Low-Calorie Dieting For Dummies Cheat Sheet - dummies
Cheat Sheet

Low-Calorie Dieting For Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Low-Calorie Dieting For Dummies

By Susan McQuillan

Whether you’re trying to lose 15 pounds or 150 pounds, the only real solution to weight control is to eat right, exercise regularly, and stay away from fad diets. The journey to weight loss can be made easier by knowing standard portion sizes for various food groups, keeping your hunger level in check, and knowing weight-loss facts versus myths.

Deciphering Weight-Loss Fact and Fiction

You may encounter more weight-loss misinformation floating around than reliable advice. If you’re new to the weight-loss game — and it is something of a game — you’re going to hear and read all types of tips and advice on how to do it, what foods to eat and not eat, and what works and what doesn’t. Here are six popular diet myths, debunked:

  • Eating in-between meals makes you fat. The truth is, snacking can actually help you lose weight. The purpose of a snack is to prevent you from getting so hungry that you overeat at your next meal.

  • You must stick to a strict number of calories to lose weight. In fact, you can lose weight with a range of calories. Also, you’ll be more successful at weight loss if you give in and cheat a little (with an emphasis on “little”) once in a while, especially if you feel hungry, than if you allow yourself to get too hungry and end up binge eating.

  • Eating certain specific foods helps you burn calories. Have you ever heard that you can lose weight by eating only cabbage soup? How about the grapefruit diet? Has anyone ever told you that it takes more calories to digest an apple than the apple itself contains? If you haven’t heard any of these stories yet, you will. Unfortunately, none of them are true.

  • Eating late at night causes you to gain more weight than eating during the day. Not true. The total amount and type of food you eat is what matters, not when you eat it.

  • Reduced-fat and fat-free foods can help you lose weight. Certain naturally fat-free foods, such as vegetables and fruits, can help you lose weight because you can fill up on larger quantities of these foods for fewer calories than if you were to choose food higher in fat. Fat-free convenience food products, however, are another story. Many of these foods contain so much added sugar or other ingredients that they contribute just as many, if not more, calories to your diet.

  • Using sugar substitutes helps you lose weight. Many diet products on supermarket shelves contain the most recently approved sugar substitute that slashes their calories in half. The sudden appearance of these products coincides with a rising trend of eliminating sugar from the diet to lose weight and the release of new dietary guidelines from government health experts, advising overweight people to cut calories to lose weight. How convenient for food manufacturers!

    Put two and two together and the answer is that sugar substitutes are not the answer to weight control! Check out these two facts:

    • On the whole, Americans have gotten fatter and fatter over the past 100 years.

    • Sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners and low-calorie sweeteners, have been around for more than 125 years.

    Using sugar substitutes is a matter of personal choice. If you’re comfortable with the products and you want to use them in your low-calorie plan, it’s entirely up to you. The problem with sugar substitutes is that they may lead you to believe you can eat more food because you’re not getting as many calories from sugar. Sugar substitutes don’t teach you how to eat less food overall, and that’s why, in the bigger picture, they don’t work as a weight-loss tool.

Figuring Out Whether You’re Truly Hungry

What happens when you don’t eat? You set yourself up for a binge in the not-so-distant future. Food deprivation never helped anyone lose weight in the long run. The trick is to figure out if you’re really hungry, and to eat just enough to satisfy your hunger. One way to know if what you’re feeling is true physical hunger, and not emotional hunger, is that when you’re truly hungry, you’ll feel better by eating just about any type of food. When you’re emotionally hungry, you usually crave very specific types of foods that you’ve used to comfort yourself in the past.

One component of mindful eating that dietitians and other weight experts often use is a hunger scale, like the one that follows, that can help you determine just how hungry you are or how full you are. The scale ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 being so hungry you could eat a bucket of beans and 10 being so overstuffed you can’t get up out of your chair. You want to avoid these extremes by using this scale to decide when to eat and when to stop.

0 Extremely hungry

1 Very hungry

2 Hungry

3 Slightly hungry

4 No longer hungry but not yet full

5 Comfortable

6 Beginning to feel full

7 Beginning to feel too full

8 Uncomfortable

9 Very uncomfortable with a slight stomachache

10 Extremely overstuffed and uncomfortable; possibly nauseous

Whenever you’re following a low-calorie diet and you feel hungry, you need to eat. Period. Don’t give it a second thought. Better yet, try not to let yourself get to the point where you actually feel hungry. Eat something.

Serving Sizes by Food Group

One way to keep track of how much food you’re eating is to focus on portion sizes, rather than on individual calorie counts. Here’s a quick-reference guide to standard portion sizes of different foods within each food group that provide approximately the same number of calories. Keep in mind that these guidelines are general; calories actually vary within each food group, depending not only on the food itself, but also how it’s prepared.


One serving from this group, in the amount show, provides about 25 to 45 calories.

  • 1 cup spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, or other raw leafy green or uncut vegetables such as green beans, mini carrots, or snow peas

  • 1/2 cup any other nonstarchy vegetables (see below), cooked or finely chopped raw

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable juice


One serving from this group, in the amount shown, provides about 60 to 80 calories.

  • 1 small to medium apple, banana, orange, peach, or other whole fruit

  • 1/2 grapefruit or mango

  • 1/2 cup chopped fruit

  • 15 grapes or 12 cherries

  • 7 dried apricot halves, 3 prunes, or 2 tablespoons raisins

  • 1/2 cup fruit juice

Grains and starchy vegetables

One serving from this group, in the amount shown, provides about 80 calories.

  • 1 slice bread

  • 1 small (6-inch) tortilla

  • 1/2 English muffin

  • 1/2 small bagel

  • 1/2 small (6-inch) pita

  • 1/2 cup hot cereal

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cold cereal (11/2 cups puffed cereal with no milk)

  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta or rice

  • 1/2 cup starchy vegetables such as peas, carrots, beans, corn, or potatoes (of any kind).


One serving, in the amount shown, provides between 150 to 250 calories.

  • 3 ounces cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish

  • 1 cup cooked dry beans, lentils, or split peas

  • 1 to 11/2 cups (2 to 3 ounces) tofu cubes

  • 2 to 3 eggs

  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter

Milk and dairy products

One serving, in the amount listed, provides 150 to 200 calories. Lower-fat and fat-free dairy products often contain fewer calories. For instance, whole milk contains about 150 calories per cup while 2 percent lowfat milk contains 120 calories per cup, and skim milk contains only 90 calories per cup. When considering flavored yogurts and other dairy products, however, be sure to check the nutrition labels for actual calorie counts because lower fat doesn’t always mean fewer calories.

  • 1 cup whole milk or yogurt

  • 1 1/2 ounces cheese such as cheddar, muenster, brie, blue, Swiss, mozzarella

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano

  • 2 ounces American cheese


One serving, in the amount listed, provides about 35 to 40 calories. Reduced-fat spreads often contain fewer calories.

  • 1 teaspoon butter, margarine, regular salad dressing, regular mayonnaise, or vegetable oil