Moderating portion sizes and choosing foods low in calories can help you lose weight. When devising a calorie-restricted diet, aim to eat at least three meals a day and one snack to help fuel your metabolism and peak your energy level. Focus on natural, whole foods, rather than processed diet products, which often lack nutrition and contain added salt, carbohydrates and artificial ingredients. While calorie needs for weight loss depend on factors such as size, weight goals, activity level, age and gender, a range of 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day will elicit healthy weight loss for most people.
A calorie-restricted diet should still include breakfast. Missing this meal can cause your morning energy levels to plummet, meaning you burn fewer calories and can have trouble concentrating at school and work. In addition, skipping breakfast can cause uncontrollable hunger, which in turn can cause you to make poor choices at later sittings. Choose a breakfast that includes lean protein, to help foster feelings of fullness, whole grains, for energy and fiber, and fruits and vegetables, for vitamins and minerals. Enjoy hot quinoa as an alternative to oatmeal. Cook up 1/4 of the dry grain in water, as you would rice, with 1 tbsp. added raisins and 1/2 of a chopped apple. Top the cereal with 1/2 cup skim milk, 1 tsp. brown sugar and 1 tbsp. toasted walnuts. This breakfast contains about 400 calories.
Eating a salad with grilled chicken and a few tomato wedges daily can be monotonous – eventually causing you to crave less-healthy options and blow your diet plan. Have a hearty lunch, instead, consisting of a 3 oz. of lean roast beef on a whole-wheat English muffin with 1 tsp. horseradish and sliced tomato. On the side, have a cup of minestrone soup and a small apple. You can vary this lunch daily by using lean ham, deli turkey, roast chicken breast or water packed tuna mixed with celery and 1 tbsp. of low-fat plain yogurt. Vary the spreads to include mustard, chutney, hummus or mashed avocado. Use chopped green peppers, sliced cucumber, rings of red onion or baby spinach leaves as alternatives to the tomato. Other soup options include vegetable barley, chicken noodle, tomato Florentine or lentil. For this lunch, you consume between 400 and 450 calories.
Dinner on a restricted calorie diet does not have to be lacking in flavor. Roast or broil a protein of choice, such as sirloin, fish, chicken breast, turkey or pork tenderloin. Season the protein with a spice rub or marinate in a combination of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs and 2 tsp. of olive oil. Serve yourself about 3 to 4 oz. of the meat with 1/2 cup of a starch; options include brown rice, barley, whole wheat pasta, 1 cup mashed sweet potato or a plain baked potato. On the side, enjoy 1 to 1 1/2 cups of steamed or roasted vegetables such as summer squash, asparagus, bell pepper, eggplant, broccoli or cauliflower. A meal with these components contains between 350 and 450 calories. Add a piece of fruit or a cup of berries for dessert and an extra 50 to 100 calories.
Snacking helps soothe a grumbling stomach between meals and keeps you from eating too many calories at meals. Add at least one snack per day, containing between 150 and 250 calories, depending on the number of calories allowed in your restricted calorie plan. Low-fat yogurt, an ounce of raw nuts, a piece of fruit, whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese or cottage cheese are healthy, low-calorie options.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.