to dishes later.
Fill the pantry with dry staples and snacks: The more locations that you can put healthy snacks, the more likely you are to reach for them before an unhealthy alternative that is out of reach. Keep dried/canned beans, rice, grains and pastas, as well as canned lean meats such as tuna and chicken on hand. These are all excellent, quick ingredients that can used to make healthy dishes.
Sometimes, even after we are eating healthy, we find that we are still gaining weight. There are multiple reasons for why this may be happening, but for the most part, it boils down to one thing; we are consuming more calories than our body needs, so it stores those extra calories as fat. *Please note that there are some diseases and health conditions that may make weight loss very difficult, in which case a doctor and/or registered dietician should advise individuals with these conditions.
Use a smaller plate at dinner: Instead of the oversized plates that are common in America, grab the salad plate and fill that up with dinner. Food placed on a smaller plate will look like much more food compared to placing it on a large dinner plate. It makes your brain think you are getting more food, you feel more satisfied, and you eat fewer calories. Win, win.
Fill up the dinner plate with vegies: Grab for the veggies first, then add your grains and protein. You are more likely to overfill your plate with the first dish you reach for; why not fill it on up with veggies? It’s nearly impossible to overeat veggies since they are so bulky and low in calories. Your overall plate will have fewer calories, and fill you up more.
Eat a snack between meals: Eating every 2-3 hours will help keep your blood sugar steady – decreasing energy crashes and preventing you from overeating at lunch/ dinner when you are famished.
Switch from full-fat dairy to low-fat dairy: This is a quick and easy way to cut down on calories and saturated fat. There are many dairy options that are lower in fat that taste just as good. Consider low fat Greek yogurt as a replacement for sour cream, and add milk to your coffee instead of cream or 1/2 and 1/2.
Keep a consistent exercise routine: Exercise burns calories during the workout, continues expending calories to build muscle, and muscle raises your base metabolic rate which helps you burn more calories throughout the day.
Trade juices and sodas for water: There are more calories in drinks than most people are aware of. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, or enjoy soda for the bubbles, consider flavored waters or club soda. There are tons of flavors you can create at a fraction of the cost and calories; cucumber mint, lemon lime, strawberry basil, watermelon, etc.