The best formula for weight loss: Control your calories. You know it, we know it—and study after study proves it. So why is it that even though most of us aren't bingeing on high-fat fare and continually snacking on sweets, we're still gaining weight?
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One reason is 85% of adults have no idea how many calories they should consume to maintain a healthy weight. The other: Most of us don't know how many calories are in the foods we eat—and we don't have time to count them.
That's why Prevention created the 400 Calorie Fix—a weight loss plan that teaches you to control calories by limiting your meals to about 400 calories each. "That's the right amount to allow for healthy variety in your diet and to keep you satisfied," explains nutritionist Mindy Hermann, RD, who helped create the plan.
How do you cap your meals without crunching numbers? By learning what 400 calories looks like. To help, we put together dozens of 400-calorie options, plus tips to control portions and spot hidden calories. You'll learn to see food through a 400-calorie lens whether you create meals at home or eat out.
What's more, we know it works: Sixteen women and men followed the plan and lost up to 11 pounds and 3 belly inches in just 2 weeks—and continued to lose in the months that followed. (See their before-and-after photos!)
It's tough to visualize proper portions and calories. When researchers asked study participants to estimate calories in restaurant entrees, they were off by as much as 100%. Here are three tips to help you see food through the 400-calorie lens:
1. Learn to Eyeball Portions
To estimate how many calories are in any given meal, you need to know how much food is on your plate. At home, you can weigh and measure with cups and scales, but when dining out, use these tricks to consume healthy portions (or test your smarts by taking our new 400 Calorie Fix Pop Quiz):
Thumb tip or 1 small marble = 1 tsp (e.g., oil or jam)
Thumb tip to first knuckle or 1 large marble = 1 Tbsp (e.g., peanut butter)
Thumb or 2 large marbles = 2 Tbsp solid food (e.g., nuts) or 1 oz liquid (e.g., salad dressing)
Golf ball or cupped handful = 1/4 c (e.g., beans)
Hockey puck or palm = 3 oz (e.g., cooked meat, poultry, or fish)
Tennis ball = 1/2 c (e.g., fruit)
Your fist or a baseball = 1 c (e.g., vegetables or pasta)
2. Spot Hidden Fat and Sugar
They can sneak into your meals and load them with unexpected calories. When you're doing the cooking, just swap in low-fat ingredients, such as reduced-fat salad dressings, cheese, and milk. Dining out can be trickier. Watch for these signs your food is soaked in fat: pools of oil on the plate, a high-gloss shine or white coating on foods that aren't naturally white, or a dark stain or oil ring on a paper bag or plate. Finally, know that sugar is plentiful in soft drinks, desserts, and candy—and in foods you may not expect, like ketchup and crackers. Read labels to spot hidden sugar sources (such as high fructose corn syrup and dextrose), or choose sugar-free alternatives.
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3. Split Your Plate Six Ways
Sure, you can polish off 400 calories of chocolate cake and call it a meal, but you'll stay satisfied longer and eat healthier if you consume the right mix of veggies, fruits, proteins, and grains. For balanced nutrition and no-brainer calorie control, divide your plate into six equal sections: Fill one section with protein, two with grain, and the remaining three with fruits and veggies. This trick won't apply to every meal, but use it as a handy guide to eat in a way that boosts health and energy.