18 Habits That Can Make You Fat
Last Updated: Aug 26, 2013
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Struggling to lose weight? Or maybe you recently shed pounds only to see them slowly creep back on again? There may be some bad habits undermining your efforts. For example, are you aware that the size of your plate could matter as much as the size of the portion on it? Or that sharing yummy-looking photos of sugary and fattening foods can actually lead you to eat more? Read on, and find out about some habits that could be stopping you from losing those extra pounds -- or even causing you to gain weight. Are there any other bad habits that you think should have made our list? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
NOT KNOWING HOW MANY CALORIES YOU CONSUME
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an astounding 62 percent of adult Americans were overweight in the year 2000, up from 46 percent in 1980. The USDA’s Agriculture Fact Book found that the amount of calories that Americans consume increased by 530 calories per day between 1970 and the year 2000. Although multiple factors can account for weight gain, the basic cause is an excess of energy intake over energy expenditure. Many people are oblivious to the number of calories they consume. Do you know how many calories you’re eating each day? You might want to consider LIVESTRONG.COM's Free Online Calorie Tracker to help get you on track.
Use LIVESTRONG.COM's Calorie Tracker to Find Out How Many Calories You Need
EATING ON GIANT PLATES
When it comes to dishware, size does matter. Our eating behaviors often rely on visual cues, like the size of our bowls and plates, to tell us how much to eat. According to a study published in the "Journal of Nutrition" portion sizes of packaged foods and popular dishes are 25 percent larger in the U.S. than they are in France, where the obesity rates are lower. One study found that 54 percent of Americans say they eat everything off of their (now larger) plates. SMART SOLUTION: If your kitchen cabinets are filled with large plates, it’s time to downsize. When your plate looks full (even on a smaller plate), you’re less likely to feel deprived even though your portion size is smaller.
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GROCERY SHOPPING WITHOUT A LIST
Spontaneous shopping is a surefire way to sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Planning is half the battle -- think of your shopping list as your weapon against weight gain. When you create a shopping list, it reaffirms that you’re committed to losing weight and keeping it off. Without it, you open yourself up to temptation. SMART SOLUTION: Create a list, stick to the list, and own the list! Do it on the weekend, when you have a moment to think about and plan your dinners for the next few days. Once you have a framework for what you’re planning to cook, then you can start on your list.
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NOT HAVING AN EATING PLAN
Planning ahead and being prepared is essential. SMART SOLUTION: Follow a healthy eating plan whether it is three main meals with two snacks or six small meals a day. Prepare your meals and snacks for the week ahead on Sunday, and portion them out in your refrigerator in containers. You can hard boil six or seven eggs, and keep them in the refrigerator for breakfasts or snacks. Or, cook up a large batch of steel cut long-cooking oats on Sunday, and measure it into single portion sizes in bowls covered with plastic wrap in your refrigerator. You can re-heat these in one minute in the microwave each workday morning.
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DINING OUT TOO OFTEN
When the USDA’s Agriculture Fact Book mentions that the amount of calories that Americans consume increased by 530 calories per day between 1970 and 2000, their report indicates that Americans’ eating out in restaurants increased substantially during these years. The data suggests that, when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher calorie foods -- or both -- and that this tendency appears to be increasing. SMART SOLUTION: The best way to keep a lid on calories is to take cooking into your own hands. Aim to cut down or minimize meals eaten out. When you do eat out, be sure to choose healthier items on the menu, and be mindful of the portions. Restaurant portions can be oversized. You do not need to eat everything on the plate.
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Tweeting? Texting? Emailing? Watching TV? According to research published in February 2013 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" distracted eaters are likely to consume up to 50 percent more calories. Eating while distracted even causes you to eat more at your next meal or snack because the mind never fully registered what you ate during the current meal. SMART SOLUTION: Aim to enjoy your eating and do nothing else (just focus on eating) at mealtimes. If this sounds too difficult at first, start with just trying this at dinnertime. Turn off the TV, iPad, and smart phones while you’re at the table. Slow down, take small bites, chew carefully, and be sure to consciously enjoy your food, as that way your brain and body will be satisfied and you will consume fewer calories.
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NOT USING A SCALE TO WEIGH YOURSELF REGULARLY
Have you been giving your scale the cold shoulder? Convinced that knowing how much you weigh -- actually seeing the numbers on the scale in black and white -- will totally deflate you? If so, you have “scale-itis,” the word we use to describe total scale avoidance. SMART SOLUTION: Studies have found that when it comes to weight loss, weighing yourself regularly -- anywhere from once a week to daily -- can help you slim down. You shouldn’t let the number on the scale affect your resolve or harm your self-esteem. Your scale can be a helpful tool toward managing and lowering your weight. Remember that daily fluctuations in weight are normal. Weigh yourself in the morning, and always use the same scale.
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SHARING ONLINE PHOTOS OF FOOD
The website Pinterest should come with the warning: “Pinterest will make you hungry…and probably gain weight.” What does Pinterest have to do with extra pounds? The most popular Pinterest topics include food, and not surprisingly, the top pins are generally the most mouthwatering appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and drinks known to mankind. Research shows that people who struggle most with their weight are much more susceptible to their environment, including food images that can prompt them to eat even when they aren’t hungry. SMART SOLUTION: You’re already exposed to so many unhealthy foods in real life, don’t make things worse by salivating over beautiful pictures of calorie bombs. Delete decadent pins and pinboards and get motivated by new ones that serve as healthy inspirations.
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CONSUMING LIQUID CALORIES
When was the last time you thought, “Do I REALLY need to drink this?” By observing your beverage patterns alone, researchers can tell you whether you’re at risk for becoming overweight in the future. Too many liquid calories are closely linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. SMART SOLUTION: Hydrate with water or seltzer before you consume any other beverages. Try to avoid diet sodas, as they may increase your desire for additional sweets. Enjoy calorie-free coffee and tea, as they provide beneficial antioxidants, but cut out creamy coffees with sweet toppings such as caramel and whipped cream that can add hundreds of calories.
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A calorie is a calorie? It might depend on when you eat it. Nighttime nibbling is one of the worst habits. Studies show that people who consume the bulk of their calories in the evening are more likely to be overweight compared with adults who eat the majority of their calories during daytime. In fact, the researchers found that eating past 8 p.m. was an independent predictor of body weight and was correlated with total daily energy consumption, regardless of what time subjects went to bed or how many hours they slept. SMART SOLUTION: Skip the nighttime feeding frenzy. Eat a fiber-rich dinner. Pre-plan your dessert or evening snack, and avoid mindless munching on the couch.
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GOING “NO CARB”
Many popular diet plans blame carbs for the obesity crisis. The truth is our bodies actually need carbs -- they’re the main source of energy in our diet. It’s when we overeat carbs that we run into trouble. SMART SOLUTION: What’s important is that you choose healthy carbohydrates that bring nutrients and fiber with them. This means whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Skip the easily digested carbohydrates from refined grains as well as pastries, sugared sodas, and other highly processed foods, because these may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
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You don’t need to eat “perfectly” to lose weight. Chronic dieters often adhere to strict all-or-nothing diets that are too restrictive and unrealistic. It’s like trying to walk on a tightrope for life, which explains their lack of success. Eventually, most of us, even those with great will power will fall off track. SMART SOLUTION: Instead of thinking of a strict eating plan that doesn’t fit your lifestyle, focus on strategies that you can realistically live with. Expect slip-ups to happen when you’re losing weight. How you deal with a bad day, week or month helps predict success. Individuals who can lose and maintain weight loss can be flexible enough with themselves to bounce back to healthy eating.
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Yes, you read that right. Research suggests that obesity may be “contagious” in the sense that people within social networks share many of the same habits. One study found that obesity was: 57 percent greater if your close friend is obese, 40 percent greater if a sibling is obese and 37 percent greater if a spouse is obese. SMART SOLUTION: While we want to accept our friends as they are (no matter what their size), it’s essential to be aware that we may be subconsciously adopting their behaviors. Have a discussion with friends who you think would be open to adopting healthier behaviors with you. Also, join a fitness center or other activity-oriented club, where you’ll be more likely to meet individuals who share your desire to be healthy and active.
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Do you drown your woes in food? Maybe you snack at work because you’re stressed or bored. Maybe you binge at night because you’re lonely. These are situations where you’re not hungry, and instead you’re actually managing feelings with food. SMART SOLUTION: Apply mindfulness to your meals. Mindfulness allows you to be fully present in the moment, including when you eat. This will help you become aware of when you’re truly physically hungry versus those times when your emotions are taking over. Keeping a diary that allows you to express your emotions on paper is a helpful tool to overcome emotionally-driven eating. When the urge to emotional eat strikes, have a plan in place to fill the void with something other than food.
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CONSUMING TOO MUCH SUGAR
We’re programmed to like sweets. But some of us are more susceptible to feeling “addicted” to certain sweet foods or experiencing intense food cravings. These people are often overweight and tend to self-soothe with sugary foods. SMART SOLUTION: Can your soda habit. Sodas and other sweetened beverages provide about half of all the added sugar in the U.S. diet. Also, skip sugar substitutes (and diet sodas). Calorie-free sweeteners may actually trigger sweet cravings. Check labels to insure you are not getting too many added sugars from packages foods. When you have a sugar craving, choose naturally sweet foods, like fruits.
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BANKING ON “DIET” FOODS
If you’re hoping that “diet foods” will be the magic bullet to help you shed pounds effortlessly, don't be fooled. Pricey diet foods, sugar substitutes, “reduced fat” foods, diet sodas and other calorie-reduced items aren’t necessary to lose weight, and what’s more, they aren’t always associated with diet success. Many studies suggest that sugar substitutes interfere with the body’s natural mechanisms to regulate caloric intake. SMART SOLUTION: The best way to lose weight is by eating unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins in moderation. Losing weight and keeping it off for good requires a commitment to balanced, portion-controlled eating and regular exercise.
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SKIMPING ON SLEEP
Lack of sleep could be keeping you from shedding pounds, and skimping on sleep can actually lead to weight gain. Bouts of little or no sleep appear to disrupt the balance of appetite-regulating hormones -- boosting the hunger-hormone ghrelin and suppressing our fullness hormone, leptin. So you feel hungrier and you crave quick calories from foods like carbohydrates and fats. SMART SOLUTION: Aim for at least seven to eight hours of shut-eye every night. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays, and days off. Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Get blackout shades, a “white noise” fan, or earplugs to minimize distractions to great sleep.
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“NO TIME TO EXERCISE”
No time to fit in fitness? Lack of time is the number one reason adults cite when asked why they don’t work out. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. SMART SOLUTION: If 20 to 30 minutes a day sounds like too much of a time commitment, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for a walk during your lunch break. Remember, any amount of exercise is always better than being sedentary. As long as you’re gradually doing more than you’re now doing, you’re making progress.
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