8 Biggest Fat Traps
"In nearly all of human history, we've lived in a world where getting enough calories was a challenge, and physical activity wasn't called exercise, it was called survival," says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and coauthor ofThe Way to Eat. Our bodies are programmed tocravethe sustaining calories of fat and the quick energy of sugar, even though today we don't need to exert all that much effort to find them.
But all is not lost. It's not just willpower you need to healthy-it's "skillpower." That means knowing where the calorie and fat dangers lurk and avoiding or outsmarting them.
No more food-free zones
You used to actually have to leave the clothing section of the department store if you wanted a snack. Today, if that bathing suit doesn't fit, you can drown your frustration with a gourmet chocolate bar at the checkout counter. And while you could always find snacks at a gas station, that once meant candy bars or stale sandwiches, not fresh doughnuts and ice cream. At malls, used to be confined to one food court; now additional stands are spread all over. "You used to have to go out of your way to find food, but now it practically falls into your lap," laments Anne M. Fletcher, RD, author ofThin for Life.
Outsmart it:Think ahead to avoid these food zones. Pay for gas at the pump so you don't have to go inside. Seek out the department store cash register without the candy display. Don't park near the mall entrance with the cinnamon bun stand. And don't go shopping when you're hungry-you'll be better able to resist these impulse purchases. "It also helps to have your own healthy snacks on hand. I always keep a bag of nuts and pretzels in my car," Fletcher says.
Buying in bulk
Research shows that the more food we have in front of us, the more we'll eat. In fact, Cornell University scientists found that when people buy huge packages of food, they eat twice as much in the first eight days. "Only when the quantity gets to a normal size do people slow down their consumption," says study author Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author ofMindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
Outsmart it:"As soon as you get home, split the food into smaller packages and move most of it out of sight," Dr. Wansink advises. Put chips into single-portion-size plastic bags; pour some of the cereal into a smaller plastic container; take one box of cookies out of the four-box pack and put the rest in an out-of-reach place (a high shelf in the kitchen or pantry, for example). And because we underestimate portions from a larger package, measure carefully when cooking rice or pasta from a bulk-size box.
Salt in your sweet
Food manufacturers routinely add salt to sweet products and add sugar and other sweeteners to salty ones, says Dr. Katz. One likely reason? Our brain has separate centers for different tastes like sour, sweet and salty, and each appetite center you turn on encourages you to eat until it registers full. "By including both sweet and salty tastes in cookies, breakfast cereals and pasta sauces, food manufacturers create products that are hard to stop eating," Dr. Katz says. (Now you know why you can't down as many ounces of raisins as Ring Dings.)
Outsmart it:Read nutrition labels and pick treats whose sodium content per serving is lower than the number of calories. Or better yet, bake your own cookies. That way you'll be more likely to be able to eat just one (OK, two). For snacks, stick with fewer flavors: Raw almonds are better than honey-roasted ones, plain popcorn beats kettle corn, and a piece of fruit is perfect.
Restaurants with atmosphere
Candlelight and soft music don't just make a restaurant more romantic, they can also make you eat more. "Research has shown that people who linger in a relaxed, dimly lit restaurant often orderdessertor extra drinks they wouldn't order in a brighter setting," Dr. Wansink says. Another one of his studies found that when your waiter recites a dessert menu with elaborate-sounding items like "Belgian double chocolate fudge cake," you're more likely to bite than if he calls it plain old chocolate cake.
Outsmart it:Follow Dr. Wansink's rule of two. Choose an entrée and only two items from the following four: appetizer, alcoholic drink, bread or dessert. "If you've decided not to order dessert, when the waiter comes over to discuss the choices, cut him off before he mentions any and simply order a cup of coffee," he says.
It may seem like a good deal, but it's no bargain for your thighs. (And neither is an on-the-house dessert with your meal.)
Outsmart it:If you want a free refill, order unsweetened iced tea instead of soda and add one packet of regular sugar or sugar substitute if you need to, advises Althea Zanecosky, RD, LDN, a nutritionist in Philadelphia. Even better, ask for a glass of (truly free) water. If the restaurant offers free dessert, ask if there are healthy, lower-calorie choices like fruit instead of ice cream or cake.
Too much variety
We're programmed to want some of everything (nature's way of ensuring we a well-rounded diet), which is fine if the choice is between apples and oranges, but not if it's between different-colored candy-coated chocolates or assorted desserts. In one of Dr. Wansink's studies, people ate 43 percent more candy when they had more color choices.
Outsmart it:Keep choices to a minimum. Instead of buying a box of assorted cookies, choose just chocolate chip. If you go to a buffet, put a lot of salad on your plate, then only two or three other items, advises Susan B. Roberts, PhD, professor of both nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University. "If you take a bit of everything, you will almost always eat it all, even if you're full," she says.
Weekend calorie overload
Whether it's a dinner party at a friend's house, a restaurant celebration or popcorn at the movies, on weekends we're more likely to find ourselves in situations that involve lots of food. Buteatingconsistently every day of the week can help you stay slim. When researchers at The National Weight Control Registry tracked more than a thousand people who had lost a significant amount of weight, they found that those who ate more on weekends and holidays were more likely to regain lost pounds after one year. "Eating with abandon on the weekend can undo all the healthy eating from the rest of the week," Fletcher says.
Outsmart it:Try to eat the same amount and types offoodson most days. "Going from all rich foods on the weekends to lower-fat foods during the week interferes with your taste buds' ability to eventually prefer healthier offerings," Dr. Katz says. If you typically eat oatmeal for breakfast Monday through Friday, take a bowl from that restaurant brunch buffet on Sunday, too (add a few small treats you don't normally have, like blueberries or a dab of brown sugar). Also know that portion sizes in restaurants are huge—way more than you should be eating. "A pasta or steak dish can be three to four times what one serving should be," says Zanecosky. To avoid overeating in a restaurant, ask for a to-go container and put in half the food at the start of your meal, Roberts suggests. At fast-food places, order the junior or regular-sized hamburger and small fries.
Office junk food
It's as much an office staple as paper clips. One of Dr. Wansink's studies revealed that if you keep chocolates in a clear dish on your desk, you'll eat up to nine chocolates a day—that's 230 calories! Worse, most people underestimate how much they're taking. And that doesn't even count the doughnuts left over from morning meetings, candy bars in the vending machine, or those constant office birthday celebrations that include cake.
Outsmart it:Move that candy dish at least a few feet from your desk. (Put it on a bookshelf or in another part of the office that you have to get up to reach.) In Dr. Wansink's study, this small shift helped people eat five fewer chocolates daily. Better yet, get rid of it altogether.
Other office food tends to be located near the coffeepot; if you know treats lurk there, bring your own coffee thermos from home or walk to a nearby shop for your midday cup to avoid the danger zone, Zanecosky advises. And if the birthday celebrations happen too often, collaborate with your diet-minded coworkers to see if you can have just one cake for a month's worth of birthdays. If not, splurge on occasion, but then forgo a dessert you planned to have another day. As long as you're mindful of how much you're eating, you'll keep the weight off—which surely is something to celebrate!
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