No matter what type of diet you follow, to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in each day. For most people who are overweight, cutting about 500 calories a day is a good place to start. If you can eat 500 fewer calories every day, you should lose about a pound (450 g) a week.
Always talk with your health care provider to determine a healthy weight for you before starting a weight-loss diet.
How to Cut Calories
Try these 10 ways to cut 500 calories every day. It is easier than you may think.
- Swap your snack. Many people reach for a snack or two in between meals. Snacking is fine, but be sure to choose lower-calorie options. The key is to have some healthy snacks ready when hunger hits. Instead of a 3-ounce (85 g) bag of flavored tortilla chips (425 calories), choose a cup (250 mg) of air-popped popcorn (31 calories), a cup (250 mg) of grapes and a low-fat cheese stick (180 calories) or a small apple and 12 almonds (160 calories). Choosing healthy snacks twice a day will save you 500 calories.
- Cut one high-calorie treat. Try to remove one high-calorie food item each day. Whether it is a donut in the morning, a brownie or bag of chips at lunch, or chocolate cake after dinner, you will save 250 to 350 calories or more. To burn another 150 calories, take a 40-minute brisk walk after lunch or dinner.
- Do not drink your calories. One 12-ounce (355 mL) regular soda has about 150 calories, and a 16-ounce (475 mL) flavored latte can pack 250 calories or more. Even fruit smoothies have lots of calories, as many as 400 in a 16-ounce (475 mL) serving. A couple of sweet drinks a day can easily add up to 500 calories or more. Choose water, sparkling water, or black coffee or tea instead and save your calories for foods that will help you feel full.
- Skip seconds. Taking a second helping can add up to unwanted calories. It is easy to keep filling your plate when you serve food family style on the table. Instead, fill your plate once and keep extras in the kitchen. Or, if you still do not feel satisfied, add a second helping of vegetables, fruit, or salad.
- Make low calorie substitutions. Substitute lower-calorie options for some of your high-calorie favorites. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup (250 mL) of sour cream (444 calories), use plain low-fat yogurt or Greek yogurt instead (154 calories).
- Ask for a doggie bag. The portions at most restaurants are much larger than recommended serving sizes. Instead of cleaning your whole plate, ask the server to put half in a container for you to take home for another meal. You can also share an entrée with a friend, or make a meal out of an appetizer and a large salad. Just be sure to go easy on the dressing and fried toppings.
- Just say "no" to fried food. Frying food adds lots of unhealthy calories and saturated fat to any dish. Instead of fried chicken or fish, choose grilled, broiled, or poached instead. And skip the French fries. A large serving of fries alone can add almost 500 calories to a meal. Instead, see if you can substitute for the vegetable of the day or a side salad.
- Build a thinner pizza. Skip the meat toppings, extra cheese, and deep-dish crust, and have a couple slices of thin-crust vegetable pizza instead. You will save a little over 500 calories.
- Use a plate. Eat all food from a plate or bowl, including snacks. When you snack out of a bag or box, it is easy to eat more than you intend to. This is especially true if you are sitting in front of the TV. You may be surprised to learn that a large bag of chips could be more than 1000 calories. Instead, place one portion in a bowl, and put the rest away.
- Avoid alcohol. Cutting back on alcohol is an easy way for many people to trim calories. Alcohol does not have any nutritional value, so when you imbibe (drink) alcohol, you are getting empty calories, up to 500 for some mixed drinks made with syrupy sweeteners, fruit juices, and ice cream or heavy cream. If you do order a drink, choose a 12-ounce (355 mL) light beer (103 calories) or a 5-ounce (145 mL) glass of wine (120 calories).
Weight loss - 500 calories; Overweight - 500 calories; Obesity - 500 calories; Diet - 500 calories
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Eat more, weigh less? www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/energy_density.html. Updated May 15, 2015. Accessed July 2, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. How to avoid portion size pitfalls to help manage your weight. www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/portion_size.html. Updated August 18, 2015. Accessed July 2, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Rethink your drink. www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/drinks.html. Updated September 23, 2015. Accessed July 2, 2020.
U.S. Department of Agriculture; Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. fdc.nal.usda.gov. Accessed July 1, 2020.
Review Date 5/26/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 05/23/2022.