The Complete Guide To Low Calorie Diet For Weight Loss

Low Calorie Diet

The purpose of any diet is to improve health, lose (or maintain) weight, and improve one’s lifestyle. It really is as simple as that. In terms of diets to choose from, a low-calorie diet is generally one that is designed to succeed over a long(er) period of time. 

It’s one that is easier to sustain than other options, and it’s the steady choice to achieve the weight loss you are seeking. Often, a low-calorie diet is recommended for people who are overweight or dealing with diabetes. 

The appeal is easy to see. A low-calorie diet means losing weight. It’s basic math. When you burn more calories than you are consuming, then you are going to lose weight. There are a few things that factor into your personal calorie intake. 

For example, a man between 31 and 50, who is moderately active requires around 2,500 calories daily. woman in the same age and activity range would need just 2,000. To clarify, moderate activity counts as walking five days a week.

Related: 101 Low Calorie Foods

First of all, let’s clarify what constitutes a low-calorie diet. 

A low-calorie diet is anything between 800 and 1,500 (for women), and for men, between 1,200 and 2,000. This is a target designed to be fewer calories than your body will burn. This forces the body to turn to fat for energy, covering the shortfall of calories and therefore helping you lose weight!

The average calorie consumption suggested for women to lose weight is 1,200 calories. The thing is that most of us aren’t average (in terms of dieting). We come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, we all have different levels of physical activity.

According to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans, women require between 1,800 and 2,400 calories daily to maintain their current weight(*). Those same guidelines recommend 1,200 – 1,500 calories to lose weight. 

It’s a fairly broad definition, which means that there are a wide variety of low-calorie diets to choose from. This means that many low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets would likely meet the criteria of a low-calorie diet. 

Low-calorie diets allow you to lose weight steadily and over a longer period of time. For example, many experts suggest that a weight loss of one pound each week is ideal because this is weight you can keep off (*). There is nothing rapid about weight loss through a low-calorie diet. However, you may experience a fluctuation in how much you lose weekly. 

The key to succeeding in a low-calorie diet is embracing it as part of your daily routine. It’s not a diet, it’s your lifestyle. 

Beyond that, it’s important to balance your diet adequately. When dieting, it’s easy to fall into traps. You choose foods that are low in calories, but you haven’t considered the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to be appropriately energized. 

While it’s important to count calories, you can’t let that become the sole focus and force you to miss out on fresh produce. There are more than enough calories available in a low-calorie diet to allow you to consume plenty of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients from food sources. 

Calorie Counting

When you purchase packaged food, you will find the nutritional information required to make an informed decision. There are times when you may have to figure out calories based on the portion you have, but there are endless apps to choose from that will help you with this. 

The same can be said for fruits, vegetables, and other natural foods. 

When it comes to eating out, you can still maintain a low-calorie diet. Many eateries provide the calorie counts of their meals on the menu. 

Just look for the kcal count. When you choose low-calorie meals or items, it’s also important to check the fat content. 

Depending on how you eat normally, for some people simply cutting all their meal portions and snacks in half does the trick without having to count. 

It may seem like a hassle to count calories, but in the long run the benefits of lasting weight loss are worth it, and after a while you will become so familiar with various foods and their counts that you won’t have to count anymore. 

18 Low-Calorie Foods 

There are two different ways you can pursue a low-calorie diet. In 2010, a Kansas State University professor embarked on a low-calorie diet consisting of just convenience store purchases. Even though he ate sugary cereal, chips, and cakes for just two months, he managed to lose almost 30 pounds (*)

This highlights the benefit of calorie counting. Of course, the important point here is that while he lost weight, he didn’t do it the healthy way. He would have felt lethargic, had bowel issues, likely struggled to sleep, and who knows what other health issues would have cropped up? 

The point is, this is to highlight how people can misuse a low-calorie diet, while still achieving results. 

With that in mind, let’s look at some great low-calorie foods and what eating low-calorie could look like as a meal plan.

1| Asparagus – one cup of asparagus contains 22 calories. In asparagus, you will find a healthy source of vitamins 1, B6, C, E and K, iron, protein, copper, and folate. Asparagus is delicious raw or steamed, as a side dish or in a salad. 

2| Beetroot – half a cup contains 37 calories. It’s sweet and delicious, but it also contains potassium, iron, folate, and fiber. 

3| Broccoli – a cup of broccoli contains 31 calories. They’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 

4| Cabbage – another option that contains just 22 calories per cup. Cabbage is an excellent source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins. 

5| Carrots – a half cup of carrots contains 22 calories. Carrots are an excellent source of vitamins A, B1, B3, and C, as well as fiber and potassium.

6| Cauliflower – a half cup of cauliflower contains 14 calories. If you need a healthy punch of folate and vitamin C, then cauliflower, raw or cooked, is perfect. 

7| Coffee – when you drink a cup of black coffee it contains zero calories. It will increase the speed at which your metabolism operates and has been found to have a variety of health benefits. 

8| Garlic – there are only four calories in one clove. It’s great for your immune system and brags antimicrobial properties. Add it to every meal! 

9| Grapefruit – half a grapefruit contains just 39 calories. It’s a great way to start your day, packed with pectin, folic acid, lycopene, and vitamins A and C. 

10| Kale – there are only five calories in a cup of kale. It’s a super-food known to be rich in vitamins, manganese, iron, and folic acid. 

11| Lettuce – one cup of lettuce contains just 5 calories! You can eat loads of it and never worry about gaining weight. It’s why it’s a great option to make a giant salad with loads of extras. It’s an excellent source of folic acid, manganese, and vitamin B. 

12| Lemons & Lime – each fruit contains just 20 calories. What better way to get a sharp intake of vitamin C and fiber, too. You can add them to beverages or chop them through salads. 

13| Mushrooms – one cup of mushrooms brags just 15 calories. That’s incredible considering how filling they are, as well as offering a healthy package of vitamins, antioxidants, potassium, and fiber. 

14| Spinach – you can enjoy an entire cup of spinach and it’s only seven calories. It’s a super-food, packed in vitamins C and K, folic acid, and iron. 

15| Tomatoes – one tomato contains 22 calories. Tomatoes are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene doesn’t just protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays, it also prevents a variety of cancers (*). Additionally, tomatoes are chock-full of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. 

16| Turnips – you’ll find 36 calories in one cup. If you want a food that’s low on the Glycemic index while also packed in vitamin C, then turnips are a great choice. 

17| Watercress – an entire cup of watercress contains only four calories. It’s the perfect addition to salads, stews, and soups and contains sulforaphane. 

18| Zucchini – one cup contains only 20 calories. You can eat it at every meal if you like, and it’s packed with vitamins. 

Low Calorie Considerations

Protein Choices

When it comes to protein choices consider the amount of fat in the food. The higher the fat content in any food, the more calories it will have. 

Red meat has more fat than skinless white meat chicken. 

Beans have less calories than either red meat or chicken.

Tofu is a good meat substitute that is low in fat and calories and loaded with quality protein.

Get An App

An app will help you keep track of your food intake, count calories, and even inspire you into mixing things up a bit. There are plenty of them available both for Apple iOS and Android.

Eat Anything You Want But Consider The Portions

Caloric intake greatly depends on portions.

The truth is that with a low-calorie diet you can basically eat anything you want, and it really comes down to portion control. Think eating half a hamburger, 1 slice of pizza instead of half a pizza, 1 bite of pie instead of a whole slice…etc.

The key is to eat less, now of course if you choose to eat more high calorie and high fat foods you will be able to eat a lot less than if you choose quality lean whole food and eat a plant rich diet. It takes a whole lotta lettuce and tomatoes to equal in calories to half a burger.

Also, you can continue to eat junkier foods, but keep in mind, your body needs nutrients and so eating whole clean food is a much better choice.

Related: Top 10 Tips To Practice Eating Moderation

Sample Menus

1,200 Calorie Diet

Nutritionally, this sample menu takes you to around 1,215 calories in total. 

Breakfast

  • One cup of oatmeal with a tablespoon of honey
  • ½ cup of blueberries
  • A cup of plain sugar free tea/coffee 

Lunch 

  • Two slices of whole-grain bread, accompanied by turkey breast (from the deli), as well as sliced tomato, lettuce, and a tablespoon of mustard. 
  • Half a cup of carrots (or similar vegetables)
  • A glass of water

Dinner

  • A lean protein, such as baked/broiled flounder (3-ounce piece).
  • A cup of vegetables (steamed or grilled). 
  • A salad with spinach, broccoli, and tomatoes, using lemon or lime juice to dress it. 
  • A fat-free pudding.
  • A glass of water (garnish with a lemon wedge).
  • Check out this recipe – Steamed COD and Vegetables

 Snacks to choose from: 

  • Edamame
  • Fresh fruit with natural yogurt
  • Plain yogurt with a teaspoon of honey
  • Hummus dip with vegetables
  • Popcorn (air-popped)
  • Crackers and cheese (always choose a high-fiber cracker, as well as a low-fat cheese)
  • An apple with a handful of almonds.
  • A cup of non-fat milk
  • A cup of strawberries 

This is an alternative sample menu for a 1,200-calorie diet and this comes in at 1,218. 

Breakfast

  • One cup of whole-grain cereal (corn-based)
  • A half-cup of non-fat milk
  • One cup of pure, natural orange juice

Lunch

  • Salad, you can use field greens to make up the base (around two cups), add a half cup of cherry tomatoes, two ounces of tuna (packed in water), and dress with balsamic vinegar (two tablespoons). 
  • Diet soda to drink 

 Dinner 

  • One pork chop (around three ounces)
  • A baked sweet potato
  • A cup of steamed vegetables (asparagus or broccoli)
  • A small glass of wine

Snacks

  • Sugar-free, low-fat yogurt (fruit flavored)
  • A cup of blueberries
  • A pear
  • A small pita bread with hummus (around two tablespoons)
  • A fat-free vegetable dip with vegetables. If you opt for carrots, you can have around 2/3 of a cup. 

1,500 Calorie Diet

The first sample menu for the 1,500-calorie diet comes in just under your allowance at just 1,498.

Breakfast

  • A slice of toast with a tablespoon of almond butter. Choose whole-grain bread.
  • A hard-boiled egg
  • An orange
  • Plain coffee/tea

Lunch

  • A roast beef sandwich, using whole-grain bread. You can add a sliced tomato, a slice of cheese (Swiss or Edam), and a tablespoon of mustard. 
  • A half-cup of carrots
  • A glass of non-fat milk

Dinner 

  • Three-ounce breast of chicken
  • A cup of broccoli
  • Half a cup of blacked beans
  • Two tablespoons of salsa 
  • A whole-wheat roll. You can use a teaspoon of butter. 
  • A small glass of wine 

Snacks

  • A nectarine
  • Half a cup of blueberries
  • A handful of almonds
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon of honey 

For an alternative 1,500 calorie menu, the following comes in at only 1,496. This one is more specific for people who are also being careful about their sugar intake. 

Breakfast

  • A cup of oatmeal, along with walnuts
  • Half a grapefruit (you can use a stevia or sucralose sweetener to top this)
  • A glass of non-fat milk 

Lunch

  • A salad using a cup of spinach as the base. Add a half cup of cherry tomatoes and an ounce of feta. You can dress it with balsamic vinegar (two tablespoons). 
  • Three-ounce piece of baked salmon
  • A diet soda 

Dinner

  • Six ounces of shrimp sautéed in garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil with green peppers. 
  • A cup of brown rice
  • A small whole-grain roll 
  • A glass of water with a wedge of lime

Snacks 

  • Air-popped popcorn (two cups, no butter)
  • An apple
  • Sugar-free, low-fat yogurt (fruit flavored)
  • An ounce of a fat-free vegetable dip with vegetable sticks, such as 2/3 cup of carrots. 

1,700 Calorie Diet

If you are opting for a 1,700-calorie diet, then this sample menu comes in just over at 1,701. 

Breakfast

  • Two eggs scrambled
  • A slice of whole-grain toast
  • You can spread a tablespoon of 100% fruit spread on your toast
  • A cup of 100% juice 

Lunch

  • A wrap – use a whole-grain tortilla dressed with a tablespoon of light mayo, you can fill it with a half cup of chopped chicken, an ounce of grated light cheese, a sliced tomato, and plenty of lettuce. 
  • A cup of non-fat milk

Dinner

  • A three-ounce steak
  • A cup of vegetables, such as green beans
  • A medium-sized baked sweet potato
  • A small glass of wine

Snacks

  • ¾ cup of plain yogurt with a teaspoon of honey 
  • A half-cup of carrots
  • A handful of almonds

Finally, a 1,700-calorie diet sample menu that comes in just over at 1,705 calories. 

Breakfast

  • A slice of whole=grain toast smeared with a tablespoon of peanut butter
  • A glass of non-fat milk 
  • Half a grapefruit, you can top with stevia or sucralose

Lunch

  • Make a salad with two cups of mixed greens. To this, you can add three ounces of shrimp, half a cup of cherry tomatoes, half a can of artichoke hearts, and six slices of cucumber. Dress with two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. 
  • A small whole-grain roll 
  • Diet soda

Dinner

  • A chicken burrito – you can pack your whole-grain tortilla with half a cup of chicken, low-fat grated cheese, loads of lettuce, three tablespoons of salsa and one of fat-free sour cream
  • You can add a half cup of brown rice and a half cup of black beans to your burrito or serve them on the side
  • A small glass of wine

Snacks

  • Air-popped popcorn (two cups, no butter)
  • A sugar-free, low-fat fruit yogurt
  • An orange
  • Half-cup of carrots

As you can see from the sample menus above, no matter what low-calorie diet is right for you, there is plenty of variety to be had.

While some claim a low-calorie can’t be sustained, what the samples show you is that there is plenty to choose from and it’s all delicious. Eating well and losing weight doesn’t have to be boring or bland. 

The Pros & Cons of A Low-Calorie Diet

Pros

  • Choosing low-calorie foods provides you with plenty of fuel for the day, whilst still keeping you within your calorie intake. 
  • Low-calorie foods provide you with more volume which will keep hunger pangs at bay and prevent overeating. 
  • Low-calorie foods offer you plenty of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for your overall health and wellness. 
  • Consuming low-calorie foods allows you to manage your weight effectively. This also reduces the risk of arthritis or joint pain. Additionally, it reduces the risk of a host of diseases. 
  • Low-calorie foods leave your skin radiant and smooth. 
  • There is plenty of variety to choose from so you can keep your meals exciting and fresh. 
  • Low-calorie foods are excellent at slowing down the aging process.

Cons

  • Your body has become accustomed to big portions. When you reduce the size of your portions there will be an adjustment period. You will feel hungry, even if you have had plenty to eat. This is only temporary, but it’s a difficult obstacle to overcome. 
  • There are common side effects like bowel issues and fatigue. This is common when you change your diet radically. 
  • Rapid weight loss can result in gallstones. If you cut your calories too rapidly or too much, this can happen. 
  • This is a lifestyle change, not a diet, so it’s important that you maintain it. 
  • If you are too caught up on calorie counting, then it’s possible you can miss out on other nutrients. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, if you want to lose weight, then a low-calorie diet is one of the most effective ways for you to do so. It’s important to pay attention to the calories you are consuming, but don’t let that be the be-all and end-all.

It’s important to remember the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to thrive. 

However, when it comes to calorie counting, an app can track it and make it easier for you to do so. It’s easy to underestimate how much you’re consuming. Initially, you will heavily rely on a calorie counter to figure out exactly how many calories are in which foods. You will become more accustomed to calculating them in your head as you get used to it. 

Portion control, mindful eating, and choosing whole foods are going to be your new best friends. Any meal plan should revolve around natural and whole foods. If you are eating processed and packaged foods and beverages, you aren’t helping your health. 

Even if you can fit it into your calorie count. You may be tempted to walk the diet aisle that is brimming over with low-calorie snacks perfect to grab on your way out. Don’t give in to temptation. Often, low-calorie snacks have the same number of calories as other processed foods. Stick with whole foods. 

The most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to base each meal around a whole food. One single ingredient that you make everything else workaround. Additionally, just because you’re counting calories doesn’t mean you can stop exercising. It’s important that you push yourself to be more active! 

Don’t get too obsessing over your total weight. When we talk about losing weight, what we’re really getting at is losing fat. You can lose fat, replace it with muscle, and still not drop too much weight. Remember that as you embark on a low-calorie diet journey.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much fat or weight you would like to lose. When you cut excess calories from your diet, you should also increase your physical activity. It’s all well and good dropping fat, but you need to tone your body to keep it in shape.

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