Nutrition Articles

Cut Calories Without Dieting

Cut Fat and Calories Without Deprivation

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The word "diet" doesn’t always mean eating less to lose weight—although that’s what we commonly associate it with today. Someone "on a diet" is trying to eat less, or stop eating sweets to fit into a smaller pant size.

Diet has another meaning. It also describes the food that you normally consume—following a vegetarian diet, an American diet, or "My diet consists of meat and potatoes." Improving your normal diet by making gradual, but permanent changes is a healthier way to lose weight than by just restricting calories.

Low calorie and fad diets can have serious health implications—insufficient vitamin and nutritional intake, lethargy, slowed metabolism, hormonal effects, and even dehydration. Dieters commonly experience intense feelings of hunger and deprivation, which can lead to "cheating" or bingeing over time.

Here are a few tips to help you decrease your caloric intake without "dieting" or feeling deprived.

Don’t eyeball it
Studies show that people tend to underestimate how much they really eat every day. In doing so, we consume too many calories without realizing it. Research shows that keeping a log by recording exercise and food intake is one of the best predictors of successful weight loss.
  • A written record can point out your eating patterns (eating in front of the TV or in the car, eating the same breakfast every day), triggers (stress, sadness, boredom, time of day), and areas where nutritional changes can be made. You may find that you are eating less fruits than you thought or drinking too much soda, for example. Then you’ll know where you can implement healthy changes.
  • Reading food labels is key to healthy portion sizes. At a quick glance, a bottle of juice (or bag of chips, candy bar, or frozen entrée) may appear to contain 100 calories, but a closer look will reveal that the package includes two or more servings, which doubles the caloric content.
  • After familiarizing yourself with portion sizes, be sure to measure. Be exact if cooking at home, but when eating out, think about common objects. Two tablespoons of peanut butter, mayo, or dressing is about the size of a golf ball. A serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. A medium piece of fruit is similar to a baseball.
  • Having trouble stopping at one serving of pretzels or chips? Buy single-serving packages of your favorite foods for built-in portion control, or measure out single servings into baggies or containers.

Hold the fat It’s important to remember that not all fats are bad. Certain oils (olive, canola), and nuts are nutritious and healthy to eat. However, fat does have more than twice the calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein (9, 4, and 4, respectively). And generally, people consume too much and the wrong kinds of fats, which means excessive calories.
  • When cooking, limit the amount of oil you use by using a non-stick pan. You can also use spray-able oils (avoid substitutes and go for the real olive and canola oil sprays) to coat your pans with virtually zero calories. A MISTO sprayer, available in department stores, can evenly distribute 1/2 teaspoon of oil or salad dressing, compared to the 2-3 teaspoons that you would usually pour on for the same purpose—a savings of 100 calories.
  • Skimp on butters, dressings, and creams, using just enough for taste. Try a baked potato flavored with salsa rather than butter, and forgo the "secret sauce" on your favorite burger. Search for lite or reduced-fat versions of certain condiments, like dressings and sauces. One serving of lite mayo has less than half the calories (85) of regular mayo (200), but is almost identical taste and texture.
  • Blotting the fat from greasy foods like cheese pizza or burgers is also worth the effort. One could easily soak up a teaspoon of grease, 5 grams of fat, and 40 calories from two slices of pizza alone.
  • Add flavor to foods without excess calories and fat by using herbs, fresh or dried. An added bonus: studies show that spicy foods, flavored with red peppers or chili peppers, may boost metabolism and help you to stop eating sooner.
  • When cutting out high-fat and high-calorie foods, replace them with fruits and vegetables. These essentials are low in calories, but high in volume, fiber and nutrients, which can give a feeling of fullness. They make great snacks and are easy to pack. Stick to whole foods as much as possible. A potato is a better option than an order of fries, just as an apple is healthier than a slice of apple pie.
Drink water, not alcohol
Not only does alcohol contain 7 calories per gram, but it also lowers self-control when it comes to food. Limit your alcohol intake and your body will thank you. Save alcohol for a post-meal indulgence, rather than drinking it before or with food. Studies show that alcohol lowers inhibitions and control when it comes to eating, causing people to eat more than those who waited to drink after finishing a meal.

Drink water throughout the day, before, and during meals to help curb your appetite. Oftentimes, people think they are hungry when they are actually thirsty or dehydrated. Dehydration can slow metabolism, but the process of drinking water and warming it to body temperature involves energy and burns calories. Plus, being well hydrated gives body at least 10 minutes more energy for exercise, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.


To lose a healthy one pound of fat per week, all it takes is a 500-calorie deficit per day (which can be achieved by reducing calories, exercising more, or a combination of both). For a healthy lifestyle, not a diet, that is easy to stick with, try incorporating some or all of these easy strategies to reduce calories without giving up the pleasures of eating.

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Member Comments

  • I've gotten to the point where I refuse to go on a "diet". If it's not something that I can maintain for the rest of my life, I won't do it. I'm eating a healthy diet of vegetables, lean meats and whole grains and watching my portions. You know what? I'm losing weight now and am not constantly stressed out about whether I'm losing weight or constantly thinking about food. Thanks for the great article to remind us all that it is a healthy lifestyle, not a crash diet.
  • I used to buy every fat substitute on the market. I drove myself nuts. Then, like low nicotine cigs, I found I just ate more of the unreal stuff. I gained weight. No more. Full on except milk and portion control. That is the way to go.
  • Interesting article and well written. It's nice to think we know what we need and want ... and. I've been a portion watcher for as long as I can remember ... probably since the debut of the 8 oz burger in the late 60s. At that time I could eat "the whole thing" along with fries and dessert and lots of beer ... it didn't affect me ... or so I thought. Fast forward to getting even just a little older and more sedentary and the same food is a killer to the body.

    First know yourself and your weakness. Mine are simple: ice cream (full fat - nothing else is the same so I can do without); cheesecake (only the good stuff) and red meat - mooing softly. Ice cream doesn't come home to the freezer ... I can't leave it alone. Cheesecake? Only if that IS dinner and on occasion it can be. Red meat ... well ulcers took care of that one for me. It's too hard to digest in quantity. Sigh.

  • NANATERRI1
    This is a very interesting article. Kudos!
  • FOXGLOVE999
    I think that people often mistakenly believe that the lowfat craze actually caused people to eat a lowfat diet. This is doubtful, at best. I use lowfat and reduced fat products and still go over the recommended fat intake of 30%. I suspect this is true of most Americans.

    While I do eat fat, I also eat carbs, sugar etc. Everything in moderation, and the pounds are coming off. I think it's completely reasonable to track for the rest of my life, if not for calories, than for nutrients. Once set up, it's very simple, I spend maybe 10 minutes a day tracking. Like someone else said, it's a basic self-care thing, like brushing your teeth.
  • I do better if I count calories and eat the full-fat, full-flavor versions of things.
    I started losing more weight when I threw out the PAM and started cooking in butter again.
  • Since the no fat, low fat craze started ,people have continued to gain. Why,? The doctors believe it's SUGAR, CARBS that is more dangerous than the fat.
    So before you automaticly ditch most fat.. Ditch the sugar and heavy carbs.
    Not that you should eat large amounts of fat. There has to be limits in every food group.
  • good to know. Thanks.
  • Alot of great things in this article.
  • For me, logging my food opens my eyes to what choices mean. It's been so educational. I'm a newbie at this - 3.5 months in, but I find even in situations where I don't plan my food or log, I keep the count in my mind and it helps me stay within a healthy range, which for me is 1200-1600 calories.
  • I do this every day! I track what I eat, and I use the sparkpeople app for that on my blackberry. I love it. It keeps me accountable to everything that I put in my mouth. I have also taken my favorite recipes and figured out cal content so that way I know even what some of my favorite food had for cals. I have lost 95 pounds and have kept it off for 5 years. I love this website. I get breakdowns and if I splurge, I don't get mad at myself, I realize that I am human. When someone commits to losing weight, they should fully commit. I have tried other diets in the past, but none of them work, because they restricted what you could eat. I eat what I normally cook, I just eat a lot less. I am at 1200 cals a day and I feel great. As one of my friends put it to me a few days ago, I am the enegizer bunny. I went from a size 24 to a 10. I look great, feel great and am in better health now then I was 5 years ago. Thanks again to spark people for this website. I am truely grateful for getting my life back.
  • Eating low-fat food doesn't work for me at all. I didn't start losing weight until I incorporated more fat in my diet...not less. Yes, real fat has more calories, but it also keeps you satisfied so you're not hungry!
  • I think the log book is a good idea, I have always had success with this. I think it is a way to keep you aware of what you eat and can help with understanding your eating patterns. It can also keep you honest until you have established a routine that helps you maintain or lose the weight.
  • Someone mentioned earlier how keeping a log of your eating habits seems like a "diet". I have to agree. It is helpful, but it makes me feel restricted. I find that many of these tips are helpful, but they still seem like a diet to me.
  • I am new to all this but so far I think this spark article is on the right track. It may have some outdated stuff maybe, but over all it is good. It makes you think about all the little things we can change that help to add up to one lb lost. I hope others can learn from it as I have. Susan

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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