To lose weight, most people need to reduce the number of calories they get from food and beverages (energy IN) and increase their physical activity (energy OUT).
For a weight loss of 1–2 pounds per week, daily intake should be reduced by 500 to 1,000 calories. In general:
- Eating plans that contain 1,000–1,200 calories each day will help most women lose weight safely.
- Eating plans that contain 1,200–1,600 calories each day are suitable for men and also may be appropriate for women who weigh 165 pounds or more or who exercise regularly.
If you eat 1,600 calories a day but do not lose weight, then you may want to cut back to 1,200 calories. If you are hungry on either diet, then you may want to boost your calories by 100 to 200 per day. Very low calorie diets of fewer than 800 calories per day should not be used unless you are being monitored by your doctor.
Set yourself up for success
To set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps rather than one big drastic change. If you approach the changes gradually and with commitment, you will have a healthy diet sooner than you think.
√ Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories or measuring portion sizes, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. This way it should be easier to make healthy choices. Focus on finding foods you love and easy recipes that incorporate a few fresh ingredients. Gradually, your diet will become healthier and more delicious.
√ Start slow and make changes to your eating habits over time. Trying to make your diet healthy overnight isn’t realistic or smart. Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. Make small steps, like adding a salad (full of different color vegetables) to your diet once a day or switching from butter to olive oil when cooking. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet.
√ Every change you make to improve your diet matters. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet. The long term goal is to feel good, have more energy, and reduce the risk of cancer and disease. Don’t let your missteps derail you—every healthy food choice you make counts.
Moderation is key
For most of us, moderation or balance means eating less than we do now. More specifically, it means eating far less of the unhealthy stuff (unrefined sugar, saturated fat, for example) and more of the healthy (such as fresh fruit and vegetables). But it doesn't mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner–but not if you follow it with a box of donuts and a sausage pizza. If you eat 100 calories of chocolate one afternoon, balance it out by deducting 100 calories from your evening meal. If you're still hungry, fill up with an extra serving of fresh vegetables.
√ Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. If you are drawn towards sweet, salty, or unhealthy foods, start by reducing portion sizes and not eating them as often. Later you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
√ Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently, particularly in restaurants. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don't order supersized anything. At home, use smaller plates, think about serving sizes in realistic terms, and start small. If you don't feel satisfied at the end of a meal, try adding more leafy green vegetables or rounding off the meal with fresh fruit. Visual cues can help with portion sizes–your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards, a slice of bread should be the size of a CD case, and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb.
It's not just what you eat, it's how you eat
Healthy eating is about more than the food on your plate—it is also about how you think about food. Healthy eating habits can be learned and it is important to slow down and think about food as nourishment rather than just something to gulp down in between meetings or on the way to pick up the kids.
√ Eat with others whenever possible. Eating with other people has numerous social and emotional benefits—particularly for children—and allows you to model healthy eating habits. Eating in front of the TV or computer often leads to mindless overeating.
√ Take time to chew your food and enjoy mealtimes. Chew your food slowly, savoring every bite. We tend to rush though our meals, forgetting to actually taste the flavors and feel the textures of our food. Reconnect with the joy of eating.
√ Listen to your body. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, or have a glass of water to see if you are thirsty instead of hungry. During a meal, stop eating before you feel full. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly.
√ Eat breakfast, and eat smaller meals throughout the day. A healthy breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism, and eating small, healthy meals throughout the day (rather than the standard three large meals) keeps your energy up and your metabolism going.
√ Avoid eating at night. Try to eat dinner earlier in the day and then fast for 14-16 hours until breakfast the next morning. Early studies suggest that this simple dietary adjustment—eating only when you’re most active and giving your digestive system a long break each day—may help to regulate weight. After-dinner snacks tend to be high in fat and calories so are best avoided, anyway.
Fill up on colorful fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. They are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day and with every meal—the brighter the better. Colorful, deeply colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits, so eat a variety. Aim for a minimum of five portions each day.
Some great choices include:
√ Greens. Branch out beyond bright and dark green lettuce. Kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are just a few of the options—all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
√ Sweet vegetables. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, and squash—add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets.
√ Fruit. Fruit is a tasty, satisfying way to fill up on fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
The Balance of Good Health
Fruit & Vegetables
Eating healthily means at least 5 a day
This includes frozen, canned, dried and pure juices as well as fresh. Also included in this group are beans, including baked beans, pulses and lentils. The key for good health is to choose a wide variety - aiming for five different portions per day. A portion is approximately 80g, e.g. one medium apple or two medium plums.
Bread, Other Cereals & Potatoes
A healthy eating plan should include 5 portions daily
This group includes breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, noodles, oats and other cereals as well as bread and potatoes. You should aim to include at least one food from this group at each meal.
Milk & Dairy Foods
2-3 servings daily is the recommended healthy eating level
Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are included in this group, but not butter, eggs and cream. Serving sizes in this group vary, depending on how concentrated the food is, e.g. 1 serving of milk is 200ml, a serving of yoghurt is 150g and a serving of cheese is 30g.
Meat Fish & Alternatives
2-3 servings daily, choose low fat if your healthy eating plan is for weight loss
This group includes eggs, poultry, and meat and fish products such as beefburgers and fishcakes. Some of these products can be high in fat - so it’s best to choose lower fat versions of products, and trim visible fat from meat and poultry. Alternatives are non-meat sources of protein such as nuts, tofu, mycoprotein, textured vegetable protein (TVP) and kidney beans.
Foods Containing Fat & Foods Containing Sugar
Eat in small quantities, 0-3 servings daily
These are foods high in fat and/or sugar. Butter, margarine, oil, mayonnaise, cream, crisps and fried foods are high in fat. Soft drinks, sweets and jam are high in sugar. Cakes, chocolate, biscuits, pastries and ice-cream are high in both. It is essential to include a small amount of fat in your diet, but most people need to eat less. The emphasis should be on unsaturated fat e.g. olive, sunflower and corn oil, rather than saturated fat which tends to come from animal products, cakes, biscuits and pastries.