Updated: Jan 14, 2020
Most dietitians will agree that "dieting" is a poor way to lose weight; simple lifestyle changes are more effective at keeping the pounds off for the long-term.
And while dietitians want you to enjoy food, your lifestyle may lead you to think you can't lose weight and enjoy food at the same time. Consider these 10 overlooked weight loss behaviors that are relatively easy to change.
1. Restriction can lead to overeating
One reason we can't lose weight by dieting is because we make rules about what we can and cannot eat. Then one day we rebel, or want to socialize, or just have such a craving that we not only eat the forbidden food, we say:
"Well now I've ruined my diet, I might as well keep eating junk food."
Instead, we need to recognize that every food has its place, even that grilled cheese on a donut. However, the frequency and amount determines whether we'll put on extra pounds. Rather than eating sweets frequently, eat them once a month, or once a week, or share a sweet with a friend, or take a bite and discard the rest.
2. Calories in sugar-sweetened beverages
Weight gain is not dependent on just calories in the foods we eat; the beverages we drink are contributors, too. Most people who can't lose weight overlook their beverage choices. Coffee with sugar or cream, soda, fruit juice, and alcohol all contain calories, sugar, and potentially fat and sodium. Make water your main beverage. Flavored still and carbonated waters are trending at your local grocery store.
3. Sugar alternatives and cravings
Even diet sodas and other drinks sweetened with sugar alternatives can lead to weight gain. Some studies are showing that sugar alternatives cause the same cravings for sweet foods as sugar itself does. Dopamine levels raise and require continuous sugar to satisfy us. As a result, after that diet cola, we may crave sweeter foods afterwards (1). If you are going to eat or drink something sweet on occasion, stick with natural sweeteners including sugar, honey, maple syrup, and stevia. Chemical replacements may have unintended consequences. Again, enjoy these in moderation to limit your frequency and amount of added sugar and calories.
4. Portion snacks
There is a place for every food, but gorging on cheese and crackers is going to add on pounds. Even "healthful foods" like nuts, avocado, or dark chocolate can provide more calories than you want if you eat too much. (Click the links for calorie and nutrition info. for each food or make an appt. to review how much is an appropriate portion.) Consider reducing portion sizes of meals by eating mindfully, packing leftovers, or pre-portioning snacks instead of eating from the container.
5. Compensating after a healthy meal or hour at the gym
I'm very guilty of going to the gym and rewarding myself with sweets afterwards. I not only un-do all the work I just did at the gym, but I actually add on more calories than I would have without working out.
Others compensate after a healthy meal. Because they had a salad for lunch, they binge at dinner. Again, there is always a place for high sugar or high fat foods, but either in small portions or infrequent occasions.
6. Poor sleep
Getting less than 6-8 hours of sleep each night can increase your hunger signals, your risk for obesity, your blood sugar levels, and lead to weight gain. (2) You may find that you can't lose weight without proper sleep for involuntary reasons out of your control. Easier said than done, but make sleep part of your weight loss routine.
7. Skipping breakfast
Breakfast can be the most important meal of the day because it helps to control blood sugar levels and keeps us from overeating at lunch. Getting our metabolism going in the morning is important for weight maintenance and health. If you're not keen on eating breakfast, start by drinking breakfast. We've got ideas on breakfast smoothies here.
8. Bringing high-calorie foods into the house
Chances are if you bring high-calorie foods into the house, you're going to eat them. The best practice is to just not buy them at the grocery store. To avoid temptation, try not to shop on an empty stomach.
Keeping healthful foods like fruits and nuts on counters so they can be seen, while chips, candy and cookies are hidden away, helps to improve our snacks habits. We eat what we see.
One wholesome snack idea is to purchase fruit, freeze it, and use it to make soft serve "nice cream." You can use a home soft serve machine or any blender to easily make nice cream without any added sugar or fat.
9. Emotional Eating & Mindless Eating
Eating while stressed, depressed, or bored adds calories that we don't need. This is difficult to stop, but becoming aware of it and choosing another activity like walking, reading, or drinking hot tea can distract us from emotional eating.
Similarly, mindless eating in the car, in front of the TV, or at the movies can add unnecessary calories. Savor your food and recognize your hunger cues. It takes about 20 minutes to recognize we're full, so slow down your meal and enjoy it! (3)
Because thirst sends similar signals to our brain as hunger does, sometimes we interpret our thirst as hunger.
If you don't think you should be hungry yet, try drinking some water and see if the hunger signals dissipate. If you're still hungry after a few minutes, listen to your body and eat!
(1) Tang, Q. (2010). Gain weight by "going diet"? Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. Neuroscience. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
(2) National Institute on Health. (2017). Why is sleep important? Retrieved Oct. 23, 2017 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why
(3) Live. Eat. Play. Colorado. (2017). Mindful eating. Retrieved Oct. 23, 2017 from http://www.liveeatplay.colostate.edu/eat/healthy-diet/weight-mgmt/mindful-eating.php#.We5TI1uPKUk