10 little excuses that prevent weight loss
‘Why can’t I lose weight?’
Wondering why you’re plateauing? It could be those rationalizations you make to dig into that BBQ or eat an extra slice of cake. “But all your body knows is what you’re putting into it and how it’s going to metabolize it,” says Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. Here, 10 of those little lies you may tell yourself—and how to adjust your eating habits to get back on the losing track.
1. ‘It’s just a bite.’
A forkful of mac ‘n cheese here, a few fries there; how bad can that be? “For every 100 extra calories you consume daily, you gain 10 pounds each year,” says Ronni Litz Julien, a registered dietitian and author of The Trans Fat Free Kitchen. What’s more, most of Julien’s clients nibble for reasons unrelated to hunger: The food looks delicious or it’s right there, for example. Before eating, ask yourself if you’re really hungry, and serve dinner from the kitchen, so you’re not tempted to swipe extras as you would if they’re already on the dining room table.
2. ‘It’s made with fruit.’
You’ll see this splashed across juices, fruit snacks and cereals, but these “fruits” are often mostly sugar. The labels serve to convince you that the product is healthy, but “a piece of fresh fruit is the best source of fruit,” says Julien. Unlike the more processed products mentioned above, whole fruit provides fiber to improve digestion, regulate blood sugar levels and keep you hydrated. So check the ingredient list for high fructose corn syrup, saturated oils and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. That means the fruit product is junk food in disguise.
3. ‘I just worked out—I need lots of carbs to refuel.’
“Many women see they’ve burned 300 calories on the treadmill and think they have license to eat whatever they want,” explains Heller. “But they undo all their hard work with a 600-calorie snack.” While it’s smart to refuel and stimulate muscle repair with a snack that combines carbs and protein (like Greek yogurt and fruit), remember to factor those calories into your day.
4. ‘I’ll eat this now and skip dinner.’
Missing meals rarely saves calories. “You get over-hungry,” says Heller. “When your body is shouting ‘feed me now!’ it’s hard to control how much and what you eat,” she says. In fact, in one study in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who skipped meals were more likely than regular eaters to eat high-calorie foods, like carbs and protein, over vegetables. If you’ve got a big meal on the calendar, Heller suggests eating one or two smaller meals that day, but not skipping them entirely.
5. ‘I popped a multivitamin, so I’m healthy.’
Here’s one healthy habit that can have unintended consequences. A 2011 study in Psychological Science found that people who took a multivitamin were less likely to exercise and more likely to choose a buffet over an organic meal. It appears that making one healthy choice (the vitamin) makes people feel less vulnerable to the consequences of unhealthy habits (buffet eating, being a couch potato). While research shows multivitamins can improve your mood and reduce stress, it can’t turn you into superwoman.
6. ‘It’s healthy.’
“We’re not good at estimating how many calories we’re eating,” says Heller. Case in point: Fast-food diners underestimate their intake by 175 calories on average, according to a 2013 study in the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal. And the healthier the fare, the more participants were off—adults eating at Subway underestimated their meal’s calories more than at McDonald’s. Healthy or not, portion control is key. Look at restaurants’ calorie counts, directly on their menu or online, so you can make smart choices.
7. ‘After that pancake brunch, my diet is totally blown.’
Some perspective: A meal or extra 250 calories (which is like one pancake with syrup) one day won’t make or break your diet, says Julien. It’s when you think you’ve ruined it and, since you’re feeling badly, indulge in a few cookies or a burger with fries. That can add up to 1,000 calories-plus and stall weight loss. For your sanity and happiness, indulgences are smart. Enjoy that brunch or the BBQ lunch and then get back on track with the very next meal (lean protein, whole grains, lots of vegetables)—not the next day.
8. ‘It doesn’t matter what time I eat.’
Being an early bird has its perks: A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that people who ate lunch before 3 p.m. lost more weight over 20 weeks than later lunchers—and total calories consumed and amount of exercise were similar amongst the groups. If your schedule forces big gaps between your major meals, work in a small snack with protein, like yogurt, cottage cheese or trail mix, to keep blood sugar levels steady. That way, you don’t overeat when it’s finally mealtime. And opt for light dinners if eating late is your only option.
9. ‘I’m off on the weekends.’
There are about eight weekend days in a month—that’s a lot of time! “Save splurges for holidays, weddings and other parties—not twice a week all day,” advises Heller. If your weekday diet is so restrictive that you feel the need to overeat on weekends, adopt small, doable habits that stick every day of the week. Two to make, suggests Renee Clerkin, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Chicago: Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and get in a fruit or vegetable at every meal.