You’ve tried diets, cut back on carbs and sugar, and put in ten miles a week on the treadmill. But for some reason, the pounds just won’t come off. Sure, your legs look great from all that running, but your mid-section refuses to give up a single inch.
So what’s wrong?
It may have as much to do with how, when, and where you eat as what you eat.
Here are the five main reasons you may be unknowingly sabotaging your best efforts to lose weight. The good news? By making a few adjustments, you can put your body into a synergistic mode to help effectively convert those extra pounds into energy, making you look and feel better.
#1. Skipping meals
Waiting to eat will make you more hungry, and hunger makes it that much more difficult to control the amount of food you consume when you do eat. Skip lunch and you’re starving by the time dinner rolls around. It’s a fact: Not eating on a regular schedule creates highs and lows in your appetite and self-control. Because you’ve skipped a meal, you rationalize you can eat more at the next one because you deserve it. And why not? You’re down on overall calorie intake for the day, so it’s logical you can gorge yourself, believing it won’t make a difference as long as you don’t exceed the total calorie intake of the meal you’re eating and the one you missed.
But our bodies don’t work that way. We expend energy constantly. We use more when we exercise—whether we’re in the gym, walking to the store, or cutting the grass—and less when we’re sitting at our desk or watching television. But regardless of the amount of calorie burn, we expend some level of energy over time.
And that’s what’s critical—the time. We can only burn so many calories in so many hours, regardless of how hard we work. So eating more food than your body can use between the time you eat and your next meal means some of it must be stored—as fat!
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how this process can continue to cycle, adding a little additional fat or unused energy, over days, weeks, and months, until it shows up on the scale as unwanted pounds.
Here’s a tip: Avoid eating in a hurry. Eating too fast doesn’t give your brain and stomach time to have the conversation they need to determine how full you are.
Studies have shown those who eat their food quickly tend to eat more than those who eat slowly. Your body needs enough time to generate and process the chemical reactions that signal the brain you’re full. Eating quickly short-circuits the process. And without that critical feedback, you’re likely to eat more than you need, and even more than you really want—resulting in that bloated feeling when your brain and body return to being in sync with each other.
#2. Eating while being entertained
When eating is a secondary activity to watching TV, enjoying a movie, or listening to music, you typically have a tendency to eat more. This occurs because your brain is occupied or distracted by a pleasant or imagined experience, and it isn’t paying complete attention to what’s going on in your stomach—and in the larger sense, neither are you.
Does that mean you can’t enjoy a meal or snack while watching your favorite sit-com or enjoying a movie? No, but it does mean you need to pre-portion what you’re going to eat before you begin the activity. Eating while being entertained distracts you to the point you give up your usual decision power over what and how much you ingest. However, if you make those decisions in advance, you’ll have a built-in stop-gap against overeating or consuming garbage that’s bad for you. Try putting together portioned amounts of your favorite treats in small storage containers so there’s no excuse to over-indulge.
You may also want to check out a few suggestions for healthy snack alternatives to the candy, chips, and greasy popcorn that typically make up traditional TV and movie night fillers.
#3. Midnight snacking
Get the munchies just before bedtime? Why?
If you had a healthy dinner, you don’t need additional food because your energy levels are in good balance. Eating just before going to bed makes no sense. After all, you’ll be sleeping, one of the least calorie-burning parts of your day (or night). So why put a bunch of food in your stomach that your body can’t use? By snacking before bedtime, you’re forcing your system to convert food to fat that will be deposited on your gut, thighs, or bottom.
“But wait!” you say. “I like to have just a little something before I turn in to keep me from waking up hungry.”
If you have a normal metabolism, you should be able to sleep soundly through the night without eating anything prior to bedtime. Your fear of waking due to hunger comes from the need to satisfy a craving to end your day with a snack. Unfortunately, it can easily become a habit—an end-of-the-day “ritual” to complete the waking process and provide a psychological transition to sleep.
While it’s a bad habit, it’s an easy one to break. Start by substituting a piece of fruit or melon, or a small portion of veggies like carrot sticks, bell peppers, or celery in place of that calorie and sugar-laden piece of cake or pie. Keep cut-up veggies and fruit available and on-hand in storage containers in your fridge to make it easy to grab just the right amount.
Over the course of a month, move your “bedtime” snack a few minutes earlier each night, starting with ten minutes, then adding five more each day. Your goal is to eventually move (reschedule) the urge to eat early enough in the evening to leave several hours between snacking and turning in for the night. Eventually you may decide to eliminate night-time snacking completely.
#4. Underestimating the amount of calories in alcohol
Note: If you don’t drink alcohol, you can skip this section. Or better yet, read it and pass the info along to a friend who’s struggling with belly fat and wants to do something about it.
The impact of alcohol on your weight comes down to simple math. Here are the facts:
A 5-ounce glass of wine has 123 calories
A 12-ounce bottle of beer has 154 calories
1-1/2 ounces of alcohol contains about 100 calories
If you’re drinking two glasses of wine or two bottles of beer five nights a week, you’re adding 1200-1500 calories (mostly sugar!) to your overall weekly intake.
What if you reduced it to a single serving a night (same size, no cheating)? That’s a savings of 600-750 calories a week or 2400-3000 a month, which is more than an entire day’s worth of empty, fat-generating calories. Will it make a difference in your weight? Try it and see!
#5. “Falling off the wagon” and eating garbage when it’s your birthday, the holidays, or you deserve a treat because of the hectic day you had
This is one of the main reasons “diets” don’t work. Depriving yourself of the food you crave is a form of psychological torture. And while you may be able tolerate it, deep down you can’t wait for any excuse to remove the restraints of that “horrific diet” and get back to enjoying the food you love.
It’s typically called a “cheat meal,” or worse, a “cheat day,” when you revert back to the poor eating habits that created the problem in the first place.
That’s why trying to “diet off the pounds” doesn’t work. Most diets are focused on controlling the amount of food you eat, commonly called portion control. You try a diet for six days on, and one day off. Or this month, you go on the Super-Duper-Skinny-diet, and when that plan leaves you frustrated and five pounds heavier than when you started, you try the “Stuff your Face with Tree Bark” diet.
Mainstream dieting is a radical departure from eating the type and amount of food you’re used to. And the more radical it is, the more it’s meant to be temporary—to get you down to your desired weight goal, before moving you into a so-called regular diet with restrictions on foods containing high concentrations of fat. And while many do lose weight with these “starvation-style” programs, the minute they stop the diet, the weight comes back.
On the other hand, a “lifestyle” change means just that—a change for life. It’s choosing food that’s good for you and making sure it doesn’t contain unhealthy preservatives, additives, chemicals, pesticides, fillers, sugars, and trans-fats. And whenever possible, eating organic.
Getting healthy, losing weight, looking and feeling great—for the rest of your life—is about three things:
- Eating natural foods that haven’t been corrupted or manipulated by additives, processing, or GMO’s
- Matching the amount of calorie intake to the calories you really need on an average daily basis
- Using common sense and long-term perspective in deciding what to put inside your body
Give these strategies a try—for your life!