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.
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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.

Member Comments

    This is a very interesting article. Kudos! - 2/10/2016 11:22:11 AM
    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. - 11/2/2014 7:34:44 AM
  • 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. - 8/8/2014 8:47:43 AM
  • 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. - 5/15/2014 2:01:03 PM
  • good to know. Thanks. - 12/12/2013 6:04:05 AM
  • Alot of great things in this article. - 9/18/2013 9:04:12 PM
  • 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. - 11/17/2012 9:21:57 AM
  • 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. - 11/17/2012 9:14:52 AM
  • 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! - 11/17/2012 8:12:20 AM
  • 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. - 8/20/2012 9:29:06 AM
  • 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. - 8/19/2012 6:45:13 PM
  • 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 - 8/19/2012 4:46:08 PM
  • As many have said, falling into the lure of "Fat Free" and "Sugar Free" can do more harm than good. That fat free mayo? Check out the sugar content. Sugar Free? Well, I've discovered (belatedly) that artificial sweeteners actually INCREASE my cravings for sweets and for food in general.

    I'll agree with the "measure your foods" but it took me a VERY long time to get over the panic I felt when measuring things out.

    This is not a "one size fits all" solution. I compare it to a cafeteria-style, where you pick and choose what works best for YOU and go from there. - 8/19/2012 12:28:22 PM
  • This information is flawed, outdated and a really good way to not lose weight. The info on fats is especially inaccurate. Not all calories are created equal. Read Gary Taubes and William Davis if you want to make a life style change that will result in weight loss and improved health. - 8/19/2012 10:41:15 AM
  • This seems pretty basic -- so basic that I've done it all, and STILL remain overweight. With all these suggestions, it is very easy to still eat more than you need ... especially if, like me, you're "a lady of a certain age."

    So far, I haven't found a "lifestyle" approach to getting/staying slim that works for the long haul: if I eat what I enjoy in moderation, include plenty of fruits and veggies, cut sodas and fast foods out, eat sweets sparingly, and exercise in moderation most days of the week, the weight does NOT melt off. In fact, it either stays the same or inches up!

    Bithoo - 8/19/2012 7:40:12 AM

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