An Easy Trick to Cut Calories Without Even Trying

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Calories matter in weight loss. Current diets focus on protein, older diets focused on carbs, and who knows what future diets will focus on. But at the end of the day, calories do matter in weight loss.

Although I didn’t count calories very often when I was losing weight, I had a very good sense of how many calories were in a serving of foods because I was an avid label reader and measured my portions until I knew exactly how much food was in a serving. I call this calorie awareness.

For example, I knew that a serving of Ritz crackers was five crackers and had 80 calories, a serving of ice cream was 1/2 cup and had about 120 calories, and a serving of grapes was 1 cup and had about 100 calories.

The easy trick I used to cut calories was to cut portion sizes.

big plate food

For example, this plate of pasta probably has 500 or 600 calories between the sauce, the noodles, and the fake cheese sprinkled on top. If you cut the portion in half, you’ve cut the calories in half.

This trick comes in very handy if you are having a meal like the one pictured above. High calorie foods can blow your diet faster than a Mississippi minute because they are so incredibly calorie dense.

Whenever I eat at a restaurant and order a standard entree, the first thing I do when the food comes is divide the high calorie foods in half. I leave the steamed vegetables and salad alone, but the entree, the bread, and any other higher calorie foods get chopped in half first thing. (And even then, I may not eat all of it.)

Automatic calorie control — provided I don’t go back and eat the rest.

When I’m at home, I simply serve myself the right portion from the beginning so I don’t have to make any calorie cuts. I know which of our family’s standard dishes are higher in calories than the others, and make sure to serve myself a smaller portion of those particular foods. For instance, when I make Asian stir fry, I have a tiny amount of rice and lots of vegetables. And if I make vegetarian lasagna, I have a lot of salad and a little bit of the main dish.

Using portion sizes to cut your calories is a sure-fire way of reducing how many calories you consume without feeling totally deprived. If you choose to eat an occasional dessert, using this trick to cut calories can help you enjoy that dessert or “off-limits” food without blowing your diet or feeling guilty.

The key for this technique is knowing what foods are calorie dense and that takes some research. Don’t just guess. Use the USDA Nutrient Data Labs search function, Sparkpeople, or MyFitnessPal to develop your own calorie awareness.

Over time, this will become second nature and is a technique that you can use whether you are losing weight or trying to maintain your weight. It’s part of the reason I have been able to maintain my weight for almost 16 years. Calorie awareness, portion control, and exercise. It works.

How are you at staying within your calorie budget? Do you have tricks that help you avoid overeating? Diane


  1. says

    I’m with you! I firmly believe that calories count, and I count calories (in a general way). You can make weight loss success into some mysterious and complicated formula when it doesn’t need to be. At the end of the day, I think it’s calories-in, calories-out. Calorie awareness in terms of portion size and the foods you choose to eat is the key to success. I have been using a smaller dinner plate in order to keep my portion size under control, even when I have salads for dinner. It’s so easy to pile on the craisins, nuts, cheese and meat, drown a salad in high-fat dressing and gain weight even with your supposedly virtuous salads. I make my own vinaigrette and keep plenty of veggies on hand to cut up for salads — radishes, celery, cabbage, etc. — so that I’m not so tempted by the high-calorie salad fixings.

  2. Allyson says

    Do you find yourself getting hungrier faster after dividing portions in half? This is what happens to me and then I end up consuming as many calories as I would have anyway without splitting it…I cannot seem to stand the feeling of my stomach growling. It makes me anxious and irritable. When I don’t feel hungry I am fine. I don’t worry about or think about food obsessively. Is there a trick (for lack of a better word) to being satisfied on small enough portions to actually accomplish losing weight through calorie control? Thanks! =)

  3. PaulaMP says

    I actually went out and bought one of those divided kid’s plates. I don’t feel like I’m being deprived cause there’s lots of stuff in all the little areas. I’ve lost 20 lbs just from that. I read that Sandra Bullock uses a cocktail fork instead of a regular one, but when I checked them out I found you couldn’t buy less than a full set, which seemed a waste LOL.

  4. says

    One of the easiest ways to cut calories is to cut out PASTA! That makes a huge difference. A serving is not very much so like you said, most people are probably eating several servings!
    Lisa recently posted…Home Spa DayMy Profile

    • says

      When I make pasta for my family I now usually make zoodles for myself. That is zucchini cut with a special implement so it is in long thin strips like spaghetti (you can also use it for carrots or whatever). Then I still have the home-made sauce and real cheese. I’m adding healthy vegetables to my plate and removing high calorie starch. But still eating the same as the rest of my family, more or less. I actually love zoodles – more flavour than pasta. Having said that, I don’t think any particular food is evil and I do have pasta sometimes but only a third as much as my husband piles on his plate!

    • says

      Yup, ditto. Cutting the carbs did cut my calories, though calories have never been the main determining factor of my size. They didn’t help things, though!

  5. says

    I’ve never tracked calories and probably couldn’t tell you how many calories are in a single thing! I do try to either share something at a restaurant or have it boxed up the minute I’m done – otherwise I sit and pick on it the rest of the time!!
    Kim recently posted…THINKMy Profile

  6. says

    I don’t know that its a trick, but one of the strategies I use is reporting my food to someone else. Helps keep me mindful of portion size, calories density, and the fact that I must practice integrity with food every day. When I don’t report, I slip slide around too much. Reporting works for me.

    • L says

      Two years ago at Christmas we put away our 11 inch dinner plates and began using 8 inch plates, instead. The new plates are vibrant colors and have a high glaze on them, so they are pretty, very easy to clean, and a big help with controlling how much food goes on each plate.

  7. says

    When I gained a lot of weight it was by eating too much, mainly healthy food. So, yes, portion size was the most important thing for me to get under control.

    I still count out nuts and fill up a little container with my “nut portion” for the day. I also use measuring cups and spoons to portion out different foods. It’s too easy to go overboard when I eyeball it…
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…New Gym, A New Workout Routine, and Weekend FunMy Profile

  8. says

    For me, my eyes and tummy just don’t seem to work well together when it comes to food. My servings are way too large or I’m using a lot of rationalizations. That just doesn’t bode well for me. I have to track everything (I use MyFitnessPal). Perhaps someday I’ll get to the point where I can confidently eyeball things but for now using that tool is working great.

  9. says

    That is an excellent piece of advice! Cutting down on portions is the first thing to do if you don’t know where to start, especially if you don’t think you have the time and/or the money to change your habits.

    I now make myself HALF a sandwich for lunch. I have cut in half my pasta, rice, bread and potato portions. Etc.

  10. JP says

    Here are some things that have worked for me:
    – Eating vegetables first, proteins second, starches last, while drinking water during my meal.
    – Eating off smaller plates and bowls. I have some Corelle bowls from Walmart that are perfect for one cup of oatmeal or soup.
    – Checking that part of the recipe that says “serves” — I cook for only two, so I have to do some simple division, but it saves me money and eliminates the extra food I’d eat to avoid letting go to waste. Or I will pack away a serving for lunch the next day before serving my dinner.
    – At restaurants, especially when out on business lunches, I will look for smaller portions, usually on the a la carte menu. A cup of soup and a green side salad, for example. Or I ask if I can substitute a vegetable for a side of potatoes/fries.
    – Try a few bites of food before adding condiments. Sometimes I find I don’t need any or just a little bit

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