Even if you’re snacking on nutritious foods, if you’re not paying attention to portion size you could be consuming more calories than you think. “Even the healthiest of snacks can add more than a meal's worth of calories before you realize it,” says NASM certified personal trainer Kat Whitfield. Her healthy snack example: celery and peanut butter. “The celery may not contain many calories, but the peanut butter sure does. One tablespoon turns to two turns to three...before you know it you've eaten 360 calories in just one snack.”
How to Break It: Portion out your snacks and meals and put food packages away before eating so you’re not tempted to consume more than one serving size.
Whitfield says that while regular exercisers are committed to their daily workout, they also tend to move less throughout the remainder of the day. Don’t develop the “I already worked out today so I can afford to be lazy now” mindset. Prolonged periods of inactivity (even if you exercise regularly) are associated with poor health. “While parking further away from the store, taking the stairs, or even just fidgeting at your desk don't burn too many calories alone, they do add up over time,” says Whitfield.
How to Break It: Move more all day long. As Whitfield suggested: be conscious of your activity outside of exercise by making choices like taking the stairs and picking faraway parking spots.
Whitfield says this is a habit of those who stick to their plan perfectly throughout the week but then overindulge on the weekends. “Many people feel they deserve a 'cheat' weekend. Oftentimes this involves two days of pizza and ice cream binges,” says Whitfield. “This can reverse all of the hard work they did during the week.”
How to Break It: “Prevent this by either limiting a 'cheat' to one meal, or allow yourself small treats even during the week so you're not tempted to binge on the weekend.”
“Anytime you are doing two activities at once, one is being compromised and your waist line is what suffers,” says Lisa Reed, M.S., a NCSA certified strength and conditioning coach. “The hot word these days is being mindful. When you are not paying attention to your food intake and instead focusing on talking on the phone, watching television, or driving a car, you are not mindful of the task at hand.”
How to Break It: Just like Whitfield, Reed recommends that you always measure portion sizes. Never eat straight from the package or while standing in front of the fridge or pantry. “Do not rely on estimation. All boxes and food manufacturers are different. Read, measure or weigh food on a scale. You will never stay lean and lose weight if you are mindlessly eating.”
“The simple act of drinking one soda (or any other sugary drink) every day can lead to substantial weight gain over the course of the year,” says Josh Anderson, an AFAA Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and the owner of Always Active Athletics. His example: one can of classic Coke a day, which is about 140 calories. “That can add up to over 51,000 calories a year or over 14.5 pounds worth of calories. That's serious weight gain!”
How to Break It: Swap sodas, fruit juices and any beverages that contain excessive amounts of added sugars for water or unsweetened teas. Try adding real fruit, lemon or lime to water or seltzer when in need of a flavor fix.
Anderson says that this is a simple habit that many people never think twice about. “Using a larger plate when eating can lead to over-consumption because you’re always apt to clean your plate.” Siting a 2005 study by Wansink & Kim, he mentioned that researchers found large packaging or dish sizes led to overeating even if the food didn't necessarily taste good.
How to Break It: Anderson says it’s simple, “Use a slightly smaller plate at each meal.”
Artificial sweeteners have the advantage of being calorie-free, but some of the negative side effects associated with their consumption could potentially lead to weight gain. “Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and those found in some chewing gums can lower the amount good stomach bacteria,” says Dan Flores,RTSm, a master trainer and lifestyle consultant from New York City. “Studies have shown that lower levels of good stomach bacteria are often associated with obese populations.”
How to Break It: Flores recommends avoiding these sweeteners all together. “People often use them to substitute for sugar but the chemicals often cause more harm than good. Stick with the real stuff like raw sugar or agave, just use less of it.”
“This is a challenge most of my overweight clients had to learn to overcome," says Flores. "Drinking can often cause you to make poor eating choices, which typically leads to consuming too many calories. The compounding effect is what causes weight gain.”
How to Break It: Flores suggests that when you want to indulge in a few drinks, do it on a full stomach. “You'll be less prone to combine the two bad habits and you'll probably have lowered the desire to drink as much, too.”
“If veggies aren't at least 30 percent of your diet, chances are you're filling up on foods that are more calorically dense, which leads to over consumption and weight gain,” says Flores.
How to Break It: Instead of trying to overhaul all of your eating habits, slowly add more vegetables into your regular diet. For example, during the first week try incorporating them just at lunch. Flores also suggests eating them at the beginning of a meal. “Fill up on those first so that you don't have room to overeat the breads and pastas. You'll end up eating less calories and losing a few pounds.”
“Often parents will finish the last couple of bites of their child’s mac and cheese or eat the last scoop left of a dessert at a work party, or maybe you’re a chef who has to taste-test foods all day; whatever the case, without realizing you’re over-consuming, these ‘BLTs’ can add up fast and lead to weight gain,” says Kim Ferreira, M.S., a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist.
How to Break It: Keep a food diary. It will help hold you accountable for everything that you eat. “If you bit it, write it. This will help you figure out where your extra calories are coming from,” says Ferreira.
“From such an early age, we have been conditioned to eat based on a schedule or what is in front of us, rather than eating when we are physically hungry,” says Ferreira. “Unlike many of the other body signals we frequently ignore our hunger signals.” You may be more susceptible to weight gain if you have trouble responding to hunger cues or are unable to assess your satiety. Ferreira says this is especially common for chronic dieters.
How to Break It: “Prior to eating, assess your hunger on a scale of 1-10; 1 being ravenous and 10 being stuffed or over full. Focus on a 5, neither hungry nor full. Waiting too long to eat (say, feeling like a 1 or 2) may cause you to overeat and reach an 8 or 9 too quickly," says Ferreira. "This concept may take time to learn, so patience is important. However, once you begin to pay attention to your body’s needs, weight gain should cease."
“Unfortunately as we age, it means we require fewer calories because our metabolism is slowly declining,” says Ferreira. It’s common that we don’t adjust our normal eating habits to accommodate for decreased energy needs. “You may not be able to get away with that extra cookie or glass of wine in your 40s like you did in your 30s without seeing a weight change.”
How to Break It: Ferreira suggests making one small change to your current eating routine. “Maybe it means switching from your usual double cheeseburger to a single cheese burger, decreasing one of your sugars in your daily coffee, or simply swapping from orange juice to an actual orange,” she says. “These changes may seem minor but remember, the weight didn’t appear overnight so weight loss will not happen overnight either.”