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Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., Lifescript Nutrition Expert
You’re cutting down on fat, controlling carbs and exercising religiously. So why aren’t you losing weight? Here are 10 things that will derail your quest for a slimmer body. Plus, how calorie-conscious are you? Rate yourself…
You’re no slacker when it comes to your health: You exercise, watch what you eat, use portion control, and can resist Ben & Jerry’s without a problem.
Yet the scale needle still won’t budge.
Why are so many dieters destined to regain lost weight or never lose anything at all? Here are 10 reasons your body isn’t behaving:
1. You don’t have enough muscle.
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Fat and muscle tissues consume calories all day long whether you’re running, reading or sleeping. No matter what you’re doing, muscle rips through more calories than fat.That's why men burn calories a lot faster than women; they have more muscle.
What to do: Lift weights. You don’t have to get huge, but building and maintaining muscle week after week, year after year makes a difference in the long run.
Registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Marci Anderson has her clients alternate between strength exercises and heart rate-raising cardio in each session.“That way, their strength training includes the calorie-burning effect of cardio.”
2. Genetics: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
If both parents are obese, you are much more likely to be obese, says Jill Comess, M.S., R.D., food science and nutrition program director at Norfolk State University in Virginia.“Researchers estimate that your genes account for at least 50% - and as much as 90% - of your stored body fat,” she says.
What to do: You’re not doomed. Your weight-loss challenge is just 10%-50% greater.
“Losing even just a few pounds makes you healthier and less likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer,” Comess says. “So you don’t have to be super-slim to improve your health.”
If an overweight woman loses even 5%-10% of her total body weight, she has a greater chance of reducing or getting off her high blood pressure or other meds, she adds.
3. You’re getting older.
A sluggish metabolism is a common aging problem. And we encourage it by sitting in traffic, long hours at the office and in front of computers.All this inactivity means we gradually lose muscle and increase body fat, resulting in a metabolic slump. But it’s not unbeatable.
What to do: First, lift weights. But don’t underestimate the power of just moving. You faithfully walk the treadmill for an hour each day or go to yoga class, but what are you doing the other 23 hours?
It’s a no-brainer: Folding laundry, walking to a co-worker’s desk and cooking dinner burn more calories than just watching TV, emailing your co-worker or driving to the pizza joint.Thin people fidget and move (called non-exercise activity) more than obese people, research shows. In fact, such antsy behavior might burn as much as 350 more calories per day – the equivalent of two doughnuts.
4. Your body can’t keep up.
To survive in the days before supermarkets, your body evolved some complex starvation-coping strategies.Now that food isn’t scarce, these processes can work against us, explains Jim Anderson, M.D., Professor Emeritus, Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Kentucky.“The intestines make about two dozen hormones – some that stimulate eating and others that decrease the need to eat,” he says.
The sophisticated hormonal response can’t cope with our sedentary lifestyle and all those tempting Twinkies, potato chips and frozen dinners we gobble, he says. So it’s harder to maintain ideal body weight.
What to do: You can’t fight evolution, so you have to focus extra-hard on those things you can. Be active every day and fill up on low-calorie foods, such as broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, green beans and other non-starchy vegetables.
5. Your medicine cabinet is to blame.
A host of drugs that treat diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, inflammatory disease and more affect weight regulation. Some will make you hungrier and others stimulate your body to store fat. And if a drug affects the brain, there’s a good chance it affects weight, Anderson says.
What to do: Ask your health care provider if an alternate drug or a lower dose could work, but don’t change your medications without discussing it first.
Are you your own worst diet enemy? It’s easy to let everyday life get in the way of making smart food choices. The drive-thru instead of a home-cooked meal is an obvious mistake. But you could be sabotaging yourself in some not-so-apparent ways too.
6. You underestimate portions and calories.
Even dietitians underestimate calories – and by huge amounts! One study found that women and overweight people miscalculate more than others.Other studies suggest that the greatest underestimating occurs when the meals are the largest, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with how fat someone is.
What to do: Follow the portion guidelines at mypyramid.gov for several days. Use measuring spoons, measuring cups and a food scale to guide you. Then plug in your food choices on that site or another reputable one to calculate your calorie intake. And read every food label for serving size and calories.
7. You eat mindlessly or when distracted.
Do you eat dinner in front of the TV? Do you stop eating when you’re full or when the show is over? All too often, such distraction leads to more and more mouthfuls of pasta or potatoes.If you’re munching from a bag of chips or a box of crackers, you can’t keep track of how much you’ve eaten.And plenty of dieters report they didn’t even realize they had snacked from the candy bowl or nibbled from a child’s plate until it was too late.
What to do: Make it a house rule to eat from a dish. Always. No bags, cartons or fistfuls. Put it in a dish, sit down and savor the taste as you eat – without distraction. That means that if you’re going to grab the crust of your daughter’s grilled cheese sandwich, you have to put it on a plate first.
8. You deprive yourself.
Your list of can’t-have foods is so long, it rivals the nation’s tally of foreclosed homes. In fact, you’ve been so strict with yourself, you can’t remember the last time you ate a doughnut, candy bar or slice of pizza.Then - like so many times before - you give in, scarf down something taboo, and now you’re mad at yourself.So what the heck, you think: You’ll just eat everything on your forbidden list to get it out of your system. You’ll start your diet over again tomorrow – or next week.Problem is, you can’t get it out of your system. It just doesn’t work that way.
What to do: No more setting yourself up for feeling deprived. In fact, no more dieting.
Take the focus away from that list of bad foods and emphasize those that are good for you. If 90% of the time you eat a wholesome diet of ample fruits and vegetables, some whole grains, lean meats or other sources of protein, then the other 10% doesn’t really matter.
So enjoy that glazed doughnut – but just one. If you want another, it will still be there tomorrow. After all, doughnuts or candy bars or pizza or whatever won’t drop off the face of the earth.
9. You’re usually good, but…
You always watch your portions. You start every morning with a healthful breakfast and eat only baked chicken, not fried.Always that is, unless you’re on vacation or dining out. Or celebrating a birthday. Or sharing an anniversary. Or honoring your son’s first home run.Consistency is key to dropping pounds. Researchers involved with the National Weight Control Registry found that those who eat similarly day after day are more likely to maintain weight loss than others.One splurge meal in a restaurant can easily undo all the small calorie-saving tricks you employed the whole week before. Derail yourself every week and you’ll never get anywhere.
What to do: Again, stop dieting and start making small changes you can live with.
Find ways to celebrate that don’t involve high-calorie eating (like a manicure) or take half of that restaurant meal home to celebrate again tomorrow.
10. You overestimate your calorie burn.
Gym machines are notorious for overestimating the calories burned by exercisers, and dieters can easily out-eat their workouts. Your 30-minute power walk might burn 200 calories, but that won’t make up for your after-exercise power smoothie.
What to do: Exercise is an important tool in controlling your weight and maintaining good health, but stop rewarding your good work with food.
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