Who hasn't thrown their diet rules out the window on the weekend or gone crazy with a super-rich and gooey chocolate dessert? Of course it's fine to splurge every once in a while, but over time these seemingly minor violations―in addition to some other not-so-small diet sins―can add up to a big number on your scale.
To the rescue: our guide to the most common diet mistakes that even smart women make―and straightforward advice on how to fix them.
1. Caution: Gulping down food
If you make a habit of rushing through meals, you could end up eating more than you intend to―or even realize. Your brain takes at least 15 minutes to register fullness, so if you shovel food into your mouth at a frantic pace, your stomach could become overstuffed before you actually know you've had enough.
The fix: Make a conscious effort to savor the flavor. Try to dedicate more chews to every mouthful. You can also place your fork on your plate between bites and pick it up again only after you've swallowed. This will double the time it takes to eat. The payoff: In a recent study from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, women were told to eat a pasta dish slowly by pausing between bites and chewing each mouthful 15 to 20 times. As a result they consumed about 70 fewer calories during the meal than when they consumed the same dish at a fast pace.
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2. Caution: Confusing liquids and solids
Sometimes you may reach for something to eat when you're really thirsty―an easy error to make because the body's signals for hunger and thirst are similar. But nibbling when you should be sipping (or downing a lot of sugary drinks) can send your daily calorie intake soaring.
The fix: Drink up throughout the day to keep thirst at bay. Try to consume at least 9 8-ounce glasses of water or low-calorie beverages daily and eat a lot of water-rich foods (think fruits and veggies). Is your stomach grumbling? If four or five hours have passed since you last ate, and you're well hydrated, you know that you're hungry and should reach for a healthy snack or meal.
3. Caution: Falling prey to multiple choices
Variety may be the spice of life (and a good way to ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs), but too much variety can spell trouble for your diet. Why? Having too many options can entice your taste buds and tempt you to eat past the point of fullness because you want to keep experiencing the tastes, aromas and textures of different foods.
The fix: Be strategic about your selections. If you're at a buffet, fill half your plate with an assortment of plain veggies, then take only small portions of three or four calorie-dense meats and poultry, pasta and rice dishes that look appealing to you. In other words, think of the heavier offerings as if they were side dishes or condiments, not the main event, then add them to your plate accordingly.
4. Caution: Shirking strength training
You know that regular exercise goes hand in hand with trimming calories when you're trying to lose weight, but if you skip strength training in favor of cardio, you're overlooking one of the best friends a dieter can have. Strength training builds muscle mass, which helps you burn calories at a faster rate all day long, and it can give you a leaner, more toned look.
The fix: Schedule it in. Two or three times a week, cut your aerobic workout in half and do a strength-training circuit―one set (8 to 12 reps) of five to 10 exercises for key muscle groups in the arms, legs, shoulders, back and abdomen. Taking this approach will help you begin building your body's lean muscle mass within weeks, which will boost your weight-control efforts. Not sure how to get started?
5. Caution: Refueling excessively
Sure, it's smart to replenish your body after you exercise. Just don't go overboard and consume more calories than you just burned!
The fix: Drink water only. Avoid high-calorie sports drinks unless you've been exercising at a high intensity for more than an hour. Snack on some thing with no more than 100 to 150 calories. Be sure your after-workout munchies contain a mix of protein and carbs―half a high-protein energy bar, for example. The protein-carbohydrate combo will help restore energy reserves and repair the muscles and tissues that were stressed during the workout.
6. Caution: Eating with friends who overindulge
You might feel pressure to splurge when you're with buddies who overeat. And being overweight can be socially contagious, according to research from Harvard Medical School. Researchers there found that having a friend who becomes obese will increase by 57 percent your chances of gaining weight. Experts suspect the reason for this is that you mirror your friend's eating habits when you're together, or you choose activities for the two of you that involve eating rather than exercising.
The fix: Avoid bonding over food. Instead, get manicures, go to a museum, bowl or play tennis. When you do eat together, be careful to not match your friend bite for bite. Stick to your dietary resolve by going slowly and putting your fork down between mouthfuls.
7. Caution: Relaxing the rules on the weekends
If you show great restraint during the week, only to indulge over the weekend, your habits will take a toll on your waistline. In fact, many calorie-conscious people gain a small amount of weight on the weekends because they eat more and exercise less than during the week, a recent study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found.
The fix: Aim for consistency. Try to keep your eating and exercise habits similar on both weekdays and weekends. Anticipate tempting situations, and watch your portion sizes even if you're dining out or going to a party. And check your alcohol intake: Besides containing hidden calories, cocktails can loosen your inhibitions, leading you to eat more than you intend to.