Diet Plans for Calorie Control

By Dietitian Juliette Kellow BSc RD and WLR founder Tracey Walton

Using calorie control as your weight loss method gives you freedom to choose whatever foods and drinks you want - within a set calorie allowance.

So much freedom, however, means you'll need to get an idea of what a certain number of calories looks like and do some planning to help you lose weight.

taking a chance on calories in your diet is rolling the dice

What Can You Eat on a Calorie Controlled Diet?

These sample diet plans by dietitian Juliette Kellow illustrate what food can be eaten at a given daily calorie amount per day:

1100 calorie plan

1250 calorie plan

1400 calorie plan

1500 calorie plan

1600 calorie plan

1750 calorie plan

Longer Term Calorie Controlled Plans

For plans ranging from 1 week to 6 weeks, take look at some of our popular low calorie diet plans.

The plans are easy to use, range from 1100-1500 calories per day, and many have a free dietplan PDF available.

Each diet plan is healthy, balanced and designed for weight loss. From plans for a purpose such as to lose weight for a special event, to plans that follow certain principles such as low GI, 5:2 or high fibre.

There are also plans to suit individual lifestyles such as vegetarian, or convenience diets based on ready meals.

Having a plan, even if it's a rough one with just the basis of each meal, makes it more likely that dieters will successfully lose weight.(1) See dietitian Lyndel Costain's explanation of why diet plans help weight loss

If you 'wing it' the chances are your calorie intake will be too high to reach your weight loss goals. After all, in the absence of a plan, you're more likely to fall back on food choices out of habit.

Calorie Controlled Diet Planning for Yourself

Whilst using a ready-made plan is a great place to start your weight loss journey, it's quite easy to design your own low calorie diet.

There are no lists of forbidden foods, food groups to restrict, or special foods you have to buy. Plus, there's only one rule to remember - stay within your calorie allowance.

Our guide to making your own diet plan includes a printable diet planner sheet and will help you to get organised for losing weight.

How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

Weight loss happens when you create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight. Even if you only eat 100 calories fewer than you need each day, if you do it consistently, you will lose weight over time.

People's calorie needs are different depending on things like age, gender, height and activity level. But using UK health dept. average requirements for adults, men (2500) and women (2000), is a good starting point.

Using these averages, the table below shows the daily calorie level to lose weight at a healthy rate of 1-2lbs (1/2 to 1kg) a week:

Rate of Loss Daily Calories to Lose:
1lb/wk  1.5lbs/wk 2lbs/wk
Women 1500 1250 1000
Men 2000 1750 1500

See our calorie requirements charts for calories per day for people of different starting weights and activity levels, or take a free trial of our weight loss tools to get precise numbers for yourself.

How many calories a day is healthy?

NICE guidelines(2) recommend a calorie deficit of 600 a day for sustainable weight loss. This equates to daily calorie allowances of 1200-1400 for most women and 1500-1900 for the majority of men, leading to weight loss of 1-2lbs a week until you get to a healthy weight.

The guidelines also advise against the routine use of very low calorie diets under 800 calories (VLCDs) except under clinical supervision and with ongoing support to minimise weight regain.

In accordance with the advice from our health professionals, Weight Loss Resources sets a minimum lower limit of 1100 calories per day.

What Foods to Eat on a Calorie Controlled Diet

As said before, there are no banned foods so the choice is yours.

However, most people will find it hard to stick within a calorie allowance designed for weight loss without changing the types of foods they eat most frequently.

Choosing ingredients that are less calorie dense will help you to stick with the diet without feeling too hungry.

calories per gram of fat, protein and carbohydrate
Calorie density of major nutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrate

Calories per gram of food

  • Fat - 9 kcal per gram
  • Protein - 4 kcal per gram
  • Carbohydrate - 4 kcal per gram
  • Alcohol - 7 kcal per gram

As you can see, fat has more than twice as many calories as protein and carbs, so a low calorie diet also tends to be a relatively low fat diet.

The water content of food also has an effect on its calorie density, since water is calorie free. That's why, gram for gram, fresh fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than dried fruits and crisps.

To be successful, a low calorie diet needs to satisfy hunger with lower calorie foods, and include calorie dense foods less often and/or in smaller portion sizes:

Eat More:

  • Fruit - fresh, frozen and canned are pretty much the same nutritionally provided they don't have added sugar.
  • Vegetables - again fresh, frozen and tinned varieties are all good, but watch out for added fats and oils. Bear in mind that there are just as many calories in 10ml of olive oil as there are in 10g of butter.
  • Lean Protein - .Fish, chicken, lean meat, eggs, beans and other plant based proteins are all good choices. Dairy protein is also good but you'll probably want to choose lower fat products or keep your portions small.
  • Whole grains - wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice and x will all fill you up more than 'white' equivalents.

Eat Less:

  • Fat - trim visible fat from meat. Grill, bake or boil fish, meat, eggs and pant-based protein rather than frying. Take care with sauces and dressings.
  • Sugar - possibly the main problem with this ingredient is that it is combined with fat to make our favourite chocolate bars, puddings, cakes and pastries, making these products very high in calories. Added sugars, in drinks and hidden in processed foods, bump the calorie count up without adding any nutritional or satiety value.
  • Alcohol - at 7 kcal per gram it doesn't take long to consume a few hundred from alcohol, making it difficult to squeeze enough food into a low calorie diet.

How Many Calories Per Meal?

You're more likely to get on well with your weight loss meal plan if you start by including meals, snacks and drinks at the times when you would normally have them. Here's some things to consider:

Do you eat breakfast? If you don't, the beginning of a weight loss diet may not be a good time start. Whilst eating breakfast is associated with good health, if it's not already part of your normal diet it can add extra calories that your body doesn't really want. (For more on this issue see our article on recent research.)

What is your main meal of the day? For many people this will be the evening meal, dinner or tea. In the tables below, dinner means the biggest meal eaten in a day, lunch the second biggest. 

What are your secondary meals? For example, lunch and substantial snacks. Bear in mind that in the context of a low calorie diet a pastry, coming in at over 300 calories, is a meal-sized snack. 

Allow for drinks and milk (or non-dairy alternatives). Include tea and coffee unless you drink them black and without sugar.

What you drink can have a large impact on the calories in your diet. Check out how many in your regular brews bottles and cans - everything but pure water contains calories.

Don't forget other times in the day when you tend to have little snacks or 'nibbles'

The following tables show how you might distribute calories on a weight loss plan, depending on the level your diet allows for. We have focussed on the main meals of lunch and dinner as eating regular proper meals is important for successful weight loss.

Suggested calories per meal for 1200 and 1500 calorie diets with breakfast

Daily Calorie Allowance 1200 1500
Breakfast 200 300
Lunch 300 400
Dinner 500 600
Drinks and Snacks 200 200

Suggested calories per meal for 1200 and 1500 calorie diets without breakfast

Daily Calorie Allowance 1200 1500
Lunch 400 500
Dinner 550 700
Drinks and Snacks 250 300

Revise the meal splits in the tables to suit your own lifestyle and preferences. The values given will help you work out how big a calorie reduction you can cope with and the rate of weight loss to target.

If you're not really sure where you are now with your normal daily diet, try keeping track with a food diary for a few days.

 

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References

(1) Obesity: identification, assessment and management Clinical guideline [CG189], NICE

(2) Food Provision vs Structured Meal Plans in the Behavioral Treatment of Obesity, PubMed

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