To lose a pound of fat, you have to burn 3,500 more calories than you take in. But you don't have to do it all at once--if you reduce your food intake by 500 calories per day, you'll lose a pound in a week. Reduce by half that much, and you'll lose one in two weeks.
It even works in smaller increments, and that's where these tips come in: Use these 25 strategies to cut 50 calories from just about any meal you're preparing. You'll barely notice the difference on your plate--but you'll notice plenty when it comes to your waistline.
Forget the "light" stuff. Get the full flavor of your favorite spread with fewer calories by trying the olive oil variety: For a 1 tablespoon serving, olive oil mayo has 45 calories (versus 90 in full-calorie mayo) and half the fat.
Another simple mayo swap? Nonfat Greek yogurt: This healthy alternative is packed with protein and a tangy flavor. Mayo has 90 calories per tablespoon while greek yogurt has only 33.
Related: Food Swaps that Fight Belly Fat
If you're making a sandwich on a roll or bagel, the crust's the good part--so make it the focus of your sandwich and cut some calories in the process. Before dressing your sandwich, rake your fingers across the inside of the bread, pulling out some of the white, says Devon Metz, founder of Fit Health Into Life in Boulder, Colorado. You'll cut as many as 100 calories from your meal. (Search: Calories in bread)
For a salad dressing switch that doesn't skimp on the flavor, swap out bottled Italian for a no-calorie substitute: Squeeze the juice of half of a lemon (or, if you like, a whole one) over your salad, and then shake on as much pepper as you like. The citrus zing will brighten up the flavor of your veggies, while saving 43 calories for every tablespoon of dressing you've swapped out.
Make any salad a low-cal taco version with this dressing swap-in: Mix 1 tablespoon of sour cream with two tablespoons of chunky, jarred salsa. This creamy mixture has just 29 calories, compared with 43 for one tablespoon of Italian dressing, and even more for creamy dressings.
Related: How to Make Mexican Food Healthy
If you've got a taste for vodka tonic, here's an easy switch: Club soda is calorie-free. If your cocktail's got just one cup of tonic, you'll save 83 calories per drink with a vodka soda.
Swap in a dollop of light sour cream and a lump of nonfat Greek yogurt instead of using butter and milk. Even if with twice as much sour cream and yogurt (2 tablespoons versus one), you'll save as many as 20 calories. Use the same amount, and you'll save more than 50. Add some chopped chives and black pepper, and you'll have packed your potatoes with flavor.
That myth about drinking water to make you full? It actually works. When you drink a pint of water before a meal you'll eat around 75 fewer calories, according to a study from Virginia Tech. So check out these 12 ways to make water less boring, and drink up!
"Calories in cheese vary greatly by type, but on average, one ounce of cheese has about 100 calories," says Metz. So choose a more flavorful, higher quality cheese, she suggests--you can use half-an-ounce less, save 50 calories, and actually have more flavor in your recipes and meals. Try one of these 14 healthy cheeses.
Give your sandwich a bonus crunch with a thin slice of apple, says Metz. Swap it in instead of a slice of cheese, and you'll save about 80 calories. Or turn your PBJ into a PBA, and slim the sandwich while adding flavor: One tablespoon of grape jelly has 50 calories.
Related: Build a 400-Calorie Sandwich
Give your sandwich a gourmet twist and roll away calories by wrapping protein and veggies in a 100-calorie tortilla, says Metz. Two slices of bread can run you 160 to 200 calories, so you'll save at least 60 with the switch.
For dipping pretzels (or better yet, carrots), switch out ranch or bleu cheese dressing for this mix: Stir together two tablespoons light sour cream with four tablespoons brown mustard. This dip weighs in at just 96 calories, versus more than 400 each for equivalent versions of ranch or bleu cheese.
A regular-sized bagel can rack up as many as 300 calories. A large apple only has about 100. Get the same crunch in your morning by smearing peanut butter on slices of the fruit instead of the bread ring, and save 200.
Pop Quiz: Which is worse, a bagel or a doughnut?
Here's two words that will make your Burger King order better: No mayo. Dropping the mayonnaise from your Whopper sandwich will save 150 calories on the total burger. On a Whopper, Jr., you'll save 90 calories.
When you reach for a snack, go for popcorn: By swapping in the popped stuff, you'll save as many as 100 calories per cup versus eating the equivalent volume of potato chips. Plus, studies show that popcorn is an antioxidant-rich super-snack; learn more.
When mixing up burgers or meatballs, add some green to the mix: Chopped spinach leaves (or chopped green olives) can add color and flavor to your patties, as well as moisture--that's especially good for turkey burgers and balls, which can get dry easily. Oh, and you'll save calories, too: One ounce of ground beef has about 77 calories. One ounce of cooked spinach? Seven calories.
If you've been enchanted by the siren song of Chipotle, don't let your diet get snagged by that lump of guacamole at the end of the line. Though the fats in avacadoes are healthy, that little pile of green creaminess adds 150 calories to your already-stuffede burrito. Even if you had all three of the tomato-based salsas, you'd only add 75 calories to your plate. So skip the green, and save some green--guacamole costs extra! (Bonus tip: You should also pass on the corn salsa, which packs 80 calories per burrito.)
When baking, keep the recipe moist while reducing calories: Swap half the butter it calls for in favor of an equivalent amount of unsweetened applesauce. You'll save almost 100 calories for every tablespoon you swap, and in most recipes, you won't taste the apple in the finished product.
If you're eating a meal that has a starch and a vegetable, switch their sizes: Make the vegetable serving bigger, and the starch serving smaller. "Depending on what it is, a half-cup cooked starch has at least 80 calories, while a half-cup of cooked vegetable has about 25 or 30," says Metz. Add one half-cup of vegetables for every half-cup of starch you reduce, and you'll save 50 calories.
Time for some pork-rithmetic: Two sausage patties can have as many as 240 calories, while two links can have 185 calories. Two strips of bacon, on the other hand, is just 70 calories.
Instead of ice cream, have just the topping: Two servings of light whipped topping (like Cool Whip Lite) has just 40 calories, versus more than 200 for vanilla ice cream. That 160 calories of savings leaves room to top your topping: Add a tablespoon of chocolate syrup (50 calories) and 10 blueberries (10 calories), and you've still shaved 100 from your bowl.
Everyone's favorite "superfood," avocado, is packed with good fats that keep you full. But it can also save you calories while keeping your favorite foods creamy: A fully-ripe avocado, mashed, is the perfect swap into your tuna salad--for every ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of avocado you use instead of an equal amount of mayo, you'll save 125 calories. It's one of nine food swaps that fights belly fat.
"Choose two pieces of toast--roughly two ounces of bread--instead of a giant bagel," which can be four to six ounces, says Metz. On this swap alone, you could save up to 300 calories at breakfast. And an English muffin is just as good: You can have a whole one for 120 calories, while even half a bagel can be 180 calories.
Once you've chosen toast or an English muffin over a bagel for your morning, reward yourself with some creamy chocolate flavor...just not from Nutella. The hazelnut spread isn't as healthy as advertised: A 2-tablespoon serving (and who doesn't use more?) has 200 calories and 19.5 grams of sugar. You can get the same chocolatey flavor from Peanut Butter and Co.'s Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter, and save some calories in the process: A serving of two tablespoons is just 170 calories, has only 7 grams of sugar, and includes 6 grams of filling protein.
Leave two or three bites on your plate. At most meals, this will be enough to save you up to 50 calories. While it may be tempting to clean your plate completely, this tiny sacrifice can be the difference between the body you want and one you lament. So as you put your fork down a few seconds early, remember: Those two bites (and some patience!) can make all the difference.