Generally, planning is a good thing. But when it comes to your New Year’s weight-loss resolution, planning to be calorically virtuous come January 1 could be sabotaging you right now. By scheduling a future date to begin eating only vegetables, avoiding empty-calorie foods, and kicking ass at the gym, you might be subconsciously giving yourself permission to eat like a hedonist and skip workouts between now and then. The more faith you put in your ability to lose weight next year, the more likely you are to chow on gingerbread and candy canes in the meantime.
Related: 8 Holiday Foods You Should Never Eat
So if you’re serious about losing weight in 2020, start changing your habits today. Even if you’re not prepared to give up on all holiday candy or call an audible on the big Christmas dinner, you can mitigate the caloric damage by kicking a few nutritionally worthless empty-calorie foods out of your kitchen. Here are six things to drop into the trash can right now. And here’s a great bodyweight workout you can do all month long—even on your busiest days.
6 Empty-Calorie Foods to Ditch Right Now
Toss Your: Mayonnaise
Your family’s famous broccoli casserole may be delicious and nostalgic, but it’s not doing any favors for your waistline. And mayonnaise is a likely culprit. Just one measly tablespoon of the stuff has nearly 100 calories and 10 grams of fat, which satisfies 15 percent of your daily fat requirement, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, a dietician based in New York City and founder of the F-Factor Diet. Mayo’s two main ingredients are egg yolks and oil, both of which deliver a heavy load of calories from fat without offering a big enough nutritional payload to justify the damage. Call dibs on taking casserole duties this year, and then lighten the impact up by substituting Greek yogurt for mayo. And don’t tell a soul.
Toss Your: Potato Chips
Anyone who’s ever opened a bag of chips for a hungry group of guests knows the problem: It’s impossible to stop munching mindlessly. Research published in The Journal of Nutrition pinpointed salt as the culprit behind passive overconsumption. But the truth is, even if you can limit yourself to a few handfuls, you shouldn’t bother. Even when consumed in moderation, chips are nutritional garbage. They’re high in calories, fat, and empty carbohydrates. If you need a finger food to get you through football games and holiday parties, serve baby carrots with hummus, or pick up a bag of beet or jicama chips, which compared to potato chips are higher in fiber and lower in fat, Zuckerbrot says.
Toss Your: Butter, Margarine & Vegetable Oil
Some recipes need fat. We get it. And to get that fat, most recipes call for butter, margarine, or vegetable oil. But none of them are particularly nutritious. The fat in butter is mostly saturated, for instance. And a study from the British Journal of Medicine found that while regular vegetable oil (which is made from soybeans) is mostly unsaturated, it still doesn’t do much to protect your heart. If you’re trying to cut calories, try adding applesauce in place of fat. But if that doesn’t work for you, then at least make the switch to olive oil. You won’t see a big difference in calories (a tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories), but olive oil is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and according to research from the University of Munich, it can make you feel full faster by increasing your body’s levels of the hormone serotonin. So you may end up consuming less in the long run, and either way, your arteries will thank you.
Related: Is Eating Fat Bad for You? Or Good?
Toss Your: Creamy Salad Dressing
Eating a salad for dinner is a good move that becomes very bad when you pile on gobs of creamy goo. “A salad without dressing is packed with fiber and nutrient-rich vegetables, but dousing it in creamy dressing sabotages your healthy efforts by adding unnecessary calories and fat,” Zuckerbrot says. A 2-tablespoon serving of ranch dressing, for instance, can set you back more than 140 calories and 14 grams of fat. But that’s a conservative estimate, since “most people are using more than 2 tablespoons on their salads,” Zuckerbrot says. To make a healthier salad dressing, she suggests mixing vinegar with oil and garlic cloves, spices, herbs, and salt and pepper. Or if you’re at a holiday party and stuck using whatever’s available, lightly dress your salad with balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil, or look for the least-creamy option in the buffet line.
Toss Your: Granola
Ever looked at the serving size on granola? It’s shockingly small—usually not more than a half cup, and it’s loaded with fat and sugar. Most people, however, treat it like cereal, filling up an entire bowl (or maybe two). Or they snack on handfuls of the stuff throughout the day. “Sticking your hand mindlessly into the granola bag makes this seemingly healthy snack the equivalent of a candy bar in terms of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar,” Zuckerbrot says. So clear your shelves of any high-sugar, high-carb foods. And if you absolutely need that granola fix, Zuckerbrot suggests trying Julian Bakery granola. It no added sugar, 12 grams of protein, and only 2 grams of net carbohydrates per serving. But you’ll still need to train your brain to stick to the serving size. Zuckerbrot suggests portioning it out into baggies so you can snack without overeating.
Toss Your: Tonic
Ordering a gin and tonic at the holiday party may seem virtuous when you’re passing up festive, high-calorie drinks like white Russians or spiked egg nog. But we’ll do you one better: Mix your booze of choice with seltzer to get tonic's bubbles minus the calories. “Tonic has 80 calories per eight ounces, while seltzer has zero,” Zuckerbrot says. And most of the time, high-fructose corn syrup—the same stuff used in Coke—supplies tonic’s sugar. So while that gin and tonic will put you back 200 calories, gin with seltzer (and fresh lime juice if you’re feeling fancy) will have you feeling the holiday cheer for about half the calories.