Is Your Diet Making You Gain?

If you're trying to slim down, you've probably amassed a menu full of calorie-cutting tips and tricks. So it may come as a shock to learn that many of the ones you've sworn by are actually keeping you fat. "In their quest to lose weight, many women unknowingly sabotage themselves," says Elisa Zied, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson and author of Feed Your Family Right! Here, six well-intentioned approaches to weight loss that can go awry, and the expert and research-proven ways to drop pounds for good.

You save your calories for a big dinner

Yes, cutting total calories leads to weight loss. But bank most of those calories for the end of the day and your hunger hormones will go haywire, making you eat more. Middle-aged men and women who ate their daily number of calories in one supersize supper produced more ghrelin, a hormone that causes hunger, than when they ate the same number of calories in three square meals, found researchers at the National Institute on Aging.

Smarter move: Front-load your calories. Overeating at night keeps you from being hungry in the morning, setting off a vicious cycle in which you're never interested in breakfast but always starving by dinner. The key is to rebalance your day so you don't set yourself up for an evening binge. To get your appetite back in the morning, cut your evening meal in half. Then eat a breakfast of about 450 calories, such as a scrambled egg with low-fat cheese on a whole wheat English muffin with an 8-ounce glass of juice — an amount that should keep you satisfied until lunch, says George L. Blackburn, MD, PhD, associate director of the division of nutrition at Harvard Medical School and author of Break Through Your Set Point. Once your appetite adjusts, don't go more than 5 hours without another meal of roughly the same size.


You graze instead of eating regularly scheduled meals

Trouble is, eating in this manner may contribute to weight gain, according to a 2005 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. When researchers asked women to eat at regular, fixed times or to break their usual amount of food into unscheduled meals throughout the day, they made a startling discovery: The women actually burned more calories in the 3 hours after eating the regular meals than they did after the unplanned meals. They produced less insulin, too, potentially lowering their odds of insulin resistance, which is linked to weight gain and obesity. What's more, grazing instead of planning ahead can set you up to eat mindlessly, says Zied. In the end, we rarely realize how many calories all those little nibbles and noshes really add up to.

Smarter move: Figure out how many times a day you need to eat — everybody is different — and then stick to a schedule. "It's not great to feel starved, but it is okay to feel slightly hungry," says Zied. You can home in on your body's internal cues with a food diary. It's so effective that earlier this year, researchers at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research found that dieters who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn't record what they ate.


You assume calories from healthy, natural foods are low

People consistently underestimate the calories in nutritious items such as yogurt, fish, and baked chicken, found researchers at Bowling Green State University who quizzed students on calorie counts. "Just because a food is healthy doesn't mean you can eat big portions," says D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, owner of One Source Nutrition in Stamford, CT. "A handful of nuts can be 200 calories or more. And if you add that without cutting back elsewhere, it could be the reason you're not losing weight."

Smarter move: Count all calories. Once you learn that ? cup of cereal can have as much as 200 calories or that there are about 220 calories in that "single-serving" bottle of OJ, you'll be more prudent about how much you use.

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