Cutting 500 calories a day is an easy way to get started with your weight loss journey, and these tips make it even easier
"Calorie bargaining is all about making swaps and developing habits that are sustainable for the long-term rather than just depriving yourself," says Charles Platkin, PhD, MPH, distinguished lecturer at Hunter College and City University of New York School of Public Health. "A simple swap that cuts 500 calories has a multiplier effect: If it's something you eat three or four times a week, you cut at least 1,500 calories."
To help guide you, we've put together 20 simple calorie-cutting tips to get you to your weight loss goal.
1. Have your sandwich on a salad.
Two big slices of bread with mayo can tally up to 550 calories. (Here are 8 quick and healthy lunch recipes that aren't sandwiches.)
2. Skip the happy hour margarita.
Chains that serve margaritas in 18-ounce glasses are tacking on around 800 calories—more than a meal's worth. (Try this festive kale margaritainstead.)
3. Opt for black.
A grande latte with no added sugar has 220 calories, while a cup of black coffee has 2. (Brew your own coffee at home with Prevention's Don't Burn Out Roast Organic Coffee Beans.) If you typically drink two cups with some sweetener, you're saving at least 500 calories when you switch to black, says Platkin.
4. While you're at it, try a cold brew iced coffee.
You'll save about 405 calories over a Starbucks Grande Mocha Frappuccino. (Save cash by making your own cold brew.)
5. Chew slower.
Chewing each bite twice as much as you normally do allows you to feel fuller on less food. Research suggests you can reduce what you eat at each meal by 100 to 120 calories—eliminating nearly 400 calories—and you can be satisfied on smaller snacks this way, as well.
6. Quench your thirst with water and a lemon squeeze instead of soda.
You'll save nearly 200 calories for every cola you skip; swap out three drinks a day and you'll easily clear 500 calories.
A 2014 study found that people who cooked dinner at home consumed about 140 fewer calories than people who typically ordered in, dined out, or heated up pre-made meals. Make your own breakfast and lunch and you'll be nearing that 500-calorie deficit.
8. Don't sit still.
A Mayo Clinic study found that people who fidgeted throughout the day burned 350 more calories than their sedentary counterparts did. Head out for a stroll for some window shopping during your lunch hour to burn an additional 150 calories.
9. Ask your waiter to box up half your meal before it gets to the table.
You'll save about 750 calories on average, according to a new study. Researchers found that a typical meal at an American, Italian, or Chinese restaurant contains nearly 1,500 calories—far more than anyone needs at one meal.
10. Swap prime rib for sirloin.
You'll cut about 700 calories. A 16-ounce prime rib at a restaurant has about 1,400 calories. A sirloin steak, on the other hand, is only 700. For even bigger savings, chose filet mignon—typically 9 ounces and just 450 calories.
11. Put your fork down between bites.
Slowing your pace at meals will allow you to eat up to 300 fewer calories a meal, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Over a day, your savings will be well over 500 calories.
12. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
You'll cut at least 300 calories. Research shows that sleep deprivation not only slows our metabolic rate, but also increases our appetite for sweets. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who slept 4 hours per night consumed 300 more calories than people who slept a normal amount. Well-rested folks are also much more likely to exercise, and even a short workout can burn 200 calories.
13. Work out before breakfast—and don't eat after 7 p.m.
The combination will save about 520 calories. A recent Japanese studyfound that when you exercise before breakfast, you metabolize about 280 more calories throughout the day, compared with doing the same workout in the evening. And a study in the British Journal of Nutritionreveals that eliminating nighttime snacks helped people consume 240 fewer calories daily.
14. Don't dip your bread in olive oil.
Just a few slices will quickly add up to more than 500 calories—and it won't put much of a dent in your hunger. Yes, olive oil is a healthy option, but as a condiment, it mostly adds calories. Instead, avoid the bread plate altogether.
15. Eat in front of a mirror.
A study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that when people watched themselves eat in a mirror, they chose healthier options and ate about 400 fewer calories on average. Bonus: Having a male meal partner led women to eat less, saving 113 calories, according to research published in Appetite.
16. Mix up your walks.
A study in Biology Letters found that adding short, fast bursts to your walks will burn up to 20% more calories—even over speed walking. That means an hour-long walk could easily burn an extra 90 to 120 calories. Exposing yourself to cold air also burns extra calories by making the body more sensitive to the hunger hormone leptin. Study participants who spent 3 hours of the day exposed to cold burned 250 extra calories.
17. Don't touch the chips and salsa.
Those deep-fried salty chips you get at your favorite Mexican restaurant offer little nutritional benefit, and a basket of them packs a 645-calorie punch. The balance of salt and satisfying crunch also makes it nearly impossible to stop noshing. Just say no. (Satisfy your chip cravings with these 5 healthy veggie chips.)
18. Eat mushrooms instead of meat.
In a Johns Hopkins study, people who substituted mushrooms for red meat ate 444 fewer calories, enjoyed their meal just as much, and felt just as full. The only thing missing? The calories.
19. Put away your phone during lunch.
People who looked at their phone during lunch, whether to peruse social media or to lose themselves in Candy Crush, tended not to remember their meal well, feel less full, and snack more in the afternoon—and they ate about 200 more calories a day, finds a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Taking some time to clear your mind during the day will also save calories: Stress ramps up your fat-storing hormones and often leads to bad food choices. In a study of women over 50, those who felt stressed during the previous 24 hours took in 104 more calories than relaxed women did. (Beat stress fat with these 7 tips.)
20. Chew gum and drink even more water.
When volunteers in a University of Rhode Island study chewed sugar-free gum for an hour in the morning, they ate 67 fewer calories at lunch. Do the same thing in the afternoon and you'll be more than doubling your savings at dinner. Plus, people who drank an additional one to three glasses of water a day cut their food intake by 205 calories, according to a new study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
This story originally appeared on Prevention.