Habit: It’s that thing that we do when we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing. But what if you could change your habits so that you could start losing fat automatically, without ever having to think about it? It’s easier than you think.
We develop habits because they save us time and energy (you don’t have to think about whether to make coffee in the morning, you just do it), and because they give us a sense of comfort and reward. But neurons in the brain actually judge the rewards and costs of habits, which means they might be easier to change than you think, according to new research at MIT. Breaking a bad habit may be as simple as upping the penalty: Set aside money to buy yourself something special, then subtract from your little nest egg every time you break down and sneak a midnight snack. Eventually, your brain will decide that the cost isn’t worth the benefit, the research suggests. But which habits are costing you the most?
You’re Drinking Diet Sodas
It’s a logical assumption: Switching from a sugar-based soda to a non-sugar-based soda should help your health. While calorically speaking that might be true, diet sodas contain their own dangers and side effects. In a shocking study, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center monitored 475 adults for 10 years and found that the participants who drank diet soda saw a 70 percent increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn’t drink any soda. So much for the idea that diet soda helps you diet. That’s not all: The participants who drank more than two diet sodas a day suffered a 500 percent waist expansion. Yikes! The same researchers conducted a separate study on mice that indicates it might be the aspartame that causes the weight gain. Aspartame raises blood glucose levels to a point where the liver cannot handle it all, so the excess glucose is converted into fat.
Fix: Drink black tea instead, for a caffeine buzz without the weight gain.
You Eat Mostly With Groups
When we eat with other people, we consume, on average, 44 percent more food than we do when dining alone. Research published in the journal Nutrition found that a meal eaten with one other person was 33 percent larger than a meal savored alone. It gets scarier from there. Third-wheeling with two friends? You’re looking at a 47 percent bigger meal. Dining with four, six, or 8+ friends was associated with meal increases of 69, 70 and 96 percent, respectively. Though part of this has to do with the amount of time we spend at the table when dining with company, another study from the journal Appetite found people who spent longer eating because they were simultaneously reading didn’t eat significantly more, meaning time isn’t the only factor at play here.
Fix: You can still hang out with your friends. Just vary the activity once in a while, and include short runs or walk-and-talks. You’ll save money and calories.
You’re Married To Your Bestie
For better or.. fatter? Research suggests a committed relationship has the potential to wreak havoc on your diet. A study in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed the impact spouses, friends, and siblings played on dietary patterns over the course of 10 years. Couples had the greatest influence on each other’s eating habits, particularly when it came to drinking booze and snacking.
Fix: The good news is the “halo effect” applies to healthy habits too. A Harvard Public School of Health study found that people on a weight-loss program who had the support of at least one partner lost 6.5 pounds more than those going it alone. So sign up your spouse or friend to be your partner in getting fit.
You Order Last
If you want to eat healthy when dining out with a group of friends, keep healthy company… or order first! Groups of people tend to order similarly, especially when forced to give their order out loud. This may be due to the fact that people are happier making similar choices as their peers.
Fix: If you’re determined to make healthy choices, stick to your decision and get your order in first.
Social Media Addiction
Spending hours on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter when you could be up and about burning calories is a growing health concern. A study of 350 students from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that the more time they spent on Facebook, the less time they spent exercising or engaging in team sports. Particularly fattening is catching up with your social networks before bed, or even in bed! Students with access to one electronic device in their bedrooms were 1.47 times as likely to be overweight as those with no device in the bedroom. That increased to 2.57 times for kids with three devices.
Fix: Turn that catch-up session into an in-person meet-up and, no, not at a restaurant. And yes it is possible to lose weight while lying down and doing nothing.
You Don’t Eat Mindfully
Be mindful about eating mindfully. The practice has ancient Buddhist roots. It is, in fact, a form of secular meditation, asking us to experience food more intensely, paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each bite. Mindful eating is not a diet and it doesn’t ask you to eat less, but the approach is gaining traction as a successful weight-loss mechanism. In fact, mindful eaters respond less to emotional stress, consume significantly fewer calories, and have an easier time maintaining a healthy BMI compared with those who are unaware.
Fix: Chew slowly. Tune in to the texture, the smell, and complexity of flavors. Keep chewing. Swallow. Take a sip of water. And for a few moments, resist the urge to take another bite. Continue this way throughout the course of a meal and you’ll experience the pleasures and frustrations of mindful eating.
You Distract Yourself
We eat for many reasons, but the main prompt for mindful eating is physical hunger. It’s hard to be present if you’re eating at your desk, cyber-loafing, or watching television. When your mind is focusing on something besides your food, you don’t realize things like ‘Was the food actually good?’ and ‘Am I getting full?’ This often leads to ‘do-over eating’, which isn’t so mindful. Eat with purpose and presence!
Fix: Minimize distractions as often as possible. In other words, that episode of Empire can be watched after dinner.
You Forget You’re Full
Stopping at a red light is more challenging when you’re flying at 100 miles per hour than when cruising at a slower speed. Knowing when to put down your fork is similar. Experts say gauging your body’s subtle “I’m full” cues is easier when you take smaller bites at a slower pace. In fact, people who focus on taking “small bites” of food consumed about 30 percent less soup for their meal than those who don’t make the conscious decision.
Fix: Slow down. People who focus on doubling the number of times they chew before swallowing eat about 15 percent less food and 112 fewer calories over the course of a meal. So pump the brakes, and slow down to slim down.
You Don’t Talk To Yourself
Mindful eating can help you break free from old automatic, habitual patterns of reacting to environmental and emotional triggers. So whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask ‘Am I hungry?’ and choose how you’ll respond”.
Fix: Eat mindfully with intention and attention. Eat with the intention of feeling better when you’re finished eating than you did when you started, and eat with your full attention on the food and your body for optimal enjoyment and satisfaction.
You Didn’t Om Before You Nom
Of all the gym-goers, yogis tend to be the most mindful eaters, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. In a survey of more than 300 Seattle residents, researchers found that people who ate more mindfully weighed less than those who ate mindlessly (those who reported eating when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression). The researchers also found a strong association between mindful eating and yoga practice, but not other types of physical activity, like walking or running. According to the authors, yoga, because it teaches how to maintain calm in uncomfortable or challenging situations, can increase mindfulness in eating and lead to less weight gain over time, independent of the physical aspect of the exercise.
Fix: Enjoy yoga… and get abs doing it.
You Fell Into The Trap
Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps, and simply being aware of something as simple as the size of a bowl can influence how much you eat. Moviegoers can eat 45 percent more fresh popcorn from extra-large containers than large ones. People automatically tend to pour more liquid into short, wide glasses than in tall, skinny ones of the same volume. Even a kid’s cereal bowl can be a hidden trap for mindless overeating. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics found children who were given a 16-ounce bowl served themselves twice as much cereal as children given an 8-ounce bowl.
Fix: Bottom line: It’s easier to change your environment than to change your mind. Employing simple strategies like eating off salad plates instead of large dinner plates are more likely to succeed than willpower alone.
You Haven’t Crowdsourced Praise
Positive affirmations can help boost your confidence, but they can sometimes be hard to use when you feel at odds with your appearance.
Fix: Turn the idea on its head a bit. Look in the mirror. If you are having trouble saying anything kind about yourself or your body, ask those you love to help you. Request notes from your best friends, your parents, your siblings, and anyone else whose opinion can lift you. Post these notes on your mirror, and read them out loud each day. Allow their words to become your own.
Fix: It can be as simple as going for a run or as extreme as taking a kiteboarding lesson. When you do something challenging, your mind automatically shifts to being present. And when you are present, there’s no judgment. Now you can enjoy the strength of your body and feel connected to it. How do you feel after a challenge? Like a winner! And that’s exactly the mindset that will boost your self-confidence.
You Don’t Have A Mantra
You can still love your body while working toward weight loss by coming up with a phrase that’s personal to you, something like “I feel stronger and healthier every day that passes”, that you can think to yourself when negative thoughts about your appearance or progress start to creep in.
Fix: Repeating this phrase to yourself can help you de-stress and focus on the positive aspects of your weight-loss journey. Let it all go…
You Pamper Other People
Learning to put yourself first is an important part of your weight-loss journey. Treating yourself to a massage, manicure, pedicure, or simply a new lipstick can work wonders in lifting your mood, and also provides an alternative to rewarding yourself with food.
Fix: Remember that self-care is not selfish. When you take steps to pamper your body, you’ll feel more beautiful, more confident, and more able to share yourself with others.
You Only Celebrate The Big Stuff
Viewing health behaviors as an act of self-care is essential. Begin taking notes on a daily basis, noting positive behaviors and what you’d like to accomplish or continue tomorrow.
Fix: For example: “Today I was happy that I got to step away from my desk and eat lunch. I was more mindful with my food and got to read a chapter in my book. I felt more upbeat and productive the rest of the afternoon. I hope to do that again tomorrow and plan a balanced dinner.” It really works.
Too Much Protein
A high-protein, low-carb diet may help your extra pounds fly off initially, but it can actually cause weight gain in the long term. Researchers had more than 7,000 participants fill out questionnaires about their eating habits over the course of six years. After analyzing the data for commonalities, it was found that those who ate high-protein diets had a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight during the course of the study than those who ate less of the stuff. Yikes!
You Don’t Use The Half Rule
“Make half your plate vegetables and/or salad,” says nutritionist and dietitian Danielle Omar, blogger at Food Confidence. The vegetables are nutrient dense, high in satiating fiber, and low in calories. By eating the veggie half of your plate before anything else, you will take the edge off your hunger, eat less overall calories, and still feel full and satisfied.
You’d Rather Be Thin Than Healthy
Let’s face it, the entire diet industry as well as the messages we get from Hollywood, the media, and pretty much the entire world revolve around weight and size. Lose more pounds. Fit into smaller clothes. Get thin! The main thing to understand though, is that thin cannot compete with healthy. Health is the most important thing in your life.
Fix: Hey, if you can be healthy and thin, then more power to you, but risking everything to be thin is not worth it and makes no sense in the big picture. I know more than a few thin people who are unhealthy. They smoke cigarettes, starve themselves, live on gallons of diet soda and energy drinks, or use drugs or other such unhealthy means to stay thin. As a result, some of them will not live long lives, and those who do may not live quality lives. Many, if not most, are also unhappy. Keep health your goal, and it will naturally result in being trim.
You Eat Three Meals A Day
Despite diet experts and new research constantly telling you otherwise, many people still consume the bulk of their calories in two or three large meals each day, often in an attempt to slim down, going for hours at a time eating nothing in between. Sure, you can lose weight on a reduced-calorie three-meal plan, but you can’t make your body burn fat more efficiently, which is key to long-term weight loss.
Fix: A nutritious meal or snack about every three hours keeps blood-sugar levels stable, feeds your body a steady stream of necessary nutrients, and helps control hunger-induced cravings for less-than-slimming snacks like sweets and fats. It also leads to more effective glycogen storage in the liver and muscle tissues, ensuring that your body won’t cannibalize muscle as an energy source during your workouts. So make your meals mini, and spread them out. If you have trouble fitting in extra eating times at work, prepare food ahead of time that you can zap in the microwave or eat cold. And stock your kitchen right.
You Sit Too Much
Ideally we sleep about eight hours for every 24. Most people spend an extra seven to 10 hours sitting at their desk. That means most of us spend the overwhelming majority of our time sedentary. Our bodies weren’t designed for this level of inactivity. Most of human evolutionary history has involved being active, searching for food and fuel. One way to burn more calories daily is to stand more and sit less. A study found that standing at work burned 50 more calories an hour than sitting. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider this: If you stand for just three hours every day, in one year you’ll expend more than 30,000 extra calories, which amounts to about 8 pounds of fat.
Fix: Set a phone timer to remind you to get up every hour and walk around, even for a few minutes.
You’re Not Sleeping Enough
The average person doesn’t get enough sleep, and while we’re sleeping, our body releases powerful fat-burning hormones that speed weight loss. I don’t care if it’s 15 more minutes or two hours: Every extra minute of shuteye will help you reach your goal that much faster. Plus, if you’re already in bed, the less likely you are to succumb to those late-night food temptations.
Fix: The National Sleep Foundation suggests seven to eight hours of sleep for most adults.
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