An aunt of mine once told me she was making her bread healthier by slathering it with butter. I’m not sure where she picked up this ridiculous notion, but she, like many others before (and after) her, fell prey to counterproductive diet advice. When you're trying to lose weight, it’s tempting to buy into an “easy fix,” but more often than not, weight-loss tricks are just that: deceptive strategies that often do more harm than good.
If you're looking for slim-down success, avoid these five common food fails that can sabotage your weight-loss goals:
Fail #1: Being too restrictive.
You’re looking around the restaurant at other patrons' beautiful burgers, piles of golden fries, and sexy slices of moist chocolate cake, all the while forcing yourself to pick at plain lettuce with half a drizzle of dressing on the side. A familiar scenario? Well not only does all that deprivation just plain suck, but it might not be helping you slim down, either: Researchs shows that putting certain foods "off limits" can backfire big time. In one study, Canadian researchers put women on one of two diets: One restricted consumption of high-fat foods, and the other simply encouraged women to eat more fruits and vegetables. While both groups lost weight, only the fruit-and-veggie group showed a decrease in overeating. This supports the idea that dietary restraint can lead to binge eating and yo-yo dieting.
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Fail #2: Replacing real fat with fake fat.
Fat substitutes are a double whammy of bad news. Not only could you be accidentally cutting out healthy fats, like monounsaturated fatty acids, but you might also be inviting more weight gain. A Purdue study found that rats that ate low-calorie chips made with faux fat "olestra" instead of real fat gained more weight than rats that ate only regular chips. The researchers explained that when the body tastes fat, it expects a high burst of calories. When that doesn’t come, the body’s metabolic reactions are thrown off, leading to an inefficient use of calories and weight gain.
Fail #3: Drinking diet soda.
If soda is your worst enemy (hello, empty calories and weird ingredients like caramel coloring), diet soda is your worst frenemy. Zero calories can’t be bad, right? Wrong. A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health found that overweight adults who drink diet soda consume more calories from food than overweight adults who drink beverages containing real sugar. Just as with fake fat, sugar substitutes throw off your body’s typical response to sweet tastes. According to the researchers, when you drink diet soda, the sweet sensors in your brain are disrupted by the artificial sweetener, and so they can’t accurately gauge the number of calories you’ve taken in. This confusion often leads to eating more.
Fail #4: Not drinking enough water.
While you were sipping your soda (diet or otherwise), you know what you weren’t doing? Drinking water. Water is one of the few magic potions on the planet that work (just ask our editor, Emily). A study published in the journal Obesity found that drinking a liter or more of water per day helped women lose weight in two ways. For one, by swapping out 80 percent of sweet drinks with water, the participants cut enough calories to lose more than five pounds (replacing 80 percent of sweet drinks with diet soda, on the other hand, resulted in only a 3.5-pound loss.) Impressive, though not surprising, findings -- replacing sugar (or chemicals) with all-natural, zero-calorie water is bound to result in a healthier body.
But what's interesting is that the researchers also found that drinking more water was independently associated with dropping five pounds in a year, regardless of soda swaps. They attributed this connection to previous research that found that drinking half a liter of water daily increased energy expenditure. Translation: Simply drinking water makes your body burn more calories, even when you’re just sitting still.
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Fail #5: Thinking gluten-free means grain-free.
For people who are truly gluten intolerant, GF isn’t a lifestyle choice; it’s a necessity. For people who aren’t sensitive to gluten, though, cutting out the protein can be an easy way to identify unnecessary carbs (no one needs a giant bagel, gluten or no gluten). But just because you’re giving up wheat doesn’t mean that all grains are evil -- you just need to choose the healthiest ones.
For instance, a study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that by eating a meal substitute comprised of brown and black rice, people lost nearly 15 pounds in six weeks. This was three pounds more than people who ate a white-rice meal substitute. So how can you determine which grains will help you lose weight? Look at the fiber. Grains are a great source of dietary fiber, and this study suggests that the more fiber, the more weight loss.