Overcome the Top Dieting Pitfalls


By watching what she eats and exercising regularly, 36-year-old Cindy Gendry recently lost about 7 kilograms. She’d like to lose more 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 cookies in the afternoon,” she explains.

“Then there are the celebrations. Last week we had three office birthdays, so we had cake on three different days! We do other sorts of events too, and they all involve food.”

Sound familiar? If you’re trying to lose weight, your office can be a minefield of diet traps—and the workplace isn’t the only dietary roadblock in your way. To keep the kilograms off, you have to conquer tempting restaurants, relaxing holidays, and well-meaning family and friends—as well as overcome the all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to losing weight. It may not be easy but it’s worth it—once you defeat the four biggest diet dangers, you’ll boost the odds that your new and improved eating habits will be a success.

pitfall #1: the office

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 Dr Kristine Clark, director of the sports nutrition department at Penn State University.

“When they’re sitting at their desks and they’re bored, they can always get up and go to the ‘room’ and get distracted by some food.”

Judith Diamond, 35, noticed she was eating more and more at her former position because of job-related stress.

“When I was unhappy at work, I would just eat,” says Diamond, whose children are aged four and two. “It was all good stuff but it was too much of the good stuff!”

Nearby vending machines full of snacks and soft drinks, and the late afternoon munchies can also destroy even the most dedicated dieter’s resolve.

“Proximity is a big stimulus to food intake,” says Barbara Rolls, author of Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer Calories.

“If you have something just sitting there, it’s very hard to resist it.”

office eating solutions

Have a stash. Keep a supply of healthy snacks at work so you’ll have some to munch on when your stomach rumbles.

Fig bars, dried fruit like raisins or apricots, pretzels, energy bars or prepackaged cups of soup are all good choices.

Avoid temptation. Cindy found the ever-present dish of candy on her boss’s desk was impossible to ignore—every time she walked in, she’d walk out with a piece or two. Finally, she asked her boss to put it out of sight.

Write it down. You may have no idea how many extra calories you’re consuming at work. Record everything you eat at the office—a donut here, a handful of popcorn there—for a week. 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 the stairs in your office building for five minutes. It will burn a few kilojoules and give you an energy boost 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.

Indulge (in moderation). You don’t have to be a martyr. If your coworkers brought you a special birthday treat, you can join in—but have a small piece.

pitfall #2: dining out

Picture your dream holiday. Is it a cruise with sumptuous buffets? Or a family car trip filled with adventures, sightseeing and sampling the local cuisine?

Either way, holidaying can wreak dietary havoc—and eating out frequently can put the kilograms on as well.

When you eat with others, you tend to eat more—studies show that people eating with friends consume 50 per cent more than when they dine alone! And on holidays, it’s easy to overeat by a whopping 1500 calories (more than 6000 kilojoules) a day, says Clark—which means you may return home with extra padding as a souvenir.

holiday and dining out solutions

Choose wisely. When dining out in a new restaurant, scan the menu for low-fat choices; avoid fried foods and cream-based sauces. Pasta with marinara or red sauce, broth-based soup and wholegrain bread, many vegetarian dishes, fish or other lean meats are all healthier options.

Lighten up. Instead of trying to lose additional weight during your holiday, focus on maintaining it. This means making time for physical activity, especially if you’ve planned for a laid-back (read: lazy) trip. Even 30 minutes of walking will burn some kilojoules and boost your metabolism.

Skip the fast food. Avoid the drivethrough windows by bringing along a cooler on car trips. Keep it stocked with water, fruit, sandwiches and other healthy alternatives to the usual lollies, chips and burger joints. Stock your cooler at local grocery stores—you’ll get a better selection of foods at a cheaper price.

Don’t change everything. You don’t need to eat extravagantly at every meal.

Stick to your normal eating habits—a bowl of cereal and juice for breakfast, for example—as much as possible.

Engage your brain. If you’re tempted to go overboard, think of an outfit you’re looking forward to wearing during your trip. Picture yourself looking great and feeling comfortable in it.

Pay attention to portions. Many restaurant servings are two or three times larger than normal—and research has proven the more food that’s put in front of you, the more you will consume.

Either split dishes with someone or take home a doggie bag.

pitfall #3: friendly saboteurs

Maybe it’s your husband, who says he’s tired of listening to you complain about losing those last few kilograms.

Or your friends, who love to get together over Mexican food or 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 aged nine and seven. “But now I buy chips and biscuits and ice-cream, and it’s here, so I eat it! It’s much harder to cut back or watch what I’m eating when the food’s in the house.” Your family may not be the only dietary roadblock you encounter—you may find that friends or coworkers aren’t supportive of your weight-loss plan. If you formerly joined your friends to indulge and are now sticking to a healthier program, there can be feelings of annoyance or even resentment. Your friends 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.

saboteur solutions

Focus on the fun. Find activities other than eating you can enjoy with your friends. Instead of meeting for icecream, take a walk, browse in a bookstore, visit a museum, paint your own pottery at a ceramics shop or take a class together.

Stand up for yourself. If someone is trying to force food on you, politely— but firmly—decline. Practice saying, “No thank you, I’m full.” No-one can argue if 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 be 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 a particular snack, buy some other treat that doesn’t appeal to you. And stock up on plenty of fresh fruit so it’s available when you’re hunting for a treat.

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-calorie temptations on the menu.

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

pitfall #4: all-or-nothing mindset

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’ve fallen victim to an all-or-nothing mentality—and research shows dieters who think this way are more likely to overeat when they believe they’ve “blown” their diets.

Changing this mindset and adopting a more moderate approach can help 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 treats.”

all-or-nothing mindset solutions

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,”

“I deserve to eat healthfully,”

“Every day is an opportunity to eat better,”

“Every little step adds up” or “I’m worth the effort.”

Include your favourites. Instead of being “on” or “off ” a diet, shoot for eating nutritiously in a way you enjoy and can continue to do. Allynn Wilkinson, 39, recently lost 20 kilograms—but she still occasionally treats herself to potato chips or a chocolate bar. If you 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-calorie foods, expand your diet to include a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Make a conscious effort to eat natural produce and you’ll naturally consume fewer kilojoules. Aim for a minimum of five servings a day.

Honour your hunger. Break the diet mindset that says feeling hungry is a good sign. Go too long without eating, and you’ll feel tired and cranky— and be more likely to overeat when you finally do eat. Feed your body when it needs it.

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.

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

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