If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. That’s simple physics, and there’s no way around it.
Exercise usually burns somewhere between one hundred and five hundred calories per hour, depending on how intense it is and how much of your body it uses. On the other hand, you can easily cut back your intake by a thousand calories a day with a few small changes to your diet. That’s why weight loss is commonly said to be 70% diet and 30% exercise.
There are many ways to eat less without going hungry, and they all fall into two categories: reducing your appetite, and making smarter food choices.
Here’s how to do both: ten ways to control your appetite, make smarter food choices, and eat fewer calories, so that you can lose weight while eating food you love.
1. Count calories for one month
In order to control your eating, you need to have some awareness of how many calories you’re consuming, and that means counting them.
Some people think you should count calories for the rest of your life. I think that’s too burdensome, and also unnecessary if you’re also making healthy choices about what kind of food to eat. But you need to be able to eat least get a rough estimate of how many calories you eat every day.
The way you accomplish that is by counting calories for one month. After a month, you’ll be pretty good at eyeballing calories, and can get by with estimating them, in conjunction with some of the other tips on this list.
2. Follow the crowding out principle
Some people will tell you that a calorie is a calorie. In terms of energy content, that’s correct. In terms of food’s ability to make you feel full, nothing could be further from the truth.
Some foods are dramatically more filling than others- 100 calories of broccoli will make you feel about as full as three hundred to five hundred calories of bread, for instance.
Use the SELF Nutrition Database to familiarize yourself with the nutritional content and “fullness factor” of all of the foods you habitually consume. You’ll likely find that they range from great to terrible- that’s awesome, because it means you can lose weight just by eating more of some of the foods you already eat.
Once you’ve educated yourself, you can lose weight eating food you love by following the crowding out principle- eat more of your favorite high-satiety foods, like vegetables, lean meat, and some fruit. By filling up on highly filling foods, you can crowd out the junk food, cutting down on your calorie intake without needing to cut anything out entirely.
3. Drink water before meals
Since food contains water, your brain tends to produce hunger signals as a way to get you to drink more water. Dehydration thus not only causes tiredness and brain fog, it can also lead you to overeat.
The solution is as simple as can be: drink a tall glass of water about 10-20 minutes before each meal.
4. Use vinegar and spices
Looking to add some flavor to your food and noncaloric drinks? Forget the sugar; there are plenty of spices and flavors that will make your food both tastier and healthier.
Vinegar, which has been shown to lower the glycemic index (which means you metabolize the food more slowly), adds acidic flavor to salad dressings, sauces and roasted veggies without a lot of calories.
For sweet-smelling warmth, add cinnamon to everything from coffee and smoothies to chili. Like vinegar, cinnamon slows the rate at which food transits from your stomach to your intestine — this keeps you full longer, and helps prevent the post-meal slump.
5. Use exercise to suppress appetite
A lot of people will tell you that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight, because your appetite simply increases to compensate for the calories burned during exercise. I used to think that myself, but it turns out the research says something different.
Multiple studies have shown that light to moderate exercise actually suppresses appetite. In these experiments, subjects who exercised for 30-60 minutes a day consumed 20-40% fewer calories than people who were sedentary. Appetite only started to increase when the exercise workload become heavy- as in athletes or manual laborers.
That means the benefits of exercise are actually greater than you would think- a 45-minute workout that burns 400 calories might also reduce your intake by a further 400 calories.
6. If you don’t like to cook, prepare food in bulk
If you love cooking, great! Cook healthy food every day.
If you don’t cook every day and either don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have much time for it, cook just twice a week. Each time, cook 4-8 servings of food and save the leftovers in tupperware containers in your fridge.
For these bulk prep sessions, use recipes that are extremely low in calories and high in protein, vitamins and minerals- like meat and vegetable stir fries, or chicken salads. Just two 20-minute cook sessions a week can give you enough food to cover half your meals for the week.
7. Sleep 7-9 hours a night
If you’re like most people, your appetite is higher on days when you didn’t sleep well the night before. The reason this happens is because sleep deprivation causes your body to produce endocannabinoids– yes, it’s just like getting the marijuana munchies, except it isn’t remotely fun.
Even if your appetite doesn’t increase, your willpower and decision-making abilities are worse when you’re sleep-deprived, leading you to make bad food choices. And of course, sleep gives you more energy so you can exercise more.
There’s no way around it: humans need 7-9 hours of sleep a night for optimal health. I recommend giving yourself a bit of extra time to account for time spent falling asleep or waking up during the night; always go to bed in time to get at least 8 hours of sleep that night.
8. Buy groceries when you’re full
People are biased towards believing they’ll feel the same way in the future that they do now. If they’re hungry now, they’ll anticipate being hungrier in the future. If they’re sad now, they’ll predict that the rest of their life will suck. If they’re horny now, they’ll overestimate how much sex they’ll have in the future.
This has clear implications for grocery shopping: if you’re hungry when you shop, you’ll buy more food, and more calorically dense food. If you’re full, you’ll be thinking more rationally, and will also err on the side of buying less rather than more.
The worst time to buy groceries is when you’re hungry. The best time is right after you’ve eaten, when you don’t even want to think about food.
9. Hack your sense of smell
This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever tried- well, the weirdest thing that actually works, anyway. It was discovered by the late Dr. Seth Roberts, and has been used successfully by thousands of readers and dozens of other bloggers. It comes in two variations:
First, you can eat a small (100-200 calorie) near-flavorless snack between meals. Examples include a shot of olive oil, a glass of water with 100 calories of sugar in it, or my favorite, a handful of unsalted almonds. Whatever you choose, you need to avoid consuming anything else other than water for at least one hour before and after.
Both versions of this hack work by reducing your brain’s production of ghrelin, a hunger-promoting hormone that your brain produces in response to the smell of food. Because of ghrelin, eating flavourful food builds your appetite, while eating bland food suppresses it. Surprisingly, the effect is long-lasting enough to provide a net benefit even when you’re adding extra food in the form of a between-meal snack, but I would still combine this with calorie-counting if you go with the flavorless snack option.
10. Use the front door snack technique
Knowing that your willpower is reduced when you’re hungry, and there’s more tempting junk food outside the home than in it, you should have some healthy food before leaving home in order to take the edge off your hunger. Keep a healthy snack, such as jerky, almonds or kale chips, right next to your front door, and eat some before you leave home. This will cause healthy food to “crowd out” unhealthy food in your diet, and make it much easier to pass on the junk food.
Cut the calories, lose the fat
Fat loss is ultimately just a matter of eating fewer calories than you burn. So yes, you have to eat less- but the good news is that you can follow whichever diet works for you. Low-fat, ketogenic, vegan, slow-carb- as long as you’re eating fewer calories, you have broad freedom to choose foods you enjoy.
If you want to make sure you absolutely nail your diet this year, sign up for my weight loss coaching program. Make a commitment to yourself to cultivate discipline, get healthy, and build the body you want.