Shannon Barbadian, a certified personal trainer, Pilates instructor and co-founder of Defy Gravity Studio, says that many meal replacement bars targeted towards dieters have way too much sugar in them. “They also have a long shelf life, which tells us they have preservatives in them,” she said. “To add to those nutritional no-nos, people tend to use them as snacks instead of meal replacements, and they contain too many calories to be considered a ‘snack.’" Instead, opt for meals made up of whole foods like fresh fruits and veggies and lean proteins, and when you’re in need of a snack try grabbing something like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. If you’re in a rush and need to grab something packaged, make sure it’s not overloaded with added sugar.
“As a general rule, we tend to overestimate how much we are exercising and underestimate how much we are eating,” says Barbadian. To avoid any confusion and to make sure that you’re definitely on the right track when it comes to your energy output and calorie consumption, she recommends keeping a food diary and an exercise journal. “It will keep you honest.”
“Your morning cup o’ joe can be sabotaging your diet,” says Lori Kenyon Farley, a certified nutritional consultant, fitness competitor and co-founder of Ritual Wellness. “By adding flavored syrups or whipped cream to your coffee or tea, you can be adding another 200 to 400 calories. Instead, consider using a low-calorie sweetener and skipping the cream.”
Farley says that skipping meals as a means of cutting calories can actually lead to an increase in your overall consumption since you’ll be much more likely to eat a larger meal later on. “You will also be teaching your metabolism to slow, causing you to burn fewer calories daily” she said. “Instead, be sure to eat small meals every few hours to keep your metabolism burning fat, and make breakfast and lunch your largest meals, with a lighter meal at dinner.”
“I advise people to steer clear of ‘low fat’ and instead focus on diversifying the fat in their diet,” says Sarah Waybright, a Registered Dietitian and creator of Why Food Works. “Fat is satisfying, and eating low-fat versions of treats, yogurts, dressings and sauces may not be filling. In some cases they can lead to a larger number of calories consumed! Using nuts and seeds to power up oatmeal in the morning, spreading avocado on toast instead of jelly and using different oils like olive, canola or grapeseed in dressings give a nutritious boost that will be more likely to keep you full for longer.”
“Many people also tend to have small and low-protein breakfasts, and eat dinner as their largest meal of the day,” says Waybright. “Balancing calories to be more front-loaded on the day can help regulate hunger hormones and improve metabolism.” Try increasing your breakfast’s protein factor by incorporating dishes like a hearty omelet filled with vegetables or a bowl of oatmeal mixed with protein powder or peanut butter and fresh fruit.
“When you are tired, you eat to get energy,” says Chris Freytag, a national fitness expert and founder of Get Healthy U. “Calories are units of energy.” Freytag suggests making an honest effort to track your sleep habits by using a fitness tracker like the FitBit or simply recording how many hours you get each night in a journals. “Get serious about getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night,” she said. “You may have to do some conscious adjusting of your schedule, but it's worth it.”
Freytag notes that meals served at restaurants typically contain many more calories than you might think. “People don't realize that a chicken breast at a restaurant may be dipped in oil or doused with sugar and salt,” she said. “Try to cook at home. Prepare your own food. Make it a fun thing to meal-plan with your family. At the very least, try to load up once a week on staples that could help you through busy days and help you skip the temptation to go out. Also, keep track of the money you will save and do something fun with it!”
Freytag shares an example: “Either you are really good with food choices or you just say ‘screw it’ and decide to overeat.” She recommends avoiding this mindset and “getting in touch with moderation” instead. “Apply the 80/20 rule and allow a little leeway. Don't think of it as cheating. Be kinder to yourself and don't let one taste of a dessert cause you to go berserk!”
Freytag says you should almost entirely avoid eating really late at night and warns to steer clear of bringing any food into your bedroom. “The last thing you want to do is fall asleep with an overfull stomach,” she said. “So just don't allow it.” In addition to maintaining a balanced diet that includes plenty of nutritiously satisfying foods throughout the day, Freytag recommends avoiding late night munchies by chewing gum and brushing your teeth or using whitening strips after your last meal.