To lose weight, most people need to cut calories. Eliminating 250 to 1,000 calories per day usually leads to about 0.5 to 2 lbs. (0.2 to 0.9 kilograms) of weight loss per week, experts say.
But often, only small changes to a person's diet can cut the needed number of calories and lead to weight loss, experts told Live Science. This is especially important because weight-loss experts emphasize making lifestyle changes that you can actually stick to over the long term.
Here are a few tips for reducing your calorie intake:
Eat foods that keep you feeling full
One way to cut calories without feeling extra hungry is to eat more foods that contain a lot of fiber and water, but not a lot of calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This usually means eating more fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, tomato, watermelon, apples, beans and peas.
Other foods that can help you feel full without adding too many calories are dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free, as well as broth-based soups.
You can look at your diet to see where you can replace high-calorie foods with ones that are lower in calories and fat. For example, you could replace an afternoon snack of cheese and crackers with one of fruits and vegetables. Or you could replace whole milk and full-fat cheese with nonfat milk and light cheese when baking or when eating these foods on their own.
Often, people can keep eating the foods they love in moderation, and still lose weight, said Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and op-ed contributor to Live Science. "If people make minor changes that they can live with, it's more likely that they can lose the weight and keep it off."
Drink fewer calories
You may not think about the calories in the beverages you drink, but they count just as much as calories from food in your daily calorie total. And all of the calories from your drinks can really add up: For example, a 16-ounce (473 milliliters) cafe latte with whole milk, and a 20-ounce (591 mL) bottle of soda, both have more than 200 calories each.
To lose weight, you may want to try drinking more beverages that have zero calories, such as pure water, naturally flavored sparkling water or diet drinks, the CDC said.
Alcoholic drinks can be another source of "hidden" calories. For example, 12 ounces (354 mL) of beer has about 150 calories, a glass of red wine has 125 calories and a piña colada has nearly 500 calories, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Reducing your alcohol intake can be another way to cut back on calories that aren't contributing to your daily nutrition. [Counting the Calories in Alcoholic Drinks]
Pay attention to portion size
Large portion sizes often lead to overeating, because people tend to consume the entire portion in front of them, rather than eating only what they need to feel full. For example, one study of moviegoers found that people ate 45 percent more popcorn out of extra-large containers than out of large ones.
Here are some ways to prevent overeating due to large portions:
- If you're at a restaurant, you may want to spilt a meal with a friend, or get a takeout box and put half of your meal in the box for later, before you even start eating, the CDC said.
- Don't eat straight from a package or a container of food, like a large bag of chips. Instead, take a serving out of the bag and put it in a bowl to eat.
- Serve food onto your plate before you sit down to eat, rather than putting serving dishes on the table, so you aren't as tempted to go back for second helpings.
Avoid skipping meals
Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis, said people who want to lose weight should avoid skipping meals, because this often leads to overeating later in the day.
In particular, studies show that people who skip breakfast tend to weigh more than people who eat a healthy breakfast, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In an influential 2002 study designed to uncover the keys to weight-loss success, researchers looked at nearly 3,000 people who had lost weight and kept it off for a least a year; results showed that 78 percent of the participants ate breakfast every day.
This article is part of a Live Science Special Report on the Science of Weight Loss.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.