Dieting Pitfalls


By watching what she eats and exercising regularly, 36-year-old Cindy Gendry recently lost seven kilos. She’d like to lose another 10, but says her job in human resources has stalled her progress. “Since we always have department meetings or training sessions going on, there are doughnuts and croissants around in the mornings and big, fat biscuits in the afternoon,” she says. “Then there are the celebrations. Last week we had three office birthdays, so we had cake on three different days! We do lots of other events too, and they all involve food.”

Sound familiar? For the dieter, the office is a minefield. And the workplace isn’t the only dietary hazard. To keep those kilos off, you have to conquer tempting restaurants, depression, relaxing vacations, and well-meaning family and friends—as well as the all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to losing weight.
It may not be easy, but it is worth it; once you defeat the four biggest diet dangers, you’ll boost the odds that your improved eating habits—a new lifestyle—will be a success.

Pitfall 1: The Staffroom

If your job is your dietary downfall, you’re not alone. Part of the problem is that most workplaces have a designated break room where people bring in treats. “People learn that food is always there, and they end up developing these very bad behaviours,” says Kristine Clark, PhD, director of a university sports nutrition department. “When they’re sitting at their desks and they’re bored, they can always get up and go to the ‘room’ and be distracted by some food.”

Judith Diamond, 35, noticed that she was eating more and more at work, which she put down to job-related stress. “When I was unhappy at work, I would just eat,” says Judith, whose children are four and two. “It was all good stuff, but it was too much!

Nearby vending machines full of snacks and soft drink can destroy even a dedicated dieter’s resolve. “Proximity is a big stimulus to food intake,” says Barbara Rolls, author of Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories (Harper-Collins, 2000). “If you have something just sitting there, it’s very hard to resist.”


Have a stash. Eating between meals isn’t good for you for a variety of reasons, but if you do snack, do so on healthful foods, such as fig bars, dried fruits, prepackaged soups or low-fat, low-sugar fruit bars.
Avoid temptation. Cindy found that the ever-present dish of lollies on her boss’s desk was impossible to ignore—every time she walked in, she’d walk out with something. Finally, she asked her boss to put it out of sight.

Keep a record. You may have no idea of how many extra calories you consume at work. For one week, record everything you eat at work. Once you know what (and when) you’re eating, you can change your habits.

Get moving. We often tend to snack when we’re anxious or bored. Instead of heading for the break room, walk up and down the stairs for five minutes. It will burn a few calories and boost your oxygen supply to your brain in the process.

Drink it down. Thirst often masquerades as hunger. Keep a bottle or glass of water on your desk, and sip it throughout the day. A reasonable goal is 6-8 glasses, or about 1.5 litres.

Indulge—in moderation. You don’t have to be a martyr. If your coworkers brought you a special birthday treat, join in—but don’t have a second slice of the cake.

Pitfall 2: Holidays And Eating Out

Picture your dream vacation: Is it a cruise with a sumptuous buffet? Or a car trip filled with adventures, sightseeing and sampling the local cuisine, with fast-food stops along the way? Either way, vacations wreak dietary havoc—and eating out frequently, as one necessarily does, puts on the kilos.

When you eat with others, you tend to eat more—studies show that people eating with friends consume up to 50 per cent more than when they dine alone! And on holidays, it’s easy to overeat by a whopping 5000 kJ (1500 cals) a day, says Clark—which means you may return home with extra padding as a souvenir.


Choose wisely. When dining out in a new restaurant, scan the menu for low-fat choices; avoid fried foods and cream-based sauces. Choose the soup, the wholegrain bread, or salad without the Italian dressing.

Lighten up. Instead of trying to lose additional weight during your vacation, focus on maintaining the status quo instead. That means making time for physical activity, especially if you’ve planned for a laid-back (read: lazy) trip. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking burns about 850 kJ (200 cals) and boosts your metabolism.

Skip the fast food. Avoid the necessity of the drive-through fast-food window by taking a cooler filled with healthier foods on car trips. Keep it stocked with fruit, sandwich fillings and wholesome biscuits, as well as healthful alternatives to lollies, potato crisps and high in sugar soft drinks. It’s also cheaper.

Don’t change everything. You needn’t eat extravagantly at every meal. Stay with your normal eating habits—a bowl of cereal and juice for breakfast, for example—as far as possible. You don’t want your body to assume it is being starved and slow its metabolic rate accordingly.

Engage your brain. If you are one who yields to the temptation to go overboard, use your brain: think of that outfit you’d love to squeeze back into or the way you’ll look in bathers on the beach! Picture yourself looking great and feeling comfortable in it.

Pay attention to portions. Many restaurant servings are two or three times larger than your normal. Research shows that the more food that’s put in front of you, the more you will consume. Either split dishes with someone, or take home a doggy bag.

Pitfall 3: Friendly Saboteurs

Maybe it’s your husband, who says he’s tired of listening to you complain about losing that last five kilos. Or your friends, who love to get together over Mexican food or deep-dish pizza. For Vicki O’Reilly, it’s her children. “Before I had kids, I never had junk food in the house, so I never ate it,” says the 40-year-old audiologist, whose children are nine and seven. “But now I buy chips and biscuits and ice-cream, and it’s here, so I eat it!”

Your family may not be the only dietary roadblock you encounter—you may find that friends or coworkers aren’t very supportive of your weight-loss plan. If you formerly joined your friends to indulge and now are sticking to a healthier program, there can be feelings of annoyance or even resentment. Your buddies may complain that you’re not as “fun” anymore or roll their eyes at your carefully made salads, tempting you to throw in the towel and go along with the crowd.


Focus on the fun. Find activities other than eating that you can enjoy with your friends. Instead of meeting for coffee and cake, take a walk, browse a bookstore, visit a museum, or take a class together.
Stand up for yourself. If someone is trying to force food on you, politely but firmly decline. Practise saying, “No, thank you. I’ve had sufficient.” No-one can argue with whether you’ve had enough to eat!
Ask for support. Request help from those closest to you. If a friend is complaining about your diet, say something like “I know I may not seem as much fun, but this is really important to me and I’d like your support.”

Pare your pantry. Don’t use your kids as an excuse—if you can’t resist Chocolate Mint Slice, for example, buy some other treat that doesn’t appeal to you. Stock up on tasty, high quality fresh fruit, so it’s available when they’re hunting for a snack.

Plan ahead. If you’re going out with friends or family, decide in advance what you’ll have to eat—you’ll be less likely to succumb to the high-kilojoule temptations on the menu.

Lighten up. Others may see your healthier eating habits as an unspoken criticism of their diets. Keep a positive attitude about your commitment, but don’t become a food evangelist or policeman, or try to convince everyone to adopt your new-found plan.

Pitfall 4: All-or-nothing

Have you ever filled up on your favourite foods the day before a diet? Or slipped off your diet—and figured the damage is done, so why not go for broke? If so, you’re probably a victim of an all-or-nothing mentality. Research shows that women who think this way are more likely to overeat when they believe they’ve “blown” their diets.

Changing this mind-set and adopting a more moderate approach helps you achieve lasting weight loss. “Nobody can be good all the time,” explains Rolls. “And if you expect that from yourself, you really are setting yourself up for failure, because there are occasions when you want to eat whatever you feel like and there are times you need snacks.”


Think different. Changing your eating habits takes time and practice. Pick a catchphrase to focus on when the going gets tough, like, “Progress, not perfection!” “Every day is an opportunity to eat better!” or “I am worth the effort.”

Include your favourites. Instead of being “on” a diet or “off” it, shoot for eating nutritiously in a way you enjoy and can continue to do. Allynn Wilkinson, 39, recently lost 20 kg—but she still occasionally shares a pack of potato chips or a Cherry Ripe. If you totally deprive yourself of your favourite foods, you’ll be miserable—and more likely to binge or abandon your healthy eating plan.

Add foods instead. Change your dietary focus. Instead of focusing on limiting high-energy foods, expand your diet to include a wider variety of fruit and vegetable. Make a conscious effort to eat produce, and you’ll naturally wind up consuming fewer calories. Aim for a minimum of five servings a day.

Honour your hunger. Break the diet mind-set that says that feeling hungry is a good sign. Go too long without eating, and you’ll begin to feel tired and cranky, and thus more likely to overeat when you finally do. Feed your body when it needs it—at three regular meals a day, with nothing in between.

Ditch the scales. Weighing yourself every morning keeps you focused on your weight instead of on eating more healthfully. If you want to track your progress, limit weigh-ins to once a month.

Staying On Track

Slipping off your diet doesn’t mean your weight-loss effort is sunk. “Every hour of every day is an opportunity to correct a bad behaviour or a negative behavior,” says Clark. Even if you had a pastry for breakfast, you can still opt for a light lunch and dinner. By not letting such minor setbacks derail you, you’ll help ensure that your healthier habits have a lasting effect.

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