Watching your figure? Watch out for the little things that can throw your diet goals off-track.
Losing weight isn’t rocket science. As long as you don’t have any health problems that affect your metabolism or digestion, you will see results if you control the number of calories you consume and burn this energy through regular physical activity. But, more than just following the “calories in versus calories out” rule, healthy, lasting weight loss is also about eating the right kinds of foods and adopting certain lifestyle habits that can help your body burn fat more effectively.
If you’ve been watching what you eat and exercising a few times a week, yet aren’t getting the results you want, it’s time to look at the seemingly harmless things you might be doing on a daily basis that are thwarting your weight loss efforts.
1. Forgetting to drink enough water
Keeping adequately hydrated can help you if you’re trying to lose weight. For one, it can prevent you from overeating. Many times, we go looking for food because we think we’re hungry when what we actually need is hydration. The next time you have a snack attack, quell those cravings with a big glass of water. You’ll know you’re really hungry if the hunger pangs return after 30 minutes.
A recent study done by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK and published in the journal Obesity, also found that people who drank 500ml of water half an hour before some or all of their meals lost between 2.25kg and 4.08kg over 12 weeks. The reason: Drinking water fills you up and makes you eat less. So before you tuck into a meal, drink up and you’ll consume fewer calories.
2. Skipping meals
If you think that skipping meals will save you calories, think again. Last year, researchers at The Ohio State University conducted a study in animals that found that skipping meals resulted in abdominal weight gain. This kind of fat around the mid-section is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The findings were published online in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
When you skip a meal, you also set yourself up to overeat at your next meal because, by that time, you’re famished. So, if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to stick to three balanced meals a day with small, healthy snacks in-between. That way, your body will get the nourishment it needs, and you won’t feel tempted to binge on unhealthy foods.
3. Going on fad diets
Fad diets are marketed as a quick way to lose weight. But they are not sustainable in the long term, and once you get off them and revert to your old eating habits, you will end up regaining the kilos you lost – plus a few more.
Many fad diets urge you to eliminate one type of food, like fat or carbohydrates. This is unhealthy because it can cause nutrient deficiencies and make you crave foods that are bad for you – usually fatty, salty, and sugary ones. So, avoid fad diets altogether and just stick to reasonable amounts of whole, unprocessed foods from all the major food groups.
4. Treating healthy foods as low-calorie foods
Just because a particular food is healthy, it does not mean that it’s low in calories. Take avocados, for instance. Packed with nutrients and fibre, it’s a super food, but bear in mind that it’s also high in fat. One 200g avocado contains a whopping 29g of fat. Sure, the fat is the good kind, but like other fattening foods, eating too many avocados increases your risk of weight gain and obesity.
Salads are healthy too, but watch what you put in and on them. A bowl of greens, sprouts, shredded carrots, and tomato and cucumber slices is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, but when you add fattening ingredients like mayonnaise, fried bacon bits, bottled salad dressing or croutons to it, you raise its calorie content substantially. If you want to bulk up a salad, your best bet is to add some lean protein like diced chicken, canned tuna, or a hard-boiled egg. You can make a simple dressing by whisking olive oil with a little vinegar or lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. For crunch, sprinkle nuts or seeds over the salad.
5. Eating low-fat convenience foods
Health experts encourage us to eat low-fat foods, but watch out for processed snack and breakfast products that are labelled low in fat. When fat is removed from certain foods, sugar is added to them to pump up the flavour. Not surprisingly, low-fat foods contain about 20 per cent more sugar than their full-fat equivalents. Culprits include yogurt, crackers, cookies, and breakfast cereals. It’s best to check the sugar content on the label – if it reads “more than 15g per 100g”, put it back on the shelf. A low-sugar product has 5g or less per 100g.
6. Focusing on the quantity of calories instead of the quality
When you’re watching your weight or just trying to eat healthier, you should focus on the quality of the calories you consume, rather than just the quantity. The quality of your calorie sources affects your digestion, insulin production, and blood sugar level, and hence, your weight loss efforts.
Take, for instance, a small apple versus a thick slice of white bread. Both contain the same number of calories but as the apple contains unrefined carbohydrates and is high in fibre, eating it will help you feel full for longer and keep your blood sugar level stable. The bread, on the other hand, which is a refined carbohydrate, digests quickly, and causes your blood sugar level to spike and crash, leaving you hungry again soon after. The apple also contains more nutrients compared to the bread, and therefore offers more nourishment.
7. Not getting enough sleep
Sleep deprivation slows your metabolism, makes you irritable – which may, in turn, increase unhealthy food cravings, and raises the level of ghrelin in your body while reducing the level of leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that instructs your body to eat, and leptin tells you to stop eating.
The only way around this problem is to get sufficient sleep – at least seven hours a night. You may require more or less, but one way to tell you’re not getting enough is if you wake up tired or feel lethargic during the day. See your doctor if you have trouble falling asleep at night.
8. Stress and anxiety
You may know people who can’t eat when they’re stressed, but this is not a lasting effect. When stress persists, certain hormones are released in the body that make you crave comfort foods – typically ones that are high in sugar and fat. One of these hormones, cortisol, also slows your metabolism and causes your body to hold on to fat, thus making it harder for you to lose weight.
And it’s no secret that anxiety, which is a by-product of stress, causes you to eat mindlessly. When you don’t think about what you’re putting into your mouth, you tend to eat more. If stress defines your life, it’s time to get it under control with stress management techniques like meditation, counselling, or physical activity.
A version of this article first appeared on www.herworld.com.