Calories seem to add up so quickly, so why does subtracting them feel so hard?
Finding simple solutions or swaps to cut calories without having to overhaul your diet can be a game changer when your goal is weight loss.
This is especially true if your primary focus is diet and not so much on exercise.
Little changes make a big difference, and if you're consistent, you’d be surprised what small changes you can make daily to reduce your calorie intake without having to overhaul your diet or feel deprived.
How many calories do I need to cut to lose weight?
Simply put, we know that a surplus of calories results in weight gain, and a deficit of calories results in weight loss. (7, 8).
A general rule of thumb is a 200-500 calorie deficit per day will help you achieve sustainable, long-term weight loss.
Sticking to the lower end of that deficit will likely be easier and leave your energy levels higher.
You’ve probably heard “calories in vs. calories out” when it comes to weight loss and tracking calories.
Calories fuel your body and give you the energy to work, exercise, and play. Cutting too many calories and trying to lose weight fast is not going to give you long-term success and can actually lead to gaining more weight in the long run.
You don’t want to go overboard with cutting calories because it is not sustainable and can lead to yo-yo dieting.
While this all sounds simple, healthy weight loss takes time and diligence. It can be helpful to track your food to get a better understanding of what your baseline intake and calorie needs are to be successful.
Ready to see where you're at with your nutrition and start tracking? Download a calorie tracking app now.
How do I cut calories without feeling hungry?
Feeling ravenous or too hungry can often mean you're trying to cut too many calories. There are a few key areas you want to keep in mind.
The first focus point is making sure you’re achieving a small but consistent calorie deficit.
The next priority is ensuring that you eat macro-balanced meals and you're meeting your micronutrient needs.
The final piece is timing and making sure you're not going too long between meals or snacks.
All of these together will help keep your metabolism running efficiently and your body functioning optimally without leaving your tank empty, deprived, and craving more.
Here are 6 simple ways to cut calories without noticing:
These are practical strategies to cut calories that you can implement within your current diet now.
1. Fill up on greens
If you're having a carb-focused meal, instead of using all grains as the base of your meal, swap out some of your rice or pasta (or other carbs) and do a 50/50 or 75/25 split with greens.
By adding greens to your meal instead of just carbs, you’re getting the benefits of a serving of healthy carbs but more volume, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, simultaneously cutting calories by adding extra greens.
Low-calorie greens like spinach, kale, and collards are great additions to add to any grain dish.
Try this pasta recipe that adds 4 cups of spinach: High Protein Pesto Pasta
If you're not always feeling like greens, adding any low-calorie vegetable (zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, etc) will help add more nutrients and fiber to the meal!
2. Cook without oil (or less)
Excess oil when cooking is an easy way to unintentionally add 200-300+ calories to your meal (without really adding extra flavor or satisfaction).
While some oils (olive, avocado, canola, etc.) contain healthy poly/mono-unsaturated fats, which offer a multitude of health benefits, they are extremely calorically dense.
Fat is the most calorically dense nutrient, providing 9 calories/g.
You will still get the health benefits if you use these oils in smaller quantities and include a variety of other healthy fats in your diet.
1 tbsp of olive oil is 120 calories. Try measuring that out instead of just pouring to see what that looks like. You’ll likely notice that it's quite a bit less than when you just eyeball it.
3. Rethink your drink
When it comes to calories, you often focus on what you eat, but what you drink can also play a role.
Hydration is important, but sweetened beverages can add additional calories to your diet while not providing much in the way of nutrition or satiety.
In addition, drinking sweetened beverages has been associated with an increased risk for adverse health conditions, including weight gain, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and tooth decay (2, 3, 4).
Instead, opt for unsweetened sparkling water or citrus or herb-infused water if you want to drink something with flavor.
The consumption of sweetened beverages is so prevalent that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) started the Rethink Your Drink campaign.
The campaign showcases the amount of added sugar in things like soda, coffee drinks, and even smoothies.
The goal is to bring awareness and help you eliminate or reduce your consumption of calorie-containing, sugar-sweetened beverages in the pursuit of better health.
4. Up your protein intake
Prioritizing protein can promote satiety, resulting in fewer cravings and mindless eating—helping you eat fewer calories.
One study found that eating 30% of your calories from protein helped people eat between 400-500 fewer calories per day (6).
Additionally, adding more protein to your diet can promote favorable body composition changes if you are exercising regularly by supporting the growth of lean body mass.
Need easy ways to up your protein intake? Check out these 20 high-protein snack ideas:
5. Switch up your sauce
Sauces can be a great way to add flavor to a meal but can often be a source of added sugar and hidden calories.
Salsa and hot sauces are generally low-calorie but packed with flavor. Herbs and spices are another great way to add flavor without adding calories.
Here are some healthy sauce options you can batch prep to have on hand to add flavor to any meal:
GF Reishi Teriyaki Sauce
Carolina BBQ Sauce
6. Opt for low-fat
Choosing low-fat dairy can be an excellent way to get the benefits of dairy, such as calcium and protein while eating fewer calories.
Fat has 9 calories per gram, so reducing the fat in your dairy can cut calories significantly and support weight loss goals.
When choosing dairy, grass-fed and organic has its benefits as the cows haven’t been given hormones or antibiotics, and the milk has been shown to have higher amounts of heart-healthy omega-3s (1).
Need more help losing weight? Figure out your customized macros, get weight loss approved food lists, meal planning templates, and dietitian advice on weight loss: