We live in a world where a cup of coffee—albeit a fancy one—can set you back 450 calories. It's also a world where football-size burritos that pack 1,000 calories are the norm, and even home-cooked meals can balloon out of control. Is it even possible to lose weight in this modern society? Yes. Here are six secrets to help you slim down.
Secret 1: Plan Ahead
Featured Recipe: Chicken Burrito Bowls with Sweet Potato Rice
"What's for dinner?"
This question should be a joyful one, not one that strikes fear in your heart. Plan dinners that you look forward to cooking and eating. Once you've decided what you want for dinner, plot out the rest of your day's meals around it, including snacks. A menu plan for the whole day really does help you lose weight.
Perhaps meal plans are successful because they force you to keep healthier foods on hand. It could also be that seeing all the food you'll be able to eat before the end of the day reassures your brain and helps you stave off cravings.
Planning ahead also helps you keep your eating on schedule: if you already know what you're having for lunch, you're less likely to let six or seven hours pass without having something to eat—a situation that usually results in eating too much when you finally do sit down to a meal.
Try These: Healthy 400-Calorie Dinners
Learn More: How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
Secret 2: Avoid "Portion Distortion"
Featured Recipe: Vegan Potato Soup
When you're trying to lose weight, one of the best skills you can learn is accurately sizing up portions. Studies show that almost everyone—heavy people and thin ones, nutrition experts and normal folks—underestimates how much they're eating. In fact, research shows that people tend to underestimate calorie intake by 20 to 40 percent.
Try these three easy tips to measure your portions without having to break out your measuring cups:
Three ounces of meat or protein is about the size of a deck of cards. A medium potato is the size of a computer mouse. A quarter cup is the size of a golf ball.
Use your hand
For small-framed women, 1 teaspoon is about the size of the tip of your thumb, 1 tablespoon is the size of your thumb and 1 cup is the size of your fist.
When you're at home, you're using the same bowls and utensils over and over again. Find out how much they hold. Measure out the amount of soup that your ladle holds. If it's 3/4 cup, you'll know forever that two scoops equal a satisfying 1 1/2-cup serving.
On the flip-side, you can measure out a given portion of a particular favorite food and serve it in the dish you'll almost always use when you eat that food. Once you know that one serving of cereal reaches only halfway up your bowl, you'll know to stop there.
Tip: Cooking individual-size portions like Chive & Goat Cheese Souffle, which is made in a 10-ounce ramekin, will help you control calories without even thinking about it.
Read More: 10 Simple Ways to Control Portion Sizes
Secret 3: Enjoy a Balanced Diet
Featured Recipe: Thai Yellow Chicken Thigh Curry
Of course, there's more to good nutrition than counting calories. When you're cutting down portions, you're reducing your intake of helpful nutrients, too, so it's even more important to make healthful choices.
Here are the five foods you should be eating as part of a balanced diet every day:
1. Whole Grains
Whole grains provide fiber, trace minerals and antioxidants and slow-release carbohydrates that keep your body and brain fueled.
Try These: Healthy Grain Recipes
2. Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals—compounds that fight disease-causing free radicals and amp up enzymes that clear toxins. Choose a rainbow of colors to get the widest variety of nutrients.
3. Lean Proteins
Featured Recipe: Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
Some studies show that, gram for gram, protein may keep you feeling full longer than carbohydrates or fats do. Good sources of protein include: seafood, poultry, lean meat and tofu.
4. Low-Fat Dairy
Low-fat milk and yogurt provide a satisfying combination of carbohydrates and protein. They're also good sources of calcium, which dieters often fall short on. Cheeses contain calcium, too, but it packs in calories. Choose cheese with bold tastes so you don't need a lot to get great flavor.
5. Healthy Fats
If you fear the fat, it's time to stop. The 80s fat-phobic era has come and gone, and today, we know that healthy sources of fat—like the kinds in fish, nuts and avocados—are good for your overall health plus your weight-loss goals.
The key here, however, is to focus on the good kind and avoid the bad. Focus on boosting your intake of monounsaturated fats (in nuts, avocados and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (in canola oil, plant oils and fish).