Calories In – Calories Out (CICO) remains the most useful model for achieving weight loss. To follow this approach, you need to run a modest but consistent calorie deficit in order to lose weight in a safe and sustainable way. I recommend your aim for a deficit of around 500 calories per day. That is, your calories in (what you eat) should be 500 calories less than you calories out (the energy you use) on a consistent daily basis. The rule of thumb is that 500 calories a day translates to 3500 calories per week, which will lead to approximately 1 pound per week of weight loss.
Your Griffin Fit trainer can help you calculate what your estimated energy expenditure is (which is based on your size and activity levels), and can also help you calculate the calorific value of what you’re eating. Keeping a food diary is helpful for this. Once you have these numbers, if your goal is to lose weight, you can see what change in calorie intake you need to make (if any) to achieve the deficit.*
The next step is to consider what the options are for reducing calories intake.
On top of the calorific value of what you eat, factors to also consider include the nutritional content of the food you eat; how satiating the food is (that is, how full you feel after you eat it); and the convenience and availability of the food and how it fits your lifestyle. You need to find a set of changes you can implement that are sustainable. You need to feel full, and it needs to be realistic!
My philosophy is that quality of nutrition trumps quantity of calories. The priority is to give your body the best possible nutrition to meet your needs. The knack is to do this whilst constraining calories.
With all that said, here are 9 tips for reducing your calories. You may recognize some or all of them, but consider whether you have tried to apply them consistently. It’s a good idea to pick 2 or 3 at a time, apply them into your approach to food, and see what works for you.
- Reduce your portion sizes, even just a little. Using a small plate is something that works for some people. Another idea to consider is just being mindful about how much food goes into a portion. Perhaps reduce your porridge by a quarter and see if you’re still full by lunchtime. Or have 2 sausages instead of 3 for supper. If you’re cooking a meal for 2 and there’s always a bit left over, try splitting it into 3 equal portions.
- Eat when you’re hungry. It sounds obvious, but by paying attention to our body, we can moderate our food intake. If you’re not particularly hungry in the morning, then just eat a small breakfast, or no breakfast at all. Try and get into the habit of checking in with yourself on whether you’re still hungry when second helpings are being offered.
- Reduce the average density of calories on your plate. Foods that are high in fat or have added sugar have a high calorie density. Fibrous foods have a low calorie density. Filling at least half of your plate with vegetables will lower the calorie density of your meal whilst maintaining the same volume of food.
- Pre-load with low calorie density foods. Research shows that eating some foods with very low calorie density such as a vegetable soup or a green salad before your main meal improves weight reduction outcomes. This effect is likely due to the feeling of satiety that comes from eating the high fibre veggies reducing appetite for the main meal.
- Limit your consumption of sugary drinks. Sweetened beverages are ’empty calories’ in your energy-in equation. Unless you’re fueling or recovering from extreme cardio vascular exercise, there’s no benefit from taking in carbohydrates in this form. Be mindful about replacing them with ‘low cal’ substitutes as the long term health impacts of high levels of artificial sweetness are uncertain.
- Cut out you BLTs! Bites, licks and tastes and other snacks throughout the day can add up to a whole bunch of calories. If you struggle to pass the kitchen without putting your nose in the fridge for something to nibble, then this may be the habit you need to change. Eating part of the kids’ tea, having a biscuit just because they’re there, or having just a little salty snack are all little BLTs that can be eliminated without affecting your satiety. The simplest way to reduce temptation is to remove it. Don’t buy sweets, biscuits and crisps!
- Focus on your hydration. Maintaining good levels of hydration brings many health benefits, and for maintaining a calorie deficit it can be a great weapon in your armoury. Sometimes we eat when really we’re just thirsty, so having a glass of water routinely throughout the day can help to keep your appetite down in between meals, and reduce your hunger at meal times too.
- Eat wholefoods over (ultra-)processed foods. This is probably the most powerful change that you can make. Processed foods are, in many cases, literally engineered to encourage you to eat more than you need to. Their blend of high calorie density, high palatability and low satiation play havoc with the ‘wiring’ that controls our eating habits. Eating a packet of biscuits is easy to do, but unfortunately you’ll probably still feel hungry at dinner time. Eating food made from unprocessed ingredient will fill you up more, probably be more nutritious, and won’t scramble the messages your brain receives about hunger.
- Cut down on the booze. A pint of beer or a large glass of wine is approaching 250 calories. Plus, you’ll also find it easier to resist the salty snacks, and will be less likely to eat a highly calorific breakfast to recover if you overindulged the night before.
* You might wonder where the calories you consume during exercise comes into the equation. They do have an impact, but it likely much lower that what you might expect, and it can decrease over time as your metabolism adapts to higher activity levels. Regular exercise will help with weight loss, but you can’t out-run your fork. I recommend you treat any additional activity as a ‘buffer’ or ‘bonus’ to your plan to reduce calories consumption. There is strong evidence that regular exercise is a very powerful influence on weight maintenance, so getting into the exercise habit during a period of weight loss is good preparation for this next crucial phase.