You’re familiar with the biggie weight-loss mistakes everyone makes (like skipping breakfast, OD’ing on protein, and skimping on veggies). But it turns out there are a few sneakier dietary flubs to avoid, too. Over time, these seemingly small mistakes can really add up, and may even cause you to put on pounds, says dietician Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet. Here’s how to steer clear of the lesser-known traps, and set yourself up for slim-down success.
You’ve been telling yourself you’re “on a diet”
When you clean up your eating habits to shed weight, it’s tempting to think of it as a diet. However, that word can send you down the wrong path: Using the term “diet” implies that once you reach a certain goal, or a specific number on the scale, you will stop eating healthy. “A diet in most people’s minds is something that you go on and off,” Gans says, and not something you stick with for the long haul. To lose weight forever, it’s better to reframe your new habits as a “lifestyle change,” says Gans—and make sure you’re following a balanced plan that truly feels sustainable (read: doesn’t leave you hangry).
Your lunch salad is weak
Many woman make the mistake of replacing one meal with a whole lot of greens, says Gans. That can backfire in more ways than one. “If [a salad] is not thoughtfully put together, this isn’t always enough for everyone,” she explains. “Then you end up starved for the rest of the day.” And that could lead you to make poor food choices later (say, during 3 p.m. vending machine raid), or binge at your next meal.
If you’re going to have a salad, make sure it includes enough belly-filling substance: The bowl should have one serving of protein (such as lean meat or nuts) and a healthy fat (like avocado). It’s also okay to mix up your lunch routine with sandwiches, says Gans. Just be aware of calorie counts—sammies in the 300 to 400 calorie range are safe bets, she says.
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You’re eating too much of a good thing
There are a few foods that have become healthy-diet staples: Think nuts and seeds, avocado (which can be added to nearly anything for a “good fat” fix), and peanut or almond butter (which supply a delicious dose of fat and protein to smoothies, sandwiches, and fruit). All of these foods are great nutritional choices, says Gans. The trouble is, people often eat way too much of them.
Even with healthy eats, it’s important to pay attention to serving sizes, says Gans. “For instance, one serving of avocado is a quarter of an avocado. Restaurants sometimes use a half or whole on a single salad.” It’s easy to overdo it with nuts and nut butters, too: A serving size of nuts is just one ounce (picture 23 almonds); while a serving size of nut butter is two tablespoons.
Got any other go-to foods? Gans recommends measuring out the serving size at least once, “just so you’re aware,” she says.
You’ve sworn off the foods you love
Maybe you adore chocolate ice cream, or spaghetti—and to avoid overeating your beloved food, you’ve decided to give it up entirely. “I hear this a lot,” says Gans. “People will tell me, ‘I’m never going to eat pasta!’ Meanwhile, they are overlooking the ways you can create the dish in a healthy way.”
The fact is, almost any food can fit into your new healthy lifestyle, if you do it right. For example, rather than buying a gallon of double fudge, pick up single-portion ice cream cups or fro-yo bars that contain 100 calories or less. “With pasta, you can do a half-cup cooked with a bit of olive oil, steamed veggies, and grilled shrimp,” says Gans—and you’ve got an easy, balanced meal.
Simply swearing off a favorite food could lead to even more intense cravings. Or you may end up filling the gap with another indulgence that doesn’t deliver the same satisfaction.
Your save your calories for alcohol on the weekend
This is a risky mindset, says Gans: If you’re restricting yourself to prepare for a night out, you may end up binge drinking (that’s four drinks or more for women), which “hurts on multiple levels,” she explains. “Not only is binge drinking unhealthy in itself, you’re looking at the calories from the alcohol, plus perhaps the fries and pizza you had while you weren’t thinking about your eating decisions, plus the carb-heavy breakfast you ate the next morning because you were feeling terrible.” Yikes.
While you’re trying to slim down, it’s key to set a one- or two-drink limit, Gans urges—and again, pay attention to the serving size. “For instance, it’s totally fine to have a glass of wine each night with dinner, but a one-glass serving is five ounces,” she says. “People can drink almost double that, easily.”