Calories are a measure of the energy that comes from food once it’s inside the body. Losing, gaining, or staying at the same weight depends on how many calories you eat and how many calories your body uses over time.
If you eat more calories than you use, you’ll gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you use, you’ll lose weight. But staying at a healthy weight is more than just calories in and calories out. It’s about making healthy food choices. Here are some tips for making your calories count.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
When it comes to weight management, 100 calories of cake are not the same as 100 calories of protein. Try to limit your intake of processed foods. A processed food is any food that has been changed from its original, raw form. Processed foods often have high amounts of added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats. Use the Nutrition Facts label to check the sugar, salt, and fat content of foods before you buy.
Try to eat more lean protein, healthy fats, and unprocessed, unrefined carbohydrates such as vegetables, beans, and fruit. Less processed whole grains are better, like brown rice rather than white and stone-ground whole wheat, quinoa, or oats instead of white bread. Limit highly processed carbohydrates like breads, cereals, and pastas and get more vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Choose fats that come from plant sources like nuts, olive oil, and avocado, and lean proteins such as fish and chicken.
Mix It Up
Research shows that people get full from the amount of food they eat, not the number of calories they take in. Eating fewer calories doesn't have to mean eating less food. To cut calories without eating less and feeling hungry, you can replace some higher calorie foods with foods that are lower in calories and fill you up. In general, these foods contain a lot of water and are high in fiber, like vegetables and fruit. The latest dietary guidelines for adults can help you have variety in your food plan. Creating smart eating patterns can help you maintain health and reduce risk of disease.
Think About Your Drink
Most people try to reduce their calories by focusing on food. Another way to cut calories may be to change what you drink. You could be taking in quite a few calories from the beverages you have each day. Making better drink choices can help you reduce your calorie intake. If you replaced a daily 12-ounce can of soda with water, you could save 52,560 calories per year.
Pay Attention to Portions
Larger portions can make it easy to eat or drink too many calories. Larger helpings also can lead you to take in more saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. You can learn how to manage portion size whether you’re at home or on the go.
Physical activity can increase the number of calories your body uses for energy or burns off. Burning calories through physical activity and reducing the number of calories you eat can help with weight loss. Plus, exercise boosts endorphins, sometimes called the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals. Endorphins help lessen pain and produce positive feelings. Exercise has many benefits but can make it hard to keep your calorie intake low. After a workout, you might feel hungry. Try having a healthy snack—such as a banana, oatmeal, or handful of carrots—before exercising to keep you fueled during exercise and keep you from overeating after.
Watch the Clock
Research shows that people who snack after 8:00 p.m. have higher body mass indexes (BMI) than people who don’t eat at night, even if they don’t eat significantly more total daily calories. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Having a large meal close to bedtime also can make it difficult to go into a deep sleep because your stomach is still working to digest your food.
More Than Calories
Other things in your life besides calories can affect weight management. If you’re not getting enough sleep or if you’re stressed a lot, it might be harder to stay at a healthy weight. When you’re stressed or not getting enough sleep, it can be harder to be physically active and make smart food choices. Also, your body responds to sleepless nights and increased stress by increasing cortisol levels, which are hormones that can slow metabolism.