Ways to eat less

I am far from an expert on weight loss. But since I began running last fall I’ve lost 21 pounds. The last time I weighed this little I was in my 20’s. I’m officially at the top end of ‘normal’ for my height which is a huge victory. Running was a part of my success. But learning how to handle food differently was just as crucial. I ran for two months without losing a pound, and started losing weight only when I made changes in diet. I thought I’d share some of the thoughts and actions that have led to wiser decision-making with food. Keep in mind this is just what worked for me. Anyone on a quest to lose weight needs to think through this aspect with their own needs, weaknesses, and tendencies in mind.

  • Cut out most drinks with calories. For me that means juice and coffee at breakfast, and water the rest of the day, with very rare exceptions. In the evening, a hot cup of tea makes me feel like I am pampering myself without overdoing calories. It is super easy to stack on lots of calories just with drinks. I’ve decided to save most of my calories for food, not drinks.  Also keep in mind that thirst sometimes feels like hunger.  Getting a big drink of water before eating makes you less prone to overeating.
  • Make a one-serving rule at mealtimes. At meals I take a medium sized serving and if when the urge for seconds comes, I remind myself I can eat more later on in the day. For some reason, I have better luck telling myself to delay rather than trying to tell myself I can’t have something at all. Sometimes I’ll very deliberately get up from the table after firsts, telling myself that I will get more in ten minutes if I still want it.  Nine times out of ten I find I am already satisfied and don’t need to go back.  And here’s the truth:  ten minutes after dinner I feel just as physically satisfied whether I’ve eaten a single serving or a double.  Except — this is huge– when I stop after one serving, I can feel good about my choices instead of feeling guilty that I overindulged.  If it is a goodie we don’t have very often, I’ll sometimes stash a single serving in foil in the freezer as a promise that I will be able to eat it later.  I don’t NEED that second cookie, or that second serving of mac and cheese.  It’s better to save it til later when I am truly hungry, instead of eating just because it is yummy.
  • Count calories.  I know, it’s a lot of work.   But really knowing the calories in various foods has been a huge help for me in staying accountable and facing what I am really doing to myself when I pick up a fork.  I use Livestrong.com.  For the first 9 months or so of counting, I literally did it every day.  These days I do it 5 or 6 days a week.  I aim for 1500 calories, divided into approximately 300 calories at breakfast, 400 at lunch, 500 at dinner, and 300 at bedtime. I allow myself a little more on Tuesdays and Thursdays when my schedule allows me 90 minutes of exercise time at the rec.
  • Save some calories for bedtime. I know that lots of folks recommend not eating after 7PM.  But I decided I’m not willing to give up my bedtime snacks.  This is why I deliberately ‘save’ 300 calories or so for bedtime nibbles.  Sometimes when I am tempted towards seconds at dinner, I’ll remind myself that I’m saving those calories for bedtime.
  • How many miles is this? When I am looking at something yummy, I’ve gotten into the obnoxious habit of guessing how many miles I’d have to run to burn it off.  A medium-sized person can burn a hundred or so calories by running (or walking) a mile.  So that yummy chocolate chip cookie?  A mile.  A second serving of mac and cheese?  Three miles.   Are you groaning yet?  I know, me too sometimes.  But that type of thinking is at the core of accountability and good decision-making.  I had to get honest with myself before I could start making wiser decisions about food.

Things I don’t do:

  • I don’t skip butter.  Love the stuff.  I also love olive oil and coconut oil.  What I eat tastes good.
  • I don’t eat low-fat or diet versions of anything.  No fake sugar.  It just tastes wrong in my mouth.
  • I don’t eat differently than my family.  I just eat less now.

OK, I’d better quit before I start sounding like a know-it-all, which I am so NOT.  Remember, the point is not to adopt someone else’s plan whole-hog, but to figure out where your weaknesses and strengths are.  I make bad food choices every week, but I just keep chipping away, aiming for more good choices than bad. The more your plan fits you, the more it can address your own little mental weaknesses, the more likely you are to be able to sustain those choices over a lifetime. That’s my aim.

What about you?  If you’ve had some success at weight loss, what has worked for you?  I’d love to hear your ideas.


  1. Congratulations on your weight-loss success! I was so glad to read that you aren’t following any fad diets (not that they’re wrong, per say) or using miracle drugs… just old fashioned ‘diet & exercise’. My weight-loss plan follows yours very closely: I count calories, I exercise daily, I count the miles it would take to burn off what I eat, and I watch my portions. I do, however, try out low-calorie recipes and use Splenda (sometimes supplimented with real sugar) when cooking. If it tastes too artificial, though, then I scrap the recipe or experiment with different ingredients. Diet doesn’t have to be a bad word!

  2. Three years ago I lost about 20 lbs in pretty much the same way. I just started to use myfitnesspal.com (and their phone app) to keep track of my calories, exercise and weight loss progress. I can really recommend it!

  3. Before I got pregnant, I lost 25 lbs from a combination of cardio and weight training exercise. I felt so good! I’ve been pretty sedentary for the last 4 months (morning sickness, fatigue, etc), but I am feeling better and determined to get out there and at least walk!

  4. Awesome advice and really great work Mary! I need to do some of the things you suggested!

  5. I’m using the sparkpeople.com website for tracking my calories, but am otherwise doing the exact same thing. I lost 30 pounds earlier this year, and got ..really.. lazy about exercising over the summer. The schedule was busy and hectic, I almost passed out from the heat walking outside anyway, and I just blew it off. I’m struggling to get back into the habit now as I have another 30 I really want to lose. I do still enter my calories every single day. Using a smaller plate really helps me, too. It will still visually look like a lot, sending a message to my brain that I have a smorgasbord for dinner, when in reality it’s a reasonable portion.

    I used splenda a few years ago until I did some research into how it was made. blech. Now it’s all real stuff, albeit sometimes agave, sometimes honey, sometimes raw sugar, almost never the powdered white stuff.

    It’s funny, I felt great and so proud of myself when I lost the first phase. The “summer break” was probably good for me, because I got used to seeing myself how I am now, and the extra bits here and there are bothering me again. Before, I was looking so much better than I wasn’t really seeing how far was still to go. Now I’m definitely seeing where the improvement can come in! But then this weekend, I saw some people I haven’t seen in months. Both of them were amazed, and kept raving about great I looked. That was some wonderful inspiration to be moving myself again so I can drop some more.

  6. A few months ago I fell in love with these red square dishes. We bought two sets, only to realize the first time we used them that the dinner plates are just huge! The dessert plates are a little bigger than normal dessert plates. Sooooo we use the “dessert” plates most of the time for our meals, unless there is a main dish with lots of sides. It really helps with the portion control. Also, I usually leave the food on the counter and serve buffet style. If we have to get up to get another helping, we’re less likely to.

  7. Good for you, Mary! Way to go!
    My diet tip is to have your husband declare he’s divorcing you suddenly, then start manipulating and threatening you, especially about kid custody and whether you’ll get to stay in your home or not. Ha! Yeah, not really, but I DID lose 12 pounds in August! : – / Thanks for the good sense reminders, though, because I need to pay attention as I can, now that the desire to eat is back!

  8. I’ve lost 37 lbs in the past five months–my goal is to lose 80 in a year. For the first two months, I only went to the gym twice a week, didn’t watch my food intake, and barely lost anything. Once I started doing calorie counting, I lost weight steadily.

    I use myfitnesspal both on the computer and my phone to track calories. My goal is a 1 lb loss per week just from calorie counting–any exercise is a bonus and I go to the gym 2-3 times per week. For me, it’s about changing my habits and lifestyle and not quick weight loss. If I want a piece of pie, I check the calories and decide if it’s worth it or not. Most of the time it isn’t. I still eat delicious food, it’s just different delicious food than I used to eat. I don’t eat salads every day but when I do, they’re not boring, otherwise I wouldn’t stick with this.

    My exercise suggestion for everyone is not to get tied up in cardio. Use the machines at the gym. Lift hand weights at home. Build up some muscle in addition to the cardio and it will eat up the fat quicker. You may stay the same in weight for a little while because of the new muscle weight but you will lose inches around. And don’t be scared of bulking up if you’re a woman–unless you’re taking steroids, it’s not going to happen.

    Also, kudos to everyone who is getting healthy! It feels GREAT!

  9. Hey Mary,
    Going along with this topic of weight loss, I’d be interested in a post about maintaining a positive body image, apart from actual weight lost or gained, for both you and your daughters. A lot of people focus on anorexia, which is an important issue, but my concern is more with the way that normal, everyday women just loathe themselves, no matter what they weigh. Not to mention the amount of time and attention we women devote to thoughts about our weight and eating.

  10. For me, it’s been about cutting out breads and sugar. Once I did that, the weight has started dropping off. I didn’t need to lose much, but I couldn’t seem to get it off. I eat very healthy now. The family still eats breads, but I’ve cut them back on that too. More fruit and veggies. The other big thing has been for me to stop eating sooner. The funny thing is that I’ve been following the burp rule. I heard about it at an Indian vegetarian restaurant when I was in college. It had a sign up that said, “You are replete if you burp. Be sure not to eat past your first burp.” I thought it was silly, but I’ve seen it to be true now.


    You runners are strange though. I’ll only run if some is chasing me and I have an oxygen tank. 😉

  11. I eat to feel better. I look at a chocolate chip cookie and know that I feel like a slug after I eat it. But if I grab a handful of almonds, I know I will feel full of energy. I constantly remind myself how food makes me feel and it keeps me on track. I also drink tons of water. I shoot for a gallon a day.

  12. It helps me to have some foods that are “limitless.” I like hummus and use cucumber slices for “dippers.” I measure out my serving of hummus, but can have “limitless” cucumber slices. Or plain air-popped popcorn. Whatever it is, knowing I can have as much as I want makes me feel like I’ve indulged.

    I also make sure I eat one thing I really, really like that is a “treat” every day. I found that a regular size dark chocolate candy bar is 180 calories. When I am working on losing weight (not at 8 months pregnant!) I let myself have one whole candy bar every day. I can spread it out or save it for bedtime, but I know I get to have it. Sometimes I don’t want it, so I skip it, but it’s there if I want it.

    And a food scale. Seeing exactly how much 3 oz. of chicken is can be so revealing. I measure out food by weight (grams) so that it matches the serving size. So, so revealing.

  13. While you may not be an expert, I say that you are brilliant! It’s all a mind game and you’ve got the game down tight.

  14. Way to go! I’ve managed to lose 165 pounds. I still want to lose about 40 more. It’s good to not skip on certain fats. Coconut oil is incredibly good for our bodies. My chiropractor is really into nutrition and he said that Americans are too afraid of fats (the good kinds). One thing I do for myself everyday too is a green smoothie. Hardly any calories and very healthy. I make a blender full and eat some with breakfast and lunch or as a snack. I use spinich or kale or some other greens, 1 cup of frozen fruit, some carrots, water to blend, and one frozen banana but anything you like will do. A lot of people go get a fancy blender for it but my 20 dollar blander works fine. I tell people to start with spinich because it’s a milder flavor. I’ll admit that I save room for a bedtime snack. It’s my little indulgence. I also give myself a reasonable free day. Not crazy but if I go out to dinner with my husband I just have what I want. Hope things continue to go well for you!

    • Hi Carrie, Thanks for including your recipe for your green smoothie. I just watched “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” which talks a lot about juicing. But I don’t have a juicer… plus I figure the juicer removes the fiber-parts of the fruit and veggies. I was wondering how I could do something similar in the blender… and your comment was exactly what I needed! Thanks!!!!!

      • I watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead too. It was an interesting show. There are a ton of recipes for green smoothies on the web. So many variations. There is a local (I live in Utah) lady I follow called The Green Smoothie Girl. She teaches classes on whole foods. Her name is Robyn Openshaw. Sometimes she has free classes in other parts of the United States too. She is on the extreme side but I have implemented a lot of teachings on nutrition and I feel great. One of her big things obviously is green smoothies. She has said that this is one of the best things we can do for our bodies each day. Another really good show that I watched was Forks over Knives. If you have Netflix I think it is still on there.

    • Holy smokes, that’s a lot of weight you’ve lost. HUMONGOUS congratulations. I know that wasn’t easy!

  15. Way to go on your weight loss! I’ve been running for a year, but haven’t lost a thing – by dr’s. standards I don’t have anything to lose. I think people think if you run you’ll automatically lose, but like you said, 3 miles is 300 calories. Pretty easy to eat those extra 300 because you did run 🙂

    Thank you so much for saying you’re eating regular food. I hate hearing about all of the fad diets where they send you boxes of highly processed “stuff” with artificial sweetners. I’m a real food girl all the way! Pass the butter!

  16. This post was so encouraging, Mary! I had been working on healthy eating and exercise recently, but the last week or two hasn’t been so good. Today I read your post and a post on Baker’s Dozen that nudged me to get back on track. Thanks for the tips on some small changes that can provide big help!

  17. Mary this post was encouraging for us all. Thank you for taking the time to write. It is good to hear that you are eating sensibly.
    My ways of keeping in shape include:
    Instead of going for the van keys, think about the trip and walk. Walking to the grocery store means you are going to buy less- and you burn up those calories. Of course, walking to your destination will not always work but when you get there- park in the end of the parking lot and walk to the doors.
    Instead of sitting and watching television on the couch- sit on the floor and do some floor exercises.
    Do not use the laundry chute in the house but carry the loads down to the laundry room. Instead of using the dryer, carry the clothes out to the clothesline and if you don’t have one- put one up before winter so it is there come spring.
    Walk at least 20 minutes each and every day, if unable to walk because of weather- use the stairs in the house.
    Walk, walk, walk.
    And, of course, eat healthy foods without feeling guilty when you don’t.
    Drink a glass of water before I serve myself any food for a meal. Cuts down the craving for more food.
    Do not use the big plates but the smaller salad plates for meals. The big plates are now used under the salad plates for decoration purposes.
    Make snacks that have been made by me or family member. No chips, brownies, cookies, etc. unless I have made them.
    Instead of sugary desserts, try cutting up a piece of fruit and having that for dessert.
    With Thanksgiving right around the corner– eat half of what you usually do and no snacking in between meals.
    Eat slowly and not rush through meals, lots of talking and you will forget to eat all your meal.

  18. One of my tips is: figure out what you’re NOT willing to give up and move your calories to accommodate. For instance, I won’t give up my fully loaded 2 cups of morning coffee, or my 4-5 nights-a-week glass of wine, so I’m willing to give up many daytime snacks/evening treats to be able to have those 2 things. Quality of life, ya know?

  19. I lost 33 lbs this past spring through exercise and counting calories. I am only 5’2″ so I stick to between 1200-1300 calories when I am counting. I have to admit to getting off track this summer but I have not put any weight back on. I have been maintaining. But I have another 67 lbs I want to lose so I have to get re-focused. The key for me was tracking calories on-line like you are doing Mary, and also saving calories for a before bed snack. I save about 150-200. My indulgence is usually a 1/2 c of ice cream. As my grandma used to say, “I love me some cream.” Every night she indulged in a few bites each of several different flavors. For me, it’s just one flavor and it’s my favorite ever. 🙂

  20. Great advice and I heartedly agree with you!! We do alot of the same – eat whole grains, try to stay away from anything processed, limit sugar intake, rarely even buy soda pop, drinks period. Water, water, and oh, of course have to have coffee, but I only drink it black, although sometimes I like to have some afternoon coffee with just a little blue agave sweetner. Congratulations on your weight loss, that is great!! I also run and exercise. It is such a vital part of my health, and honestly, my sanity!!

  21. I’ve done exactly this over the last 18 months and I’ve lost over 50 pounds. I’ve been side-lined from the running because of a back issue I’m having trouble getting past and I’ve put a few pounds back on, but you’re absolutely right on! Real food, just less of it, don’t drink calories, no low-fat/diet/substitute foods, including eggs, butter cheese. I’m even on higher fat (whole) milk. As little “white” food as possible, including potatoes. Working like a charm for me! It’s all about moderation, awareness and care. And when you think about it, regardless of the issue to which we apply those three principles we’re going to have success.

  22. Thanks for the livestrong.com recommendation. I have been trying to track food in a google spreadsheet and it was a pain and therefore I did not keep up with it. I love the website. It is so easy and therefore I actually do it. This was such helpful information.

  23. I’ve been exploring livestrong.com but am finding it frustrating to use with my homemade/from scratch recipes. I know you cook from scratch, so I’m curious if you have any suggestions.

    • I just give my best guess based on something similar that has already been entered on the website. In general I try to pick the options that are higher-cal, so that if anything I am overestimating calories. I’m sure I’m off sometimes, but it is way closer than not figuring calories at all! 🙂

    • You may want to check out MyFitnessPal. You can track calories there (or on the app), & you can input your recipes & it figures out the calories per serving.

    • Nutritiondata.com is also a good source for finding out the calories in food and has a recipe analyzer. I’ve lost almost 170 lbs in the last year and a half with tracking calories and exercising… Nutritiondata has been a big help since I like to cook from scratch too. Hope that helps! 🙂


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