person on scale
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Where Do You Start?

You probably know you need to eat fewer calories to lose weight. But it can be hard to know how to make it happen every day. Your doctor or dietitian can help build a plan with the right mix of exercise and diet changes. For something simpler, online tools from sources like the USDA or National Institutes of Health give you a meal plan based on your activity level and weight loss goals.

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mother and daughter grocery shopping
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Replace Meat With Vegetables

The reason is simple: Veggies have fewer calories, but since they have lots of fiber and water, they can still fill you up. That, along with lots of nutrients, helps you feel satisfied even though you’re eating fewer calories.

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grilled vegetables
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Fire Up the Grill

When you sauté meat or vegetables on a stovetop, they soak up any butter or oil they’re cooked in, which adds more calories. Grill them instead – that makes extra fat drip away from your food down into the burning coals. No outdoor grill? You can get the same effect if you broil or roast food in the oven with a slotted pan to catch the drippings.

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man poaching an egg
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Poach It

This technique means you simmer food in a liquid -- anything from water to wine to flavored broth. It’s a good way to keep extra fat off your eggs, but it’s also great for veggies, fish, chicken, and even fruit. And it’s simple to do: Just drop it in and watch it bubble until it’s done.

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spicy mustard
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Hold the Mayo

A single tablespoon has around 100 calories. And are you really stopping at just one? A lot of creamy sauces, spreads, and salad dressings can quickly add on calories. The best way to keep track of them is to check the label. Low-fat or light versions of mayo might have fewer calories, or try an option like spicy mustard: 1 tablespoon = 15 calories.

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mature woman looking at label
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Look for Healthier Swaps

For example, buy skim milk instead of whole and low-fat yogurt rather than sour cream. Sorbet might scratch your ice cream itch with fewer calories. Keep in mind that while “low-fat” and “low-calorie” sometimes go hand in hand, they are not the same. Look at the label, and don’t forget to check the serving size when you compare the numbers.

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cheese alternatives
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Do You Want Cheese on That?

Say no and you could spare yourself around 100 calories. You can add flavor and texture to your meals with lettuce, tomato, peppers, and even mustard. Save the cheese for a treat by itself, or if you must have it, look for a low-fat version.

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Don’t Drink Your Calories

Coffee and tea are great, low-cal drink choices on their own. But add a bit of cream and 2 teaspoons of sugar and you’re up to about 60 calories per cup. At 3 cups a day, that’s more than some kinds of soda. And that heavenly 16-ounce Frappuccino that’s calling your name? It could have 400 calories or more.

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hummus and vegetables
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Snack Lighter

You’ll save calories and add fiber and protein if you scoop up healthy spreads like hummus with celery, carrots, or sliced peppers instead of crackers or pita. Replace potato chips or cheese puffs with a lighter choice like air-popped popcorn. Pro tip: Put one serving of your snack into a bowl or on a plate. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re munching when you eat directly out of the bag or box.

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potato chips
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Don’t ‘Supersize’

That “family size” bag of chips may seem like a better deal, but it makes it harder to control how much you eat. Unless you plan to divide it into single portions yourself, it’s better to get smaller bags that hold 1 serving each. That way, even if you can’t resist the snack, you’ll know how many calories you’ve eaten and can work them into a healthy, balanced diet.

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woman drinking water
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Drink Water

Especially in place of soda and juices, which are loaded with calories and sugar. And diet soda isn’t much better. Some studies show you crave more sweets when you drink it, and you may gain more weight, too.

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egg dish
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Eat Breakfast

Skipping your morning meal may seem like an easy way to cut calories from your day. But it could make you more likely to overeat unhealthy food later and gain weight over time. The type of breakfast you eat matters, though: Eggs are great because they’re high in protein and satisfy hunger well. Compared to “simple carbs” made from refined flour, like doughnuts or bagels, they help you eat less throughout the day. 

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woman eating a sandwich
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Eat Slowly

You’ll feel fuller, and you might even eat fewer calories. It can help to focus on what you are doing. Take small bites and chew well. Think about where the food comes from and what it took to make the meal. Ask yourself if you feel full yet.

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woman using a calorie tracker app
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Plan Your Meals

It’s easier to drive past the greasy burger joint when you know there’s a healthy meal at home. Choose low-cal recipes that are easy to prepare. Save time on hectic days and make as many of your meals in advance as you can. Phone and computer apps could help you plan it all out to the last calorie.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/01/2020 Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on June 01, 2020


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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “5 Whole Grains to Keep Your Family Healthy,” “5 Tips to Curb Your Late-Night Snacking.”

American Council on Exercise: “Don’t Skip Breakfast to Cut Calories.”

BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care: “The effect of slow spaced eating on hunger and satiety in overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

British Heart Foundation: “It's a myth that eggs are bad for your heart.”

CDC: “How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight.”

Harvard School of Public Health: “Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy,” “Healthy Beverage Guidelines,” “Sugary Drinks,” “Artificial Sweeteners.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Mindful eating.”

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity: “Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults.”

Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Slower eating speed lowers energy intake in normal-weight but not overweight/obese subjects.”

Mayo Clinic: “Healthy-Cooking Techniques: Boost Flavor and Cut Calories.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Just Enough for You: About Food Portions,” “Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program,” “Body Weight Planner.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Low-Calorie, Lower Fat Alternative Foods.”

NIH News In Health: “Online Weight Management Gets Personal.”


Virginia Family Nutrition Program: “Half and Half vs. Non-dairy Creamer- What’s the best for coffee?”

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on June 01, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.