No matter where it comes from, a calorie is a calorie, and it takes 3,500 calories to gain or lose a pound. Want to shed a perfectly respectable 1 pound per week? Carve 500 calories off your day by thinking through your food choices and upping your exercise. But make sure you're not cutting too many calories. Drastically reducing food intake could slow your metabolism and sabotage your efforts to build muscle, which is needed to burn maximum calories and be toned. To make calories count, choose nutrient-rich foods with a mix of protein, carbs and fats at every meal.
2. Consider nutrition first.
Eat plenty of foods full of the six nutrients most often lacking in women's diets. The quality and length of our lives depend on our health; our bodies thrive only when nourished with optimal amounts of the more than 40 nutrients and 12,000 phytochemicals found in minimally processed foods. And, these also aid in weight loss. If you focus more on your health and less on your waistline, you will automatically eat more low-calorie, nutrient-packed foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nonfat dairy products and legumes, which help you maintain your weight.
3. Learn how to control food cravings.
Cut out the specific items in whatever category—carbs, sweets, meat—gives you difficulty without cutting out the nutrition. Give pretzels the heave-ho but don't dismiss whole-grain breads. Has ice cream become a problem? Instead, snack on single-serving portions of yogurt.
4. Set your own rules.
The best way to achieve that same clarity when you're trying to lose weight is to set some rules. Find yourself snacking on cereal at night? Make an only-for-breakfast rule. If you slip, no cereal in your house for a month! Tend to dive into the breadbasket as soon as the waiter brings it around? Set a one-starchy-carb-per-restaurant-meal rule. If you want the bread, tell yourself before you head out that you'll skip the potato or pasta that comes with your meal. To make the rules official, write them down.
5. Choose foods with staying power.
Fill up on wholesome, fiber-rich, water-filled foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, which fill you up faster for longer on fewer calories. And how you eat is as important as what you eat. A growing body of research shows that the best way to keep your metabolism revved and body-fat levels low is to feed yourself in small amounts. Eat airline-size (rather than restaurant-size) portions of meat, fish, pasta, grains and desserts. And eat every three to four hours, for a total of five mini-meals per day.
6. Enjoy food.
You're much more likely to stick with a diet if your food looks, tastes and smells delicious. Feeling deprived will only backfire. Make a plan you can live with by livening up food with herbs and spices like basil, cilantro, curry and ginger; aromatic veggies like garlic and onions; and condiments like mustard, hot pepper sauce or salsa. Experiment with new foods: Tantalize your taste buds with two new fruits or vegetables at each meal. Try different cold/hot cereals and breads. Don't declare high-fat favorites "off limits"; savor them in small amounts.
7. Strive for balance.
For energy, satisfaction, staying power and good health, aim to eat a healthy balance of protein (15-20 percent of your total daily calories), fat (less than 30 percent of your total daily calories) and carbohydrate (50-55 percent of your total daily calories) each day. Rule of thumb: Fill three-quarters of your plate with plant foods, leaving the rest for small amounts of fish, nonfat milk products and nuts or seeds.
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