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The most common reason for weight fluctuations lies in the energy equation – if you eat more food or energy-dense foods than you need, you gain weight. If you eat less than what you need, you lose weight.
Other reasons include underlying medical conditions. For instance, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid function) leads to slowed metabolism and weight gain, whereas hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) leads to accelerated metabolism and weight loss.
Water retention also leads to rapid weight gain and is often reported by women of childbearing age right before their period.
To lose weight, you need to be mindful of the amount of energy or calories you consume. Calorie counting is one way to keep track of everything you eat, but this could be tedious and not always accurate.
Also, many people dread counting calories. If you are one of them, here are effective hacks to reduce your calorie intake.
1. Eat your greens
Just what your grandmother used to say, and, my, was she right! Green leafy vegetables, along with other veggies and fruits, are high in filling fiber.
A bowl of salad made with spring mix or spinach or arugula with cherry tomatoes, diced bell peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn, some lemon juice, and a teaspoon of olive oil will fill up your stomach at only 100-200 calories.
Your body will not only get the fiber it needs for so many functions, such as keeping your bowel movement regular and feeding your gut microbiota.
It will also reap a rainbow of healthy micronutrients and phytochemicals, which will boost your immune system and protect you from oxidative stress. Also, when your body gets what it needs, your hunger levels decrease.
If you want to reduce your calorie intake permanently, focus on consuming more nutrient-dense foods, such as whole fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins.
They are high-bulk low-calorie foods, as opposed to energy-dense foods that pack a lot more calories for the same amount, leading to a higher intake.
A review paper published in 2018 analyzed multiple studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of including low-energy-dense foods in the diet to help control hunger and promote a feeling of fullness. (1)
It was found that a lower-energy-dense eating pattern supports satiety while providing optimum amounts of nutrients and energy. This, in turn, helps individuals avoid weight gain or even lose some weight. (1)
2. Drink more water
Water has no calories. It fills you up, hydrates the body, boosts your metabolism, detoxifies your organs, and speeds up the movement of food down the digestive tract.
Every cell in your body needs water. Even though the filling sensation of drinking water is short-lived, you can still use this hack to delay eating, especially if there is no healthy food available at the moment.
The body often confuses thirst for hunger, and if you remember to drink before you eat, that might just do the trick.
One study found that pre-meal water consumption led to a significant reduction in meal energy intake, which may be a useful tool in the attempts of weight loss. (2)
3. Remove all distractions
When you eat in front of a TV, tablet, computer, or smartphone, your brain loses focus on the food and does not register timely fullness cues. You often end up overeating.
Practice mindful eating, which involves removing all distractions, focusing on the food you eat the way the food makes your body feel and paying attention to when you become satiated. (3)
This practice helps you in reducing calorie intake, losing weight, and normalizing your relationship with food. (3)
In other words, mindful eating lets you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. You do not eat for reasons other than hunger, and you use coping strategies, not involving food, to deal with daily stress and emotional instabilities.
As you eat, check-in with yourself. Are you still hungry? Is the food satisfying? Should you save some for later and avoid overstuffing yourself?
4. Use less condiments
A seemingly healthy salad at a restaurant may pack as much as 1,000 calories when drenched in a creamy dressing, topped with cheese, bacon, and croutons.
Those dressings – ranch, Caesar, blue cheese, French, etc. – are based on oils, cream, and cheese that are high in fat and calories.
When eating out, ask for dressing on the side. Better yet, ask for a side of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, drizzle a little bit of both and save yourself a ton of calories.
At home, use mustard, lemon juice, or vinegar in place of rich condiments. Substitute low-fat Greek yogurt for mayonnaise and other creamy dressings.
5. Pack your lunch
Homemade dishes are always lower in calories than restaurant-prepared food. At home, you are in control of what and how much shall go into the pot. Homemade foods tend to have a low-calorie density, leading to reduced calorie intake. (4)
Restaurants are in the business of making their profits by selling prepared food.
They need to make sure the food they make appeals to every taste, and they do so by manipulating ingredients, usually by using more salt, sugar, and fat than what is optimal for your nutritional needs.
Make a habit of meal prepping on Sundays. Invest in a 5-pack BPA-free plastic lunch containers, portion out your lunches, and save time, money, and calories.
Chicken-veggie stir-fry, veggie chili, whole-grain pasta with turkey and veggie sauce, Buddha bowls, salads – all are great options for healthy, low-calorie lunch meals.
6. Mind your snacks
You may be eating healthy snacks, but note that quantity matters.
Some healthy snack options include nuts, dried fruits, cheese, and crackers. However, these are calorie-dense foods, they pack a lot of calories per relatively small amounts.
For instance, 3 ounces of almonds have 550 calories! It is very easy to eat that much without realizing it. Dry fruits are high in sugar since all the water is removed, leading to a lower volume and higher concentration of sugar.
It is best to portion out nuts, dry fruits, and cheese to avoid overeating them. You can buy 100-calorie packs of nuts and dry fruits or pack them yourself in small Ziploc bags for on-the-go snacking.
7. Out of sight, out of mind
It is hard to stick to a reduced-calorie regimen if your fridge and cupboards are packed with calorie-dense foods.
If you are trying to lose weight, maintain it, or simply stick to a healthier, whole-food diet, it is best to create an environment that is void of sabotaging foods.
Give your kitchen a clean-eating makeover by removing all the packaged processed cookies, cereals, chips, candy, muffins, pastries, sweetened yogurts, sweetened beverages, donuts, high-sodium canned soups and pasta, and ready-to-eat meals.
Instead, stash up on fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, nut butter, low-fat Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese, whole-grain pasta and bread, whole-grain rice, quinoa, cornmeal, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, and old-fashioned oats.
The more you practice eating healthy whole foods, the easier it will be to turn to them when you are hungry.
New habits may take some time to develop as you are creating new neural pathways in your brain. However, once these pathways are established, that’s all you need to ensure the new habit sticks.
These easy hacks may help you reduce your calorie intake while keeping you full and nourished. It is a matter of remembering to implement them.
In the beginning, you may want to write them down on a cheat sheet or your smartphone Notes app, and pull them up frequently to remind yourself of the healthy eating tricks you are doing.