To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume, which inevitably means one thing: portion control. But you're not necessarily doomed to a growling stomach until you reach your goal. "Portion control doesn't mean you have to eat tiny portions of everything," says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, author of The Portion Teller Plan: The No-Diet Reality Guide to Eating, Cheating, and Losing Weight Permanently. "You don't want to feel like you're on a diet, but you have to eat fewer calories."
Here are 7 easy ways to cut portions, trim calories, and lose fat without counting the minutes until your next meal.
1. Keep Moving: Start off slowly with small amounts of physical activity each day. Then, as you start to lose weight and have more energy, you’ll find it easier to become more physically active. Try walking with a friend, dancing, hiking, cycling, playing Frisbee with a dog, enjoying a pickup game of basketball, or playing activity-based video games with your kids.
2. Control emotional eating: Do you eat when you’re worried, bored, or lonely? Do you snack in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day? Recognizing your emotional eating triggers can make all the difference in your weight-loss efforts. Find healthier ways to calm yourself. Try yoga, meditation, or soaking in a hot bath. Reach out to others instead of reaching for the refrigerator. Call a friend who makes you laugh, take your dog for a walk, or go to the library, mall, or park—anywhere there’s people.
3. Cut down on sugar and refined carbs: Eliminating candy and desserts is only part of the solution, though. Sugar is hidden in foods as diverse as bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, and many foods labelled “low fat” or “no fat.” All this hidden sugar amounts to nothing but a lot of empty calories. Try to avoid unhealthy spikes in blood sugar, avoid refined carbs such as white bread, white rice or pasta, and opt for their whole-grain counterparts instead.
4. Think good fat, not low fat: Studies show that eating whole-milk dairy is actually linked to less body fat and lower levels of obesity. This may be because full-fat dairy keeps you feeling satisfied for longer, helping you to eat less overall. Adding a little tasty fat, such as butter, to a plate of vegetables, for example, can make it easier to eat healthy food and improve the overall quality of your diet.
5. Fill up with fruit, veggies, and fibers: Counting calories can quickly become tedious, but you don’t need an accounting degree to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s generally okay to eat as much as you want—you’ll feel full before you’ve overdone it on the calories. Start your meal with salad or soup to help fill you up so you eat less of your entrée.
6. Tune in when you eat: Eat slowly, savoring the smells and textures of your food. If your mind wanders, gently return your attention to your food and how it tastes. Avoid distractions while eating. Try not to eat while working, watching TV, or driving. It’s too easy to mindlessly overeat. It takes time for the signal to reach your brain that you’ve had enough. Don’t feel obligated to always clean your plate.
7. Cook your own meals: Cooking meals at home allows you to control both portion size and what goes in to the food. Restaurant and packaged foods generally contain a lot more sugar, unhealthy fat, and calories than food cooked at home—plus the portion sizes tend to be larger. Serve yourself smaller portions. Use small plates, bowls, and cups to make your portions appear larger. Don’t eat out of large bowls or directly from food containers, which makes it difficult to assess how much you’ve eaten.
Finally, the truth is there is no “one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss. What works for one person may not work for you, since our bodies respond differently to different foods, depending on genetics and other health factors. To find the method of weight loss that’s right for you will likely take time and require patience, commitment, and some experimentation with different foods and diets.