Overcome Six Diet Mistakes

You might be inadvertently derailing your healthy eating plan if you can relate to one -- or more -- of these diet challenges that sabotage efforts to eat better. The good news is that all of these fumbles are fixable. The first step is being aware of them.
  • Diabetes Diet Don'ts

    You started so determined to eat healthfully and lose weight. You exercised almost every day, cheerfully skipped desserts, and ate plenty of fruits and vegetables. The weight started to drop. But now, when you step on the scale, the number just won't budge. Sure, you might lose a pound one week, but the next week it's back on. Instead of getting frustrated and going back to old eating habits, take charge of this slowdown. It's time to step back and take a critical look at your efforts.

  • Diet Mistake #1: You think you eat much less than others.

    You live on salads and other "diet" foods yet are overweight, while your friends eat burgers and fries and never gain a pound. Are you really eating less than everyone else? Just because something is good for you or low in fat and calories doesn't mean you can eat unlimited amounts.

    "The average consumer is really not aware of correct portion sizes," says Keri Gans, R.D., CDN, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

    Even the size of the container can trick some people into overeating. In one study, people were given popcorn in different-size bowls. People ate 33 percent more when the popcorn was put in a large container than when it was in a medium bowl.

    The same applies to packaged foods. Studies have shown that people eat 20-40 percent more from large packages than they do from small packages. "That bag of baked potato chips may seem like one serving, but it's really two or three," Gans says.

    Try this: Pour or dish out what you normally eat and measure it. Typically, it's more than you think. Then measure the amount you want to eat.

    Dieting tip: Use a 9-inch plate instead of a 12-inch plate. When you dish up your plate, aim to fill one-quarter of it with carbohydrate, one-quarter with protein, and the remaining half with vegetables.

  • Diet Mistake #2: You can't remember the last time you used the oven.

    If you eat a lot of restaurant meals and rarely cook at home, you're jeopardizing your weight loss. Even if you think you choose healthy restaurant foods, a couple of big challenges work against your best efforts.

    "First of all, the portions are just too large at restaurants," says dietitian Keri Gans. You're probably consuming twice the calories you would if you ate at home.

    The other problem? "You go to the restaurant hungry," Gans says, "and often eat too much bread while waiting for your meal."

    Another factor: People want to splurge when they go to a restaurant. When you eat out a lot, the calories in those splurges add up. "Don't use eating out as an excuse to eat poorly," she says. Your best bet is to try to eat at home more often.

    Try this: When you do go out, eat a cheese stick or piece of fruit first to take the edge off hunger. Order two light appetizers rather than an appetizer and a main dish. Or split an entree with a dining companion.

    Dieting tip: To reduce the urge to splurge, allow yourself a sweet treat only when eating out. If you make dessert at home, have one serving and share the rest with friends or coworkers.

  • Diet Mistake #3: You exercise, then reward yourself with food.

    The challenge comes when dieters guess at how many calories they've burned as an excuse to indulge in treats. It's easy to believe your hourlong walk used up 600 calories when it actually was more like 300. How hard you work, how out of breath you become, your body's condition, and even the weather can affect how many calories you burn.

    "To reach your weight loss goals, you need to exercise and follow a healthy eating plan," says dietitian Keri Gans. Translation: Walk and skip the extra snack. You might need food to replenish yourself after a strenuous workout, Gans says, but most people don't need to snack after a short walk.

    Try this: Pack a slice of whole wheat bread with some natural peanut butter. Having a planned snack is a good way to ward off vending machine syndrome, in which you justify eating a high-calorie or high-sugar snack because you exercised.

    Dieting tip: Beware of the tally of calories burned on the exercise machines at the gym or during your walks. A survey of machines at gyms showed that they almost always overestimate the number of calories expended. Instead, monitor the minutes of exercise as part of your weekly movement goal.

  • Diet Mistake #4: You ban the foods you love the most.

    When you start eating healthfully, it seems as if all of your favorite foods are forbidden. But that just makes you want them even more. Eventually, the cravings win out and you end up eating too much of a favorite food. Then you feel guilty. You go back on your diet and its strict guidelines, which prompts the cravings to begin again -- and the cycle continues.

    "When you deprive yourself, you set yourself up for failure," dietitian Keri Gans says. "Saying that you'll never eat sweets again is unreasonable. There should be no forbidden foods in your healthy eating plan. You just need to eat higher-calorie foods less often."

    Try this: Eat at regular times, with planned meals and snacks, to reduce cravings. Consider a food plan that includes snacks at set times in the day, such as late afternoon or before bedtime. It will help keep your blood sugar from dipping, which makes you hungry, tired, and vulnerable to overeating.

    Dieting tip: If you love cake and just can't give it up, Gans suggests eating a small slice once a week and having fruit for dessert the other days.

  • Diet Mistake #5: You are certain your salad can't contain that many calories.

    People often eat foods that seem healthful but contain high-calorie ingredients. "A lot of people forget about hidden fats," dietitian Keri Gans says. "A person has a healthful salad, but he or she doesn't think about the dressing. Or he or she has vegetables but forgets about the butter or oil used to prepare them."

    Fast-food salads in particular confuse people who are watching their waistlines. McDonald's Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken with one packet of ranch dressing contains 490 calories and 24 grams of fat. McDonald's plain hamburger and small french fries have 500 calories and 22 grams of fat. The vegetables in the salad make it a more nutritious choice, but in terms of calories and fat, there's not much difference.

    Try this: Use only half of the fast-food salad dressing. The pouch usually contains more than you need.

    Dieting tip: Become familiar with your favorite fast-food menu items. Knowing what you like and what works for your meal plan will give you confidence to make the right choices instead of impulsive decisions driven by hunger.

  • Diet Mistake #6: You give up trying to lose weight if it takes too long.

    Losing 10 pounds in a week may happen on reality TV shows, but not in real life. Setting weight loss goals that are too aggressive will only leave you disappointed. Disappointment often leads to giving up.

    "Weight loss of 1-2 pounds a week is what you can expect on most diets," says dietitian Keri Gans. "If your weight isn't moving, you need to make a change in what you're doing." That means you need to either cut back more on calories or step up your exercise plan by increasing the time or intensity.

    Or you may actually need to add calories to lose weight. It's counterintuitive, but diets that are too low in calories can slow your metabolism. Your body thinks it's starving and tries to conserve energy. Eating small, healthful snacks each day may help you raise your metabolism so you burn more calories.

    Try this: Weigh yourself once a week. Studies have shown that regular weigh-ins can be helpful. But don't weigh yourself so often that the number on the scale distracts you from focusing on lifestyle changes.

    Jump-Start Your Weight Loss Today!

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