Diet Cheat Sheet

by Charles Platkin, PhD




  • Calorie Bargains: Find three or four lower-calorie versions of what you typically eat (three to four times per week) and make substitutions you can live with forever. Make sure you don’t overindulge in the newly found Calorie Bargain — that defeats the purpose. For example, if you eat potato chips three lunches per week, replace them with a Calorie Bargain such as air-popped popcorn.
  • Be spontaneous: Learn to be flexible and creative when eating out or traveling. Come up with a list of pre-approved foods you know are low in calories so you can avoid making too many on-the-spot decisions.
  • Fast food is OK: There are low-calorie options available. Learn them before arriving at the restaurant.
  • Singles only: Buy single-serving snack foods; never buy in bulk.
  • Read it: Check food labels and never eat anything that contains more than 15 calories without thinking about it. That includes cookies, crackers and chips (each chip can have as many as 15 calories).
  • Buy frozen and ready-to-eat: Most of us are time-pressed. Go to the supermarket and stock up on healthy, low-calorie frozen foods (e.g., Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice or Kashi), also pick up cereals (under 120 calories per cup) and low-cal soups. When you’re too tired or too busy to cook, use these tasty lean alternatives to eating out.
  • Switch: From whole milk to skim, from eggs to egg whites and from soda to water or no-calorie iced tea.
  • Eat more fiber: It helps keep you full longer. Foods that are high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, legumes and whole-grain breads and pastas.


  • Calories: Calories are made up of carbs, fats and protein. Fats are most “expensive” at 9 calories per gram. Carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram. Also, know your calorie “budget.” As a quickie guide, figure 10 calories per pound for women and 11 calories per pound for men. Then multiply that by your activity level (sedentary = 1.2, lightly active = 1.35, moderately active = 1.5, very active = 1.65, extremely active = 2.0). Reduce your calorie budget to lose weight. Know the cost of a calorie and shop wisely, because every 40 calories you take in over your calorie budget will require 10 minutes of walking to burn off.
  • Carbs: Learn the good carbs from the bad ones. Good: whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Bad: starchy foods such as white pasta and white rice, candy, cakes and sugary drinks. To lose weight, eliminate or limit bad carbs. Low-carb diets are not all bad. If you can live on a low-carb diet, and it works for you, go for it. But avoid those low-carb products that are high in calories.
  • Fat: It’s not all bad. You need it to make you feel full and as part of your diet. Limit unhealthy saturated and trans fats. Stick to mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils.
  • Protein: It can help you lose weight by keeping you full. Just make sure to limit protein sources that are bundled with saturated fat (e.g., fatty meats, cheeses, whole dairy products and others).
  • Lose it: Find out exactly how much weight you need to lose by determining your BMI (body mass index) and using that as a guide. (


  • Avoid willpower: Don’t think all you need is a good dose of willpower to go against your nature, which is to want sugary and fatty foods. To avoid unhealthy foods that entice you, keep junk foods out of your house. Don’t go to the supermarket when you’re ravenous — eat something first. Over time, the healthy stuff tastes great.
  • Forward thinking: Plan ahead for weak “diet” moments. For instance, if you know that Friday is “muffin day” in your office, come up with a healthier alternative that helps prevent you from becoming weak in the knees.
  • Review: Check out all menus from restaurants you frequent beforehand. Come up with three or four pre-selected healthy choices. Call ahead to find out how various dishes are prepared.
  • Form patterns: Make your new eating behaviors automatic by doing them over and over again. You shouldn’t need to take breaks from your “diet.” If you have to take a break, you made too many compromises in the first place, and your diet will not last. New eating behaviors need to be comfortable and not too restrictive.
  • Excuse proof: Don’t let your family give you an excuse to overeat. Make sure they’re aware of your diet and don’t bring unhealthy foods in your house.
  • Find a reason why: It helps to know why you actually want to get in shape. For health reasons? Vanity? Think you already know? Make sure. Write it down.
  • Create a goal: How long do you expect it will take to lose the weight you want? A healthy goal is about ½ to 1 pound per week. Take it slow, no need to rush.


  • Combine it: Research shows that you need to combine diet with activity to lose and maintain your weight. So, figure out a way to combine the two.
  • Make it necessary: Incorporate increased physical activity into your daily life. It should be like brushing your teeth. You do it every day, seven days per week, and most of the time without thinking. Having trouble? Try making the activity useful (i.e., something you need to do anyway), such as actually walking the dog instead of just letting him or her out in the back yard.
  • Get motivated: Come up with an activity you will enjoy so that it doesn’t seem as if it’s a burden.
  • Take a walk: Walking is the No. 1 form of activity to control weight. Locate all available parks, recreation centers and bike and hiking paths in your area, and use them.
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