Diet Habits That Ruin Your Waistline

Just about every woman, and most men, at one time or another have tried and failed to eat better or lose weight. It’s our pastime, our nemesis, and our obsession. Yet, despite decades of dieting,  hundreds of different diets, and a billion weight-loss attempts, we are heavier than ever. Almost 7 out of every 10 of us are overweight, more than 3 in 10 are obese, and the numbers increase with each passing year. Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness says that worrying constantly about what we are eating, switching from low-carb to fat-free than back to low-carb, and collecting bottles of weight-loss pills, potions, and powders isn’t the solution.
#1. Mindless eating. Almost every person I’ve ever counseled does this one. It starts with them telling me “I don’t eating anything, I don’t know why I can’t lose weight.” But, when I press farther, it turns out they eat all day long, one bite at a time. In the kitchen, they taste test the meal and finish off the sandwich crusts as they put plates in the dishwasher. At a restaurant, they order salads, then nibble French fries off their partner’s plate. They feed their toddlers in a one-for-you-and-one-for-me fashion. They nibble from the fridge, out of the pan, and while standing at the counter, never realizing that every bite, even if it never touches a plate, packs about 25 calories. All it takes is four bites a day and you’ll gain 1 pound in a month. The solution here is to keep a food journal for one week, writing down everything, and I mean everything, that goes into your mouth. Just becoming aware of how often you nibble may be enough to put this habit in check. Also, make a vow that you’ll only eat when you are fully conscious and only if you first have portioned the food onto a plate. 

#2. Dishonesty. That’s right. We lie often to ourselves, but most of the time to others about what we eat. We underestimate food intake by ~ 800 Calories a day, typically saying we eat more fruits and vegetables and exercising much more than we really do. At the same time, we underestimate how much fat, sugar, and calories we consume.  Sometimes it’s intentional (I had one client who admitted that she would bake a batch of cookies, eat the entire batch, then bake a second batch so that no one would know we had eaten the first). Sometimes it’s unintentional because we are confused about what makes up a portion. (Hint: That take out spaghetti is probably closer to 10 servings of pasta, not one and a coffee-shop muffin is at least 4 servings of grain.) The biggest problem with not being fully honest is that if you think you’re doing pretty well, eating right and exercising enough, there is no reason to change or improve. Fibbing makes it impossible to identify what you’re doing wrong so it can be fixed. It forfeits your right to control your health and well-being. To get a handle of portions, buy a scale and set of measuring cups and use them for one week to learn what a real portion looks like. This will help curb supersizing that results in unintentionally eating much more than you think. For example, a serving of pasta is ½ cup or the size of your fist, meat is 3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards, and that muffin should be 2 ounces, about the size of a ping-pong ball.

#3. Skimping on vegetables. A perfect example of dishonesty is how people report their vegetable intake. We consume 4 at most, not the 8+ we say we’re eating. And we choose all the wrong ones. If all people did was include two richly colored vegetables/fruits at every meal and at least one at every snack, they’d be well on their weigh to weight loss.

#4. Check labels. Yes. A recent study found that people read the calories on a food label, but they don’t read the # of servings and the serving size for that calorie allotment. Big mistake. If you think the cup of granola you just served yourself has 115 calories, but don’t read the label saying that is the calories in a 1/4 cup, then you have just eaten 460 calories without knowing it. Always check labels for both calories and serving size.

#5. Fitting in. Peer pressure is a big influence on what and how much we eat, according to recent study. Researchers analyzed how people’s food choices were affected by eating norms. Results showed that people who were told that other people were making low-calorie or high-calorie food choices were much more likely to make the same choices themselves. In addition, people who are told that others are eating large quantities of food are more likely to eat more. This influence is present even if people are not aware of the association or if they are eating all by themselves and think they have no motivation to please other people. This need to fit in also explains why people who are overweight typically don’t think their overweight children are fat. We get used to what is around us and so it becomes normal In short, if everyone in your social circle is weight and health-conscious, you will be more likely to take care of yourself and your family. Of course, the opposite is also true. Makes sense to hang out with healthy eaters and exercisers!.

#6. Just because it is low-fat or low-sugar doesn’t mean it’s calorie-free. There is no good evidence that these foods in and of themselves cause weight gain or a sweet tooth. However, research shows that when you tell someone a food is low-fat or low-calorie or sugar-free, they eat twice as much whether it is or isn’t. This is just another example of how you need to engage your higher brain centers to monitor your behavior rather than eat unconsciously.

#7. Eat regularly. Erratic eating habits, such as skipping meals or letting long periods of time elapse between eating leads to overeating and weight gain. The reason is that once you are ravenous your appetite now rules the roost and you’ll eat whatever is in sight, too much of it, and all the wrong stuff. In contrast, eat regularly, starting with breakfast and you eat when you are comfortably hungry, stay in control of your appetite, and are most likely to make better food choices.
#8. Daily exercise. Anyone you says you can lose weight and maintain the weight loss without exercising daily is lying. In fact, once you’ve been overweight it takes more daily exercise to maintain a significant weight loss than if you’d never gained weight in the first place. That’s just the reality. Get over it. Get used to it. Get moving! Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day. Walk up escalators, don’t ride them like an amusement park ride. Walk up and down the hallway while talking on the phone. Use every opportunity to move.


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