Every day, we make decisions about what to eat and when to eat, yet most of us are completely in the dark about what influences how much we choose to eat. To some degree, everyone is guilty of unhealthy mindless eating, which is triggered by hidden cues that persuade us to overeat. By increasing your awareness of certain seemingly innocent triggers, you can become a healthy mindful eater and stop consuming unnecessary calories that add up to unwanted pounds. Here, in descending order, are the top 5 habits that are making you fat and how to break them.
The Top 5 Habits Making You Fat
5. You’re a Low-fat Label Lover
Here’s an incredible fact: Since the "cut down on fat” food craze began roughly 30 years ago, the obesity rate in America has more than doubled. Of course, many other factors are at play in fueling this health crisis, but what many people don’t realize is that “fat-free” does not mean low in calories. In fact, to make up for lack of flavor, manufacturers tend to add more sugar, flour and thickeners to fat-free products, which boosts calorie content. The fats in these foods are replaced with low-performing white carbs that digest quickly and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes the classic sugar high and crash followed by a hunger rebound.
Lastly, studies show that people often view a low-fat label as a green light to eat much more than they normally would, unaware that low-fat versions of foods are usually not much lower in calories than the regular versions. Click here to learn more about unmasking misleading food labels.
Break the Habit
Stay away from deceptively low-fat packaged foods like cookies and chips. Only choose low-fat food items that are not highly processed, such as low-fat dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt.
4. You Eat With Others
Studies show that whenever you eat with other people, you lose track of how much you’re eating. For instance, if you eat with just one other person, you’re likely to eat about 35% more than you normally would. When you eat with four people, your consumption rate jumps to 75% more. And when eating with a group of seven or more, you eat about 96% more than if you were eating alone.
Important food for thought: The average person eats out with a group about three times a week. This means that if you’re not cautious, you can consume 72,000 extra calories over the course of a year, which translates into about 20 pounds of weight gain.
Break the Habit
Don't give up on your social life! Eating with others is not only part of life, but also has positive effects on your overall well-being. But remember: The healthy part revolves around the company, not the food. To avoid mindless overeating:
- Be mindful and don’t pace yourself with the fastest eater at the table. Instead, pace yourself with the slowest eater. Also, try to be the last person to start eating.
- Make arrangements to do other things with friends and family besides just eat. If your plans do involve eating, make sure to also include a physical activity like a walk afterward.
3. You Meal Multitask
Meal multitasking means doing other things while you’re eating, such as: watching TV, reading, working at the computer or driving while eating (which is also dangerous). These habits take the focus off the food and make you more likely to overeat without realizing it.
Break the Habit
- First, power down or move away from the distraction. Find a place away from your desk or TV that is peaceful and free of anything that may take your focus away from your food.
- These days many busy folks can’t find 30 minutes to sit down and focus on a meal. However, 15 minutes is doable and better for you than eating in a distracted state for 30 minutes.
2. You Eat Straight Out of the Package
Bag-to-mouth eating is a recipe for disaster since it’s impossible to gauge serving sizes this way. When you’re grabbing out of a seemingly bottomless pit, you’re likely to underestimate how much food you’ve actually eaten.
Break the Habit
- Look before it’s too late. That means plate it and then eat it.
- Pre-packaged snacks provide a visual cue that we’re finished. While 100-calorie snack packs are a good idea here, there are more affordable ways to control your eating. Buy your favorite snack in bulk, measure out the appropriate serving, and pack it up in plastic baggies to save money and calories.
For a guide to serving sizes, click here.
1. The #1 Habit Making You Fat: You Use Artificial Sweeteners
The average American consumes 24 pounds of artificial sweeteners each year, a habit that could actually be making you heavier. Studies show how these substances may confuse the body’s regulatory systems that control hunger. Whenever you eat, your body is trained to expect calories, but it’s not getting them when you eat zero-calorie sweeteners. You end up craving more food and not feeling full. What’s more, artificial sweeteners are up to 7000 times sweeter than natural sugars and this can desensitize taste buds. To learn more about the link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain, click here.
Beyond the commonly used serving packets, artificial sweeteners are often hidden in everyday items not advertised as diet foods such as cereal, vitamins, sauces and even baby food. Look for these key words on food labels to spot artificial substitutes:
- Neotame (used in stable baked goods)
- Acesulfame (found in diet sodas)
Break the Habit
- Consume no more than two servings (two packets or one diet soda) of artificial sweeteners per day.
- Try combining a half a teaspoon of your preferred artificial sweetener with a teaspoon of raw sugar. Then eventually wean yourself off the artificial sweetener.
- Choose natural alternatives such as honey or agave. Or try coconut sap syrup, which has a low-glycemic index and just 10 calories per teaspoon. It also contains B vitamins, potassium and amino acids. Because these are all quite sweet tasting, you’ll find you don’t need to use much of them. Coconut syrup is available at health food stores for about $7.