By Ana Lopez
You've been working out and eating healthy to no weight-loss avail, so what gives? A variety of factors, including gender, age and even stress levels, can affect how your body burns calories. But before you blame a slow metabolism for your weight woes, it’s just as important to take into consideration how many calories you’re eating on a regular basis. "Most people are taking in more calories than they even realize,” says dietitian and nutritionist Tracy Kuzava, RDN, of Eastside Medical Center in Snellville, Georgia.
Get started right now, with Kuzava’s five no-fail tips on how to rid your diet of excess calories and ditch those extra pounds.
Log your food intake in a journal or use a smartphone app to keep track of the amount of food you eat. Not only will you get a handle on your calorie intake, you’ll take stock of the impact of everything you eat… from your soda fountain drink down to the dressing on your sandwich. “Lots of people forget to add condiments in -- it can be a big factor,” says Kuzava. For example, just one tablespoon of mayo can have up to a whopping 100 calories per serving. And while ketchup only has 15 calories per tablespoon, it still can add up if you’re using it regularly without thinking. “When I tell [patients] to log their food it needs to be everything,” Kuzava says.
Drinking lots of water doesn't automatically equal a thinner you, but it does help keep the body healthy. In fact, a recent study found that adding one, two or three cups of water to your usual daily intake could help you eat 68 to 205 fewer calories each day. A general rule of thumb on how much water to drink daily: divide your weight (in pounds) by half and that's how many ounces of water you should consume.
“You can’t exercise [away] a bad diet,” Kuzava says, “so you better start in the kitchen.” A great way to make sure you’re eating the right foods is to use Kuzava’s plate trick: At dinnertime, fill a salad plate halfway with fruits and vegetables. Then divide the remaining half between proteins (think: lean meats, eggs, beans and tofu) and healthy carbohydrates or starches. The wins here are numerous: using a salad plate is built-in portion control, and these healthy foods tend to leave you full longer than sugary and fatty foods, meaning less overeating and overall lower calorie intake.
This advice might sound obvious, but Kuzava says it’s a no-brainer shortcut to cutting calories. "Most people take 10 or 15 minutes to eat a meal, but it takes 20 minutes for signals to get up to your brain to let you know that you're full,” she says. By extending your meal time by chewing more thoroughly, Kuzava says, you’ll get that full feeling that can help you control your overall intake.
Lack of sleep can lead to numerous health issues -- including overeating. A 2016 study published in the journal Sleep found that being sleep deprived may boost levels of a chemical signal that enhances the pleasure you get from eating, particularly sweet or salty foods that are high in fat. Lack of sleep can also lead to more caffeine intake, and if you’re someone who likes sugar in your coffee, this can pour more calories into your day. Try to get seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night to avoid negative consequences the next day.
See More from Tracy Kuzava, RDN:
Why should I eat frequent small meals if I want to boost my metabolism?What are the benefits of interval training?