This time of year, many people have resolved to lose a pound or 2. Maybe 5. Maybe more. Why? That's easy: to feel better, look better, improve their health, and run farther and faster.
However, losing weight can be surprisingly difficult. In fact, national health surveys show Americans in general are getting fatter. Sure, active people should be ahead of the pack, but many are still losing the weight-gain war. (Could these 6 Surprising Weight Loss Myths be guilty of sabotaging your efforts?)
What you need is a simple plan. Here it is, in just two parts: (1) Make a little more time to run; (2) Concentrate on a handful of dietary changes that, over the course of a year, can produce significant weight-loss results.
Below we've listed 20 great diet changes that you'll find easy to achieve. Many of them will help you cut 100 calories or more from a single serving. Now do the math. Say you eat this particular food or meal three times a week. That's 100 x 3 x 52, or 15,600 calories saved in a year. Which comes to almost 5 pounds, since you'll lose one pound for every 3,500 calories cut from your food intake.
Make another food substitution (like any of these 15 Easy Food Swaps That Melt Fat), and you're up to 10 pounds. Beyond that, the sky's the limit. Here's your meal-by-meal planner.
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BREAKFAST Don't skip breakfast. A good breakfast is the most crucial part of any healthy weight-loss effort, as it revs up your energy level and metabolism for the full day.
1. Homemade raisin bran
Mix one cup of Total cereal, a packet of raisins, and 1 cup nonfat milk. This simple home recipe with 244 calories fortifies you with 100 percent of the Daily Value for most vitamins and minerals, boosts your protein intake by 12 grams, and gives you a sweet, natural fiber and sugar source.
You'll Save: 50 calories, 6 teaspoons of sugar, and 5 grams of fat compared with ready-to-serve raisin bran doused with a cup of 2-percent milk.
2. Scrambled whites with greens
This low-fat, scrambled-egg alternative provides 54 grams of high-quality dietary protein in just 255 calories. First, spray your frying pan with fat-free Pam. Then pour the equivalent of four servings of Eggology egg whites (or Second Nature or Egg Beaters egg whites) in a bowl and blend with 1/2 cup spinach and 1/2 cup mushrooms. Heat the pan until the Pam starts to bubble, pour in the eggs, and fry until the eggs are nearly dry.
You'll Save: 40 calories, 100 milligrams of cholesterol, and 13 grams of fat compared with two normal scrambled eggs.
3. Balanced Diet Shake
For something cool, tasty, and nutrient-filled in the morning, try a shake or smoothie. The Balanced Diet nutritional drink provides 180 calories with lots of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in a naturally flavored French vanilla or chocolate royale. Each serving includes 5 grams of dietary fiber and 10 grams of soy, or 40 percent of the daily minimum now recommended by the American Heart Association.
You'll Save: 60 calories daily and nearly 6 grams of fat compared with many other similar drinks.
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4. Frozen fruit smoothie
You can prepare your own personal antioxidant-filled fruit smoothie like the following one that runner Bruce Shapiro used to lose 30 pounds over the last few years. Combine and blend: one cup frozen, unsweetened blueberries; 1/2 banana; 1/4 cup wheat germ; and water.
You'll Save: 200 calories for each 2- to 3-cup serving, compared with many store-bought and canned smoothie beverages.
5. Toasted plain Lender's Bagel with natural jam
Sure, a frozen bagel can't match a fresh one, but it's easier to obtain for many people, and a little toasting brings it to near perfection. Just spread with your favorite natural jam.
You'll Save: Anywhere from 160 to 360 calories and more than 10 grams of fat compared with similar bagels bought at Dunkin' Donuts and other outlets where the bagels are spread with cream cheese.
LUNCH Lunch is the second-most-important meal of the day in your weight-loss plan. It boosts your energy level and regulates your metabolism to keep you on an even keel.
6. Boca Burger Grilled Vegetable burger
This zesty, soy-based vegetarian alternative to the high-saturated-fat American BBQ staple contains hints of zucchini, red-bell pepper, garlic, onion, and even a couple of cheeses. It tastes great and provides a good dose of protein. Add some lettuce, tomato, ketchup, or your other favorite toppings, and you'll hardly notice the difference from the traditional burger.
You'll Save: Up to 180 calories and 19 grams of fat compared with a typically-grilled 3-ounce beef burger.
7. Alvarado Street sprouted wheat tortilla
It's easy to make your own delicious wrap and save hundreds of calories. With this tasty, organic, whole-wheat tortilla you'll have no trouble fixing a quick, hearty lunch. Boost your vitamin and mineral intake by loading on a handful of greens, shredded carrots, tomato, and peppers along with grilled chicken, lean meat, turkey, or a bean-based filler.
You'll Save: Anywhere from 50 calories and 5 grams of fat to much more if you customarily buy a commercial wrap drowning in mayo, oily toppings, or greasy chicken.
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8. Subway roast beef sub sandwich
Can't live without meat? You don't have to. Meat is a great source of protein, iron, and several important minerals, and the Subway lean 6-inch roast beef sub contains just 264 calories and 4.5 grams of fat in a meal perfectly balanced with lettuce, tomato, and vegetables.
You'll Save: Nearly 100 calories and 12 grams of fat compared with a tuna salad sub, and more than 20 grams of fat compared with the classic meatball sub.
9. Health Valley chili The right soup is always a great part of your weight-loss arsenal. This can of fat-free chili is tasty, easy to prepare, and filled with healthy fiber.
You'll Save: 200 calories and 22 grams of fat compared with other prepared and restaurant chilis.
10. Tossed salad with croutons instead of salad dressing
You know that green salads make an important contribution to your day's eating, but you've probably never thought of them as an expression of art and adventure. Here's your chance. Instead of drenching your salads in high-fat dressings, decorate them with croutons, beans, or fruit.
You'll Save: 100 calories and 28 grams of fat when you add 1 ounce of croutons and 1/2 cup of beans, peas, and raisins to your salad in place of 1 ounce of an oil-based dressing. You'll also increase your intake of iron, folic acid, Vitamin C, and fiber.
PLUS: For ultimate weight loss results, pair your meal plan with the Easiest Run-to-Lose Plan, Ever!
SNACKING Everybody has a snack attack at one time or another, and there's no reason to fight it. Research shows that those who snack when hungry eat less later and control their weight better. Just be sure you eat healthy, low-fat snacks such as the ones that follow.
11. Frozen grapes, blueberries, and/or bananas
Frozen cold sweet fruits are refreshing, satisfying, nutritious, and taste "smooth" or even creamy like many fat-filled desserts. They're easy to store in your freezer, whether store bought or picked-by-you-and-your-family and then frozen. Because of their texture, temperature, and consistency, they taste sweet, and alert your body to stop eating before you've overdone it.
You'll Save: 80 calories when you compare a whole 12-ounce bag of frozen blueberries to a small serving of TCBY frozen yogurt, and 200 calories and 14 grams of fat when you compare a frozen banana with a 1/2 cup of Ben and Jerry's.
12. Dried papaya, mango, and/or dates
For a sweet taste that mimics a piece of candy, try a dried-fruit snack. Raisins are the most popular, but these papayas, mangos, and dates will provide your daily dose of vitamin C, plus some vitamin A and iron. They require more chewing time than raisins, and will satisfy most people in a smaller quantity than raisins, which are easy to overeat.
You'll Save: 100 to 150 calories for 4 to 6 pieces when compared with a handful of raisins or other dense, sugary foods and candies.
13. Glenny's Apple Cinnamon Low-Fat Soy Crisps
Available in two-serving bags, these crunchy cinnamon treats will satisfy your sweet tooth while setting you back just 150 calories for 28 crisps. Also available in lightly salted and onion flavor, each bag contains 10 grams of soy protein (The American Heart Association recommends 25 to 50 grams of soy protein each day for heart health) plus 200 percent of your daily vitamin C need, 20 percent of your iron need, and 10 percent of your calcium need.
You'll Save: 150 calories and 15 grams of fat compared with graham-cracker snack treats.
PLUS: Need more ideas to satisfy your munchies? Try one of these 25 Snacks That Boost Fat Burn.
DINNER A satisfying dinner will help you avoid a late-night pigout. The best dinners are high in complex carbohydrates, and low in fat. The carbohydrates will help you sleep better, and also fuel your morning workout.
14. Spaghetti squash
When prepared, the spaghetti squash actually resembles a plate of spaghetti, so you can add all your favorite sauces and toppings. Rich in fluids (about 92.3 percent water), carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, and pantothenic acid (a B vitamin), spaghetti squash makes an ideal, low-calorie entre that's still filling. (Note: This is not, however, the best way to carbo-load for a marathon, or resupply your leg muscles after a hard workout. For that, you'll want a traditional plate of pasta, heavy on the spaghetti, and light on the sauces.)
You'll Save: 200 calories compared with 2 cups of wheat spaghetti.
15. Papadini, hi-protein, pure-lentil bean pasta
This delicious, wheat- and gluten-free pasta has a unique, appealing taste, and shouldn't trouble runners whose stomachs are sensitive to regular pastas. It also has 5 more grams of protein per serving than traditional pasta, and is richer in iron, folic acid, and other B-vitamins necessary for metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats for energy. When you prepare Papadini pasta as a vegetable primavera, tossed with peas, beans carrots, tomatoes, and corn, you get as much protein as a chicken or steak dinner without the excess fat, cholesterol, and calories.
You'll Save: 20 calories per 2-ounce serving compared with traditional wheat pastas.
16. Idaho Supreme potato pasta
Here's another wheat- and gluten-free alternative to the real McCoy. Potato-based pasta is a delightful, high-complex-carbohydrate, high-fiber wheat alternative. The Idaho Supreme pasta is made from organic potatoes to help preserve the Vitamin C, calcium, and iron necessary for strong, healthy running.
You'll Save: 20 calories per 2-ounce serving compared with traditional pastas.
MORE: If you need help navigating the aisles on your next grocery run, follow our Ultimate Supermarket Survival Guide.
17. Advantage\10 pizza
This delicious pizza alternative featuring grilled vegetables was designed by low-fat health guru Dean Ornish. You can practically eat the whole pie for the same number of calories you get from one or two slices at your local pizzeria.
You'll Save: 250 calories and more than 20 grams of fat compared with most restaurant or supermarket pizzas.
18. Barbara's Mashed Potatoes
They're not a full meal, of course, but these easy-to-prepare mashed potatoes in a box make a great, high-carbohydrate, low-fat "comfort" dish to go with your meal. Prepare them with nonfat milk, water, a little salt, and nonfat margarine.
You'll Save: 50 calories and 6 grams of fat compared with a 1-cup serving of traditional mashed potatoes.
DESSERT It's normal and natural to want something sweet after dinner. Especially if you've been training hard. Since chocolate has recently been shown to contain powerful antioxidants, why not indulge a little?
19. Haagen-Dazs chocolate sorbet
Who ever thought Haagen-Dazs would make it into this article? But it does. This richly chocolate frozen treat manages to taste creamy without containing any fat at all. Sure, it's sugary, but at least you're getting some protein and fiber as well.
You'll Save: 100 calories and 15 grams of fat per serving compared with HD's chocolate fudge ice cream.
20. Chocolate Dreams cookies
A meringue-type version of the traditional chocolate chip cookie, this one lets you gobble down 5 cookies for under 30 calories and no fat. Bonus: You get two grams of protein as well.
You'll Save: At least 150 calories and 9 grams of fat compared with just 3 regular chocolate chip cookies.
Looking to lose a few pounds? Cutting out meat?