We make over 200 food-related choices each day. Some choices are easier than others. What you should eat for breakfastmay be a relatively simple decision, especially if you just rotate a few basic choices regularly. But other decisions are more challenging, like deliberating about whether or not to dip into the candy dish on your coworker's desk.
Many of our subconscious food choices can trigger unwanted weight gain or sabotage weight-loss efforts. How exactly did you decide how much popcorn to eat during movie night? Are you aware of the role your environment plays in your food selection?
Here are eight triggers that may impede weight loss – and how to avoid them before it's too late:
1. You keep food on your kitchen counter.
If your kitchen counter is cluttered with food, research shows you may weigh 8 to 29 pounds more than someone whose counter is clear, according to the book "Slim by Design" by Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. One of the most dangerous culprits? Visible breakfast cereal! Despite claims of containing whole grains and essential nutrients, people often overeat cereal because of its health halo claims.
Solution: Give your kitchen a makeover. Remove visible food from your countertops and replace it with a bowl of fruit. According to Wansink's research, people who have a bowl of fruit on their kitchen counter weigh an average of 7 pounds less than people who don't!
2. You keep snack food in clear containers.
You're more likely to eat the food you can see, so storing snack food in clear containers is a recipe for temptation – especially if the treats are at eye-level.
Solution: Out of sight, out of mind.Store high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar snacks in opaque containers and keep them inside the pantry instead of on the counter. The Google office in New York tried this method – and it worked, reducing their caloric intake from candy by 9 percent in just one week, Fast Company reports.
3. You finish what your child doesn't.
Children, up to age 5, are much better than adults at recognizing hunger and satiety cues, so they eat until they're full – and not more. If you regularly eat your meal and then dive into others' leftovers, you might gain weight from the little bites and nips that you didn't think would count.
Solution: Serve yourself a piece of what your child is eating and keep away from what's on his or her plate. Save the little one's leftovers for lunch the next day.
4. You have a candy dish on your desk at work.
Whether it's on your desk or the desk of a coworker, many people are within arm's reach of candy at work – 476 calories of it to be exact, according to Wansink. In fact, Wansink reports that people with a candy dish on their desk weigh 15.4 pounds more than people who don't.
Solution: Fill your candy dish on your desk with paperclips instead of sugary treats. If you want to eat something sweet at work, just BYOS (Bring Your Own Snack). Choose one that comes in an individual, portion-controlled size.
5. You're watching an action movie.
Health experts have never endorsed eating in front of the TV because it increases distraction, leading to mindless munchies. But research now shows that what you're watching can influence your eating habits, too. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people eat more when they're watching action-related TV than if they're turning into a less engrossing program.
Solution: During meals, turn off the tube and focus on conversation and the food in front of you. When families grab table time together, kids tend to eat more vegetables and fruits and less fried foods and sugary soft drinks. Set an example when you set the table to help you gain enjoyment and possibly even lose weight.
6. You use oversized dinner plates.
Studies show that the size of your dishes cues your consumption norm. If you use larger plates and bowls, you are more likely to serve yourself and consume more food – about 16 percent more! Research also shows that we eat over 90 percent of the food we serve ourselves, so over-serving can contribute to overeating.
Solution: Invest in smaller plates – and you may be able to treat yourself to a smaller pants size as well.
7. Sugary drinks are at eye level.
We tend to buy more products that are stored at eye level at the supermarket and to grab items that meet our gaze when we open the refrigerator.
Solution: Keep a pitcher of water – not sugary drinks – at eye level in your fridge. Fill the pitcher with fresh cut fruit to make it even more appealing. All sodas and sugary drinks should stay on the supermarket shelf for good.
8. You eat directly from the package.
Whether it's popcorn, cereal, jerky or even grapes, eating directly from a food package distorts our sense of how much we're consuming and leads to portion distortion.
Solution: Pre-measure and pre-portion all snack foods and place them in single-serving bags to define and predetermine an amount that will help keep calories in check.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
How many of these healthy eating myths have you fallen for? Click through the gallery below to find out!
Healthy eating myths: How many have you fallen for?
8 mindless habits to break if you want to lose weight
Myth: Coconut Oil is a Cure-All
Fact:Coconut oil is the latest miracle food. If you believe popular wellness websites, it’s good for just about everything – from making your teeth whiter, skin more luminous and hair shinier to boosting your brain and bone health and treatment for yeast infections. (Huh?!) However, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which recently sent a stern warning to a marketer of coconut oil over the brand’s misleading and unsubstantiated health and nutrition claims, coconut oil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
According to registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Coconut oil’s health benefits are often credited to the medium-chain triglycerides it provides.” However, coconut oil actually contains very little – about 10 to 15 percent of all of its fat is the beneficial short-chain MCTs that contain no more than 10 carbon molecules, Angelone adds. While the major saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid (a 12-carbon molecule), there is insufficient published scientific evidence to suggest lauric acid provides any meaningful health benefits.
Coconut oil is more than 90 percent saturated fat. Butter, a distant second, is about 65 percent saturated fat. And like all fats, it’s also high in calories, weighing in at 120 calories per tablespoon. Using coconut oil when cooking Thai dishes and others recipes that call for the tropical oil won’t harm your health, but adding coconut oil to your diet probably won’t improve it, either.
Image Credit: Joannawnuk
Myth: “Gluten-Free” Means It’s Good for Me
Fact: Research shows that about one-third of U.S. adults are trying to cut down on or avoid products containing gluten, according to the NPD Group. As a result, gluten-free foods are flying off supermarket shelves. While the majority of gluten-avoiders have no medical diagnosis that suggests that they can’t digest gluten, they simply believe “gluten-free” foods are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts.
Not so fast. Following a gluten-free diet when you don’t have a diagnosis for being sensitive or allergic to gluten may put you at risk for developing vitamin deficiencies, because a gluten-free diet is often low in fiber and many essential nutrients. In fact, an Australian study reported that more than 10 percent of both men and women following a gluten-free diet had inadequate intakes of thiamin, folate, magnesium, fiber, iron and calcium in both men and women. Women were also likely to lack iron and vitamin A, and men often didn’t get enough zinc.
What’s more, “gluten-free” versions of many foods aren’t necessarily more nutritious. Many are high in calories, added sugars and saturated fat, so it’s easy to exceed your calorie budget. "Often, the term 'gluten-free' is used on processed foods formulated using refined gluten -free grains such as rice, potato, quinoa and tapioca," Angelone says. "They often contain a significant amount of sugar and aren’t rich in nutrients or fiber."
A healthier approach to living a gluten-free lifestyle is to focus on wholesome foods that are naturally free of gluten – including fruits, vegetables and lean proteins such as seafood, poultry and low-fat dairy.
Image credit: Mikifinn
Myth: Diet Beverages Don’t Aid Weight Loss
Fact: While some observational studies have reported that people who drink diet beverages are more likely to be overweight, those types of studies only show associations and can’t prove that diet beverages cause weight gain. Obesity researchers suggest results from observational studies need to consider that people who are overweight use more “diet” foods and beverages to help them lose weight, compared to normal-weight individuals.
Results from two human clinical trials (which are considered the gold-standard for quality research and can be used to show cause-and-effect relationships) show weight loss benefits of diet beverages. In a 12-week study published in the journal Obesity, subjects who drank diet beverages lost, on average, 13 pounds, compared to 9 pounds lost among the water-only drinkers. The researchers also found that the diet beverage drinkers reported feeling less hungry, despite both groups following the same calorie-controlled diet regimen. Another study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found subjects who drank diet soda or water were more than twice as likely to lose more than 5 percent of their body weight in a six-month study. So, if you’re trying to cut calories to lose weight, and you want to enjoy a diet beverage, you don’t have to worry that it will derail your efforts.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Myth: Saturated Fats Aren’t Bad for Your Heart
Fact: If you Google “saturated fat myth,” you’ll get more than 250,000 links that highlight the “shocking” news that new data show we were wrong to recommend limiting saturated fat. However, before you start adding bacon to your burger and coconut oil to your coffee, this debate is far from over.
There's a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats, and whether or not they’re harmful to your heart, thanks to a couple reports in established journals like the Annals of Internal Medicine. These suggest diets high in saturated fat may not be that bad after all. But as numerous researchers have now pointed out, these studies have several major limitations with results that have been misinterpreted. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, reducing saturated fats can improve heart health if saturated fat is replaced with mono and polyunsaturated fats, but not when it’s replaced with refined carbohydrates. For example, diets low in saturated fat but high in added sugars and refined carbs may increase, not decrease, risk for heart disease.
Based on results from numerous randomized controlled clinical trials, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 7 percent of total calories from saturated fats or 140 calories for a 2,000-calorie reference diet. To meet that recommendation, eat fewer full-fat dairy products, limit fat-rich meats and use oils that are low in saturated fat and high in monos and polys such as canola, safflower or sunflower. Canola oil can also be used in place of butter or shortening when baking to reduce saturated fat without affecting the texture of flavor. The AHA also recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and 9 (150 calories) for men.
Image credit: Jamie Grill Photography
Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves obsessive healthy eating to the point of malnutrition. WSJ's Sumathi Reddy discusses with Tanya Rivero. Photo: Getty