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Special to msnbc.com
updated 3/2/2007 7:31:30 AM ET 2007-03-02T12:31:30

More and more, we hear that Americans are tiring of fad diets and looking for a sensible approach to weight control. One simple solution is to switch from looking for major dietary changes to recognizing how differences of just 50 calories can add up to significant weight loss.

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Everyone’s metabolism is a bit different, but theoretically each pound of body fat equals 3,500 calories. Cutting 500 calories a day should knock off about a pound a week, while cutting even 250 calories each day will lead to losing a half pound each week.

You can slowly but painlessly lose weight by cutting back just 50 calories at each meal to reduce your daily intake by 150 calories. If you can find 100 calories to comfortably trim from each meal, weight loss will move along even faster. You can then burn 100 calories more by sneaking in a little extra activity.

Easy trimming
You can easily trim 50 calories from almost any meal. Fat is a concentrated source of calories. If you use two tablespoons of cream cheese on a bagel, simply cut the amount in half to reach the target; if you switch to the reduced-fat kind you won't need to cut quite as much. If you have a bacon-and-egg breakfast, replace the bacon with a fruit cup or some melon.

Switching the mayonnaise on a sandwich or sub to tomatoes and mustard will save more than 50 calories. For a snack, choose an apple instead of a bag of chips to cut fat and add fiber. Salads might seem to be a sure way to cut fat and calories, but not if you load on high-fat dressings and cheese. Choosing a low-fat dressing instead of high-fat creamy types will save you from 80 to 150 calories.

Meats can contain a lot of hidden fat calories. Switch to lean instead of regular ground beef, and marinate a flank steak or top round instead of choosing a steak with fatty marbling. Whether on a salad or in a sandwich, choosing grilled instead of “crispy” (meaning deep-fried) chicken will cut about 80 calories.

A tad of sweetness
Find out how dietary advice has changedSugar provides calories that can sneak up on you. By switching 12 ounces of a sugar-sweetened soft drink or bottled tea to a diet drink or unsweetened tea, you will cut 130 to 150 calories. If you are a frequent ice-cream eater, try some of the products with no sugar added, which cut 100 to 150 calories from each half-cup serving.

When it comes to favorite treats, one of the easiest ways to cut calories without giving up your loved product is to cut portions. Chocolate lovers can still indulge by slowly savoring a smaller portion. You can purchase pre-wrapped portions of chocolates that are one-ounce or less, or portion your own serving size, such as  four chocolate kisses or a coffee scoop (two tablespoons) of chocolate chips.

If you can’t do without french fries, drop your usual order one size (or eat only half of what comes on most restaurant plates) and you’ll cut 100 to 170 calories.

Nutritious problem
Even nutritious foods pose a problem if portions are too large. Instead of filling a bowl with cereal, stick to one or one-and-a-half of the label’s “serving size” and you may cut 50 to 100 calories. Juice is also concentrated in calories, so use a smaller glass and stick to a six-ounce portion; if you’ve been filling a 12-ounce glass you’ll cut about 85 calories.

Burning an extra 100 calories a day in activity isn’t hard. For someone weighing about 150 pounds that means about 30 minutes of fairly brisk walking, which can be broken into 10-minute segments through the day.

One caution: Don’t cut calories from meals that are already too small. If you skimp on breakfast or lunch, cutting back further will leave you low on energy and may make you prone to overeat at other times. Instead, see if you can cut at meals where you eat substantially or make small changes in snacking. Look for cuts you can live with so that once the weight is lost you can maintain it.

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