How to Eat Less without Starving Yourself
Creating a calorie deficit isn't about eating less food. It's really more about making smarter nutritional choices. Find out why in this article.
Your daily, favorite slice of ‘afternoon pick-me-up’ strawberry cheesecake (complete with a hefty dollop of whipped cream) from the bakery right across your street: now a thing of the past ?❌?
The matcha latte you gulped down before heading to work? Completely cut out from your life.
The same applies to many of your favorite foods – think: morning cupcakes, afternoon cookies, and late-night pizzas.
All these are done so that you'd be able to (finally) lose weight.
After all, since calorie balance is the ultimate determinant of your weight, eating less would result in better weight loss … right?
The problem with ‘eat less’
But here’s the thing. There’s a problem with the advice, “Just eat less”.
Imagine yourself in the situation where you've already nixed out your favorite indulgences yet still failing to lose weight.
What are you going to do next? Start eliminating whole meals – like lunch or dinner – to get yourself in a calorie deficit?
Of course, you'd eventually reach a point where you're in a calorie deficit once you've eliminated enough foods (and meals).
And you’d start losing weight. Only, you’d run into the following issues:
- It’s unsustainable (because of how miserable you’d be!)
- Not to mention, you’d also be starving
- You may even develop an unhealthy relationship with food
In light of this, we need to completely rethink how to approach the advice of “Just eat less”.
So. Instead of simply cutting down on foods you're already eating, you'd need to make a few changes to your diet that'll help you feel full – but with fewer calories.
1: Make smarter food choices
Speaking of that, this brings to mind the idea that certain foods are simply more calorie-dense (i.e., contain a higher number of calories relative to its volume) than others.
Here are a few good examples:
- Snickers vs. strawberries: 100 grams of Snickers contains 486 calories, while the same volume of strawberries only adds 32 calories to your daily energy intake.
- Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream vs. Greek yogurt: 100 grams of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream provides a whopping 225 calories, while the same volume of frozen yogurt contains 127 calories.
Why does this matter so much, though?
Well, here’s a secret (that you might have suspected all this time): one of the signals your stomach sends your brain to indicate that you’re full comes from the stretching of your stomach wall.
That means, theoretically, eating the same volume of food (e.g., 100 grams of Snickers vs. 100 grams of yogurt) – no matter its calorie count – would trigger similar degrees of satiety.
How can you apply this to your diet, then?
Easy. Instead of structuring your meals around the question, "How can I eat less?" ask yourself, "How can I eat the same volume of food – but with fewer calories?"
That’d undoubtedly mean familiarizing yourself with high-volume, low-calorie foods.
And one of the best ways to do that would be tracking your daily calorie intake for some time – doing so will give you valuable insights into which foods, exactly, are less calorie-dense than others.
2: Load up on satiating macronutrients first
Eat your protein and fat first – doing this will enhance the effectiveness of tip #1 (i.e., make smarter food choices).
Both these macronutrients are incredibly satiating, which can help decrease the total amount of calories you end up eating per meal.
Also: note that it still isn’t advisable for you to stuff your face with fat. At 9 calories per gram, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient around.
That means you should place most of your focus on getting enough protein (and getting it into your system first).
By the way: the benefits of consuming adequate protein go beyond satiety reasons, too. As it turns out, of all 3 macronutrients, protein has been found to have the biggest thermic effect of energy (TEF).
That means your body has to spend more energy digesting protein than either fat or carbohydrates.
Impressively, some studies indicate that TEF can contribute up to 10% of your total daily energy expenditure. Meaning? Eating more protein can boost your metabolism – possibly helping you create a larger calorie deficit without needing to set aside additional time for:
- Strength training
Why worry about how to eat less when protein effectively does it all for you (i.e., boosts your satiety and metabolism at the same time)? What a lifesaver.
3: (Actually) pay attention to your meal
Quick question. When was the last time you paid full attention to the meal right in front of you – sans attention-seeking, constantly vibrating mobile phone, distracting, brightly-lit TV screen, or the book you just picked up from the bookstore?
You probably can't remember because it's been such a long time.
Well, it’s time to change that.
An easy trick that’ll help you eat less (for real this time) is something called ‘mindful eating’: where you slow down and pay attention to every mouthful of food going into your mouth (e.g., colors, smells, flavors, textures, etc.)
Don’t believe such an easy tweak would help ‘hack’ your fullness? This review of 2 dozen – yep, that’s 24! – studies might change your mind.
The evidence is clear.
Those who eat meals or snacks while watching TV, playing games, or reading, tend to consume more calories in a sitting, and especially later in a day. More specifically, distracted eating could increase the amount of food you eat by up to 50%!
Yep. It’s time to tuck into your meals without the usual distractions.
Take care of both sides of the calorie balance equation
Congratulations! You now know how to eat less – without feeling sad and miserable all the time. Pat yourself on the back; you deserve it.
But of course, making smarter nutritional choices can only bring you so far when it comes to creating a calorie deficit.
The more sustainable option for you would be to combine it with a corresponding increase in physical activity – e.g., strength training, which helps with muscle mass – to increase your daily calorie burn.
Need help getting started on a strength training routine? Then be sure to check out GymStreak: a smart, AI-powered personal trainer app that tailors all training routines to your unique fitness goals.Get GymStreak
FoodData Central. (n.d.-a). Retrieved September 3, 2021, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1647008/nutrients
FoodData Central. (n.d.-b). Retrieved September 3, 2021, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1102710/nutrients
FoodData Central. (n.d.-c). Retrieved September 3, 2021, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/498338/nutrients
FoodData Central. (n.d.-d). Retrieved September 3, 2021, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1097591/nutrients
Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(5), 1558S-1561S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S
Reed, G. W., & Hill, J. O. (1996). Measuring the thermic effect of food. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(2), 164–169. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/63.2.164
Robinson, E., Aveyard, P., Daley, A., Jolly, K., Lewis, A., Lycett, D., & Higgs, S. (2013). Eating attentively: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 728–742. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.045245
Samra, R. A. (2010). Fats and Satiety. In J.-P. Montmayeur & J. le Coutre (Eds.), Fat Detection: Taste, Texture, and Post Ingestive Effects. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53550/
Wilde, P. J. (2009). Eating for Life: Designing Foods for Appetite Control. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, 3(2), 366–370.