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Cut calories without depriving yourself

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Posted: January 2013

Three smart yet simple strategies will help you eat less and still feel satisfied.

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Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Simple food swaps let you eat double or even triple your portion size—and still lose weight!

Hands up if you’ve ever tried and failed to lose weight through dieting. It’s a common story: Who wants to stick with a plan that is restrictive and leaves you feeling hungry? Fortunately, nutrition researchers are uncovering ways to help you enjoy adequate portions, feel satisfied and still maintain a healthy weight. Here are three helpful strategies.

1. Size matters

Since the turn of the 20th century, the size of our dinner plates has almost doubled. If we use larger plates, studies show that we naturally fill them up with more food. Using large dinnerware means we consume more calories, which leads to weight gain.

Here’s a simple solution: downsize! Use a salad plate for your entree and fill it up, advises consumer behaviour researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating. Your mind will register that you are eating a full plate, even though it will be filled with much fewer calories. You will still feel satisfied, but will have eaten less. And it’s not just plates - the same is true for cups, mugs and bowls too.

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2. Turn up the volume

It’s no surprise that people like to eat, and seeing a large portion of food is exciting. But the more food you eat, the more calories you consume, right? Not necessarily.

The trick, according to nutrition science researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, is to limit high-calorie foods (oils, nuts, baked goods), but eat large servings of lower-calorie ones. She calls this plan Volumetrics - it’s a way of eating that allows you to double or triple your portion size and still lose weight (even on big plates!).

With the plan, meals are filled with broth-based soups, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and fish and lean meats. These foods help control hunger by filling you up with fewer calories, while adding bulk via water (vegetables, fruit, broth), or extra air, such as mousse-style yogurt and puffed cereal.

Foods with lots of fat and sugar, such as baked goods, chips, oils and nuts, are eaten in smaller quantities since they don’t fill you up as much, but they have more calories per bite. Think about it - for the same number of calories, you could have three cups of air-popped popcorn instead of one cup of potato chips.

Research shows that the amount of food we eat has a greater effect on how full we feel than the calorie content of the food. So, Volumetrics works well for people who need the visual of a full plate in order to be satisfied.

The Volumetrics plan also includes protein and fibre at each meal, since these nutrients fill you up and keep you satisfied for longer. Of course, sweets and fats are still allowed; you just need to eat less of them. Try our Volumetrics-inspired Chunky mushroom minestrone and Lemon roasted vegetable and salmon pasta.

3. Better beverages

While we consciously count calories in the food we eat, it’s easy to forget about beverages. Whether it’s the half-cup of orange juice at breakfast, the three double-doubles during the day or a relaxing glass of wine at dinner, the calories in beverages add up quickly. If you’re not careful, you can easily sip 500 calories per day.

Choosing water over sweetened beverages is an easy way to cut calories. Water is calorie-free and the best way to quench your thirst. Drinks made with artificial sweeteners (like diet soda or fruit drinks) are also free of calories, but not your best choice. The sweet taste tricks your body into thinking sugar is coming, and when it doesn’t arrive, you crave it even more and feel hungry.

To add some pizzazz to your water, try it with a squeeze of citrus (lime, lemon or orange), or brew it in the fridge with a tea bag, peppermint leaves or a cinnamon stick. Low-sodium sparkling water is a great choice too.

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