|Calories are the basic unit of energy within
food. When you eat, your body converts calories into energy.
Your body uses what it can and stores the rest in the form of
fat. You should eat a low-calorie diet if you want to
A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from
a brownie or a serving of raw broccoli. The difference between
them is the number of calories, nutrients, fat, and other
ingredients in a typical serving.
Some diets involve calorie counting --
figuring out the number of calories in each food item you eat,
then adding up the total at the end of the day. This method
- How quickly calories add up
- Where most of your calories come from
- What time of day you tend to eat the
This can be valuable information, particularly
when you first start your weight loss program. The method allows
you to make adjustments to your food consumption on a particular
day or over time.
Counting calories, however, quickly becomes
tedious, and it does not necessarily train you to eat a healthy
balance of foods. It is easy to become obsessed with the numbers
and forget that the point is to eat healthily and vary your
Eat less, or eat healthy?
Obviously, you can reduce calories simply by
eating less. For example, if you usually eat french fries with
lunch, order a smaller portion or throw some of them out.
Although in theory this method should help you lose weight, it
is not the healthiest or most successful.
First of all, you are not eating a balanced,
nutritious diet, nor are you lowering your risk for chronic
conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, people
who simply try to eat less, rather than changing food types,
tend to get hungrier faster and snack more in between meals.
Instead, replace unhealthy and fattening foods
with healthier alternatives -- eat the same amount of food as
before but eat lower-calorie foods with a healthier balance
of nutrients. Using the example above, you would replace the
french fries with a baked potato, carrots, an apple, or another
healthier and lower-calorie food. Again, you are eating fewer
calories, but you are also filling your stomach and adding
variety to your diet.
Hints for eating nutritious
- Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over
canned or processed foods. Food often loses its natural
vitamins and minerals during processing. Fresh food is also
more flavorful, so you will feel more satisfied.
- Lower your fat intake by eating a
plant-based diet. Animal products tend to be higher in
saturated fat (and therefore calories) than most plant
- Choose products (like breads and pasta)
with whole grains over those with white flour. These have
more fiber, are more likely to fill you up, and are more
nutritious. The fiber may even help lower your cholesterol.
- Allow yourself an occasional treat, so
you don't feel deprived. It can be easier to change your
habits if you know you can still have your favorite dessert
or snack once in awhile.
- Eat fish instead of meat. Fish is a
healthy, lean protein. Also, it contains a type of fat
called "omega-3," which may help protect the heart.
Some foods are especially bad for weight loss.
Foods that contain a high number of calories without providing
important nutrients are referred to as "empty calories." Sugary
snacks and soda, for example, can dramatically increase the
number of calories you consume without providing any nutritional
value. They should be consumed only in small quantities.
One step at a time
Changing eating patterns can be extremely
difficult. Food plays so many roles in our lives, and we've
formed our eating habits over many years. It may be easier to
make one food substitution at a time -- for example, switch from
whole milk to skim milk, then eliminate butter from your diet.
Once again, gradual progress is the key to successful
weight loss and maintenance.
Since most Americans eat too much fat and
sugar (both of which contribute to weight gain), replacing these
with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables should lower your
intake of calories and provide rich sources of vitamins and
minerals at the same time. Also, protein should come from
low-fat sources like fish and chicken.