Some of us start the new year feeling like our pants are a little tighter than we remember them being in November. This might come along with a lot of great holiday memories of parties and family dinners, but it also might be something you’d like to shed as you keep those warm thoughts in mind.
This doesn’t require a crash diet, which is harmful and ineffective, in any case. It also doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Odds are good that you generally have healthy(ish) habits and just need to get back on track after a few weeks of being surrounded by baked goods and booze.
When it comes to reducing calorie intake, a few small changes can really add up. Switch up your cereal, keep some healthy snacks on hand, skip that trip to the café, and soon you’ll find your favourite jeans sliding back on with ease. And it doesn’t require stocking up on a bunch of hard-to-pronounce ingredients or signing up for an expensive nutrition plan. Some of these switches may even save you money.
Here are 13 easy, inexpensive ways to cut calories without even missing them.
Start the day with protein
“A huge change for me was making sure my breakfasts always include protein,” says chef and weight-loss coach Devin Alexander. She used to skip breakfast to leave more calories for night-time snacking but says that eating even a small breakfast with lean protein really helped her avoid cravings and a sugar crash. Alexander suggests egg whites as a great protein-rich and low-calorie option for breakfast, but you could also try turkey bacon or tofu scramble.
Change up your coffee
We know, peppermint mochas are delicious. But they are also far more caloric than necessary. Even if you can’t switch to black coffee there are changes you can make that will trim a bit off the top, starting with giving up the whipped cream. Switch to skim or almond milk instead of whole or 2%. Ask them to put in two or three pumps of syrup, if you must have it, instead of four. And order your drink down a size. Odds are good you toss that cooled-down final third anyway.
Read your cereal box
Cereal is a convenient way to get breakfast in, and it can also be a healthy one. But a box that seems healthy on the front can reveal a lot of added sugar and empty calories when you check out that nutrition label on the side. So do that — read the nutrition label on your go-to cereal. Then see how you can improve upon it: look for an option with more fibre and protein, and less sugar. And measure to find out how much your “serving size” really is compared to what they suggest on the box. That doesn’t mean you have to eat less if you truly need that much, but knowledge is power.
Buy plain yogurt
You don’t have to EAT plain yogurt, or even fat-free — there’s evidence that full-fat dairy is better for us, actually, and yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium. But we bet that buying the plain tub and adding a bit of cinnamon, or a light drizzle of maple syrup, or some self-mashed berries will come in lower in calories and sugar than buying the version that comes with these things already mixed in.
Try frequent eating
Chef Alexander says that eating five smaller meals daily instead of three larger ones works in her favour. “Snacks, to me, are like mini meals,” Alexander says. “Just a smaller version of the kinds of foods I’d eat at mealtimes most days."
Skip the cheese
If you usually get a slice or two of cheese on your sandwich or sprinkle a bunch on top of your salad, try reducing or skipping it next time. You might not really miss it, and you’ll cut a bunch of calories in the process. Same goes for halving your dressing, or switching to a less-rich version, or putting barbecue sauce on your sandwich instead of mayo or honey mustard.
If you like sandwiches or subs, consider going with a different meat. If you usually go for salami or roast beef, try roast chicken or turkey. Leave off that bacon, or ask for half. Get a sub with one kind of meat instead or two or three. Protein is great but we could all do with fewer processed meats.
Get your carbs
Some people cut out carbs almost entirely in order to lose weight — and while this can reduce calorie intake it can also leave you susceptible to cravings and exhaustion. “I know a lot of people think you can’t eat carbs and be fit,” Alexander says. “But if I don’t eat carbs I don’t have energy to work out or even get through my day.” Choose carbs that are more nutrient dense in order to get the most for those calories: for example, whole-grain foods have more filling fibre than refined versions.
Getting the size up on the fast-food value meal seems like a better deal, but you know you don’t actually want that much. If you did you would have ordered it in the first place, instead of waiting for someone to ask if you wanted more! Ask for the child size for your pop, and get the smaller fries — they don’t taste good reheated anyway.
Go thin crust
Everyone deserves to have a little fun with their food, and one meal is not going to destroy your health or reverse days or weeks of mindful munching. So get that pizza sometimes! But try the thin crust, add chicken or veggies instead of pepperoni, and ask them to go light on the cheese. You probably won’t notice, and you’ll cut calories by a surprising amount.
Buy those 100-calorie packs
Yes, individual packs of snacks are more expensive per serving than the ones that come in a giant bag. But there’s actually some science behind their existence: nearly all of us are terrible at estimating how much they eat, and we’re less likely to eat more if we have to go and physically open another package. These can be great to have around for a small, but controlled, treat.
Skip the butter on popcorn
Movie popcorn is one of life’s great pleasures, but those harmless-seeming microwaved bags can also pile on the calories and fat if you aren’t careful. Buy 100-calorie bags if you find yourself eating more kernels than you planned, and look for versions without butter added. Even if you need a bit to enjoy it, you’ll almost definitely add far less than the manufacturer would.
Get steamed rice instead of fried
If you’re getting Chinese or Thai takeout, that fried rice is going to be pretty tempting. But go for steamed rice instead — you’ll save calories because you won’t be getting all that oil, and you’ll get plenty of flavour from the main dishes. Same goes for Indian takeout and steamed basmati versus biryani.