Well, perhaps your “diet” isn’t up to snuff. But when pondering some of the nutritional missteps that could be keeping you from reaching your physique goals, it’s important to look past such usual suspects as late-night nibbling, idling in the drive-thru lane too often and calling a toasted bagel “breakfast.” Recent research has uncovered a number of less-obvious reasons your eating plan may have a few sour notes. Don’t let these sneaky diet saboteurs squash your fat-loss efforts.
You’re a slave to your tech
It turns out your smartphone might not be so smart when it comes to trying to lose weight. In a recent study conducted by scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago, exposure to blue-enriched light such as that emitted by computers, tablets and smartphones immediately before and during a meal can increase hunger and encourage you to eat more than you need. Study authors surmise that this type of light may stimulate brain regions that regulate appetite.
Fight Back: To help keep your calorie intake in check, take up the good habit of switching off and eating mindfully. Focusing on the sensory aspects of your meals and snacks such as their taste and texture can help your body better register fullness. Treat electronics like your elbows and keep them off the dining table.
You’re a creature of habit
You may think serving up the same old boring chicken breast for dinner every night is a healthy idea, but in truth it might be one reason you’re a few cans short of that six-pack you want. A 2015 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that people who consume a wider variety of nutrient-dense foods tend to have slimmer waistlines than those who eat a monotonous diet. One explanation could be that the more healthy foods you take in, the greater range of fat-burning nutrients you’re exposed to.
Fight Back: To add diversity to your diet and trim fat in the process, try to introduce one or two unfamiliar healthy foods to your grocery cart each week. This could be anything from Artic char (hello, fat-burning omega fats!) to baby kale to kefir.
You’re obsessed with protein
We would never question the importance of protein for building glance-worthy muscles, but it’s entirely possible to get too much of a good thing. The harsh reality is that your body can put to good use only so much protein in one sitting. If you’re adding multiple scoops of protein powder to your postworkout shakes and grilling up Flintstones-sized steaks on the regular, you run the risk of those excess protein calories padding your fat stores, not your muscles.
Fight Back: When it comes to protein, more is not always better. For a more optimal muscle-building formula, consider spreading your protein intake throughout the day instead of loading up at certain times. You want to aim for roughly 30 to 40 grams of protein during meals and 10 to 20 grams at snack time.
You reach for the can opener too often
Canned items such as fish and beans can be a healthy addition to your diet, but research shows they have a dark side when you’re fighting the battle of the bulge. A recent investigation published in the International Journal of Obesity discovered that people with the highest levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in their urine were more likely to be fat than fit. BPA is a sketchy chemical found in the protective lining of many canned foods and some plastic containers that may mess with your metabolism. It has also been linked to heart disease and infertility.
Fight Back: Freshen up your diet. A study by the National Resources Defense Council found that people who ate only fresh food — abstaining from anything packed in cans or microwaved in plastic — for just three days experienced a more than 60 percent drop in urinary BPA levels. Not ready to give up your protein-rich canned tuna? Switch to brands such as Wild Planet or Eden Organic that use cans not lined with this health pariah.
You eat too many “health” foods
Not all items in the health-food section of your grocer are nutritional saints. Many packaged so-called “health foods” can be sneaky sources of undesirables such as sweeteners and cheap fats that could help pack on the pounds if you let your guard down. Which is exactly what many people do. Take, for example, a Cornell University study that found we often view snack foods such as chips and cookies that are labeled “organic” as being healthier — that is, lower in calories and fat — than their counterparts without the organic designation, a state of mind that could lead to overeating. Further, “gluten-free” may also mean nutrient-free, with many products being as high in sugar, fat or total calories as many of their so-called less-healthy counterparts.
Fight Back: Look past the marketing hype and base your purchases on what the fine print tells you, namely the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list. A study published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs found that thorough label reading is clutch when you’re trying to shed fat.
You jump right into your meals
While it’s always a good idea to push away the bread basket at a restaurant, shunning appetizers could be one reason you stuff yourself silly at mealtime. Results of a Pennsylvania State University study found that when subjects ate an apple 15 minutes before a meal, they slashed their overall calorie intake in the test meal by 15 percent compared to when no fruit was consumed. Kicking off a meal with a low-cal nosh that provides fiber can help fill you up so you’re less likely to reach for another serving.
Fight Back: If you have trouble saying no to seconds, try eating a reduced-calorie appetizer such as a broth-based veggie soup, salad or piece of fruit before digging into your entrée. As a bonus, you’ll increase your intake of essential nutrients.
You’ve ditched dairy for faux milks
It may sound counterintuitive, but lower-calorie nondairy milks such as almond and soy could be hindering your fat-loss pursuits. A watershed study published in the journal Nature discovered that emulsifiers such as carrageenan, poly-glycerols and gums added to several packaged foods like shelf-stable no-moo milks and ice cream can disrupt the composition of bacteria in your gut and contribute to inflammation and weight gain. Emulsifiers are now ubiquitous, routinely being added to foods to extend their shelf life, improve texture and keep ingredients from separating.
Fight Back: Taking in a modest amount of emulsifiers probably won’t contribute to Buddha-belly, but if your diet is plush in packaged foods you may want to start scanning the ingredient list and opting for items made without them like ye olde milk more often. Cooking from scratch (homemade almond milk, anyone?) is also a surefire way to sidestep emulsifiers.
You reward fat-burning efforts
It’s all too easy to justify eating a double-chocolate muffin or second energy bar because you just burned off some serious fat calories on the treadmill. But beware of pigging out after a workout. In a recent study published in the journal Appetite, people who performed a 20-minute workout labeled “fat burning” ate about 35 percent more calories afterward than they actually burned off during the activity. When exercise is deemed to be “fat burning,” it can make people think their metabolism is revved and that’s a license to reward oneself. On the flip side, no excess calorie intake was observed in those who performed a workout labeled “endurance exercise.”
Fight Back: It’s a good idea to be realistic about your calorie burn at the gym so you don’t undo any benefits by gorging postworkout. Or ditch the monotonous fat-burning sessions and kick things up a notch with interval training, which torches tons of calories and increases metabolism. Scientists in Australia found that volunteers experienced less hunger and desire for fatty foods after interval training than moderate exercise, adding to the fat-blasting powers of this training method.