7 Eating Habits You Should Drop Now

By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD

In my one-on-one work with clients there is a dual focus: I help them adopt a healthy new eating regimen, but in order for new patterns to stick, we also have to zero in on unhealthy habits that tend to keep them stuck. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I know what I need to do, but I just can’t seem to do it!” my bet is lingering detrimental habits are the culprit.

Here are seven that come up often, and why breaking them may just be the final solution to achieving weight-loss results that last!

Drinking Too Often
For most of my clients, drinking alcohol has a domino effect. After one drink, their inhibitions are lowered and their appetite spikes. That combo — in addition to the extra calories in the cocktails themselves — results in consuming hundreds of surplus calories. And it happens more often than they realize, because most people underestimate how much they drink until they begin keeping a food diary. The good news is when they consciously cut back, they drop weight like a hot potato. If you think you may be in the same boat, become a teetotaler for a 30 days, or commit to limiting alcohol in specific ways, such as only drinking one night per week, and setting a max of two drinks. The results can be dramatic.

Eating “Diet” Foods
healthy microwave dinner
I loathe “diet” foods. First, they’re usually packed with lots of unwanted additives and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients. And let’s face it, they’re just not filling or satisfying. Dozens and dozens of clients have told me that after eating a frozen diet entrée, bar or dessert, they were left with lingering hunger and thoughts of food, which led to nibbling on other foods — grabbing a jar of almond butter and a spoon, a handful of cereal or a second (or third) “diet” product. As a result, they wind up taking in far more calories than they would have if they had prepared a healthy, satisfying meal. And here’s the kicker: A 2010 study found that we burn about 50 percent more calories metabolizing whole foods versus processed foods. This is likely why I’ve seen clients break a weight-loss plateau when they ditch diet foods and start eating more calories from fresh, whole foods. Are you in? Dump those diet products and make a fresh start for 2015.

Overeating Healthy Foods
I’m over the moon when clients fall in love with healthy fare like veggies, lentils, avocado and whole grains. The only sticking point is they sometimes eat too much. I recall one client who swapped fast food breakfast sandwiches for oatmeal, which was fantastic. But his oatmeal portion was too large given that he sat at a desk all day, and in addition to topping it with fruit, he combined it with a smoothie, which was really a meal in and of itself. The truth is, while whole foods are nutrient rich and they enhance metabolism, you can overdo it. To prevent that, listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and use visuals to guide your portions. For example, a serving of fruit should be about the size of a tennis ball, a portion of cooked oatmeal should be half that amount, and if you add nuts or seeds, stick with a golfball-sized addition.

Skipping Meals
skipping meals
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it’s a biggie. Going long stretches without eating can create two unwanted side effects that undermine weight loss. First, you’ll likely burn fewer calories as a way to compensate for not having fuel when you need it. Second, you’ll up your chances of overeating at night, when your activity level is low. Several studies have found that it’s not just your overall daily calories, but also when you eat them that matters. A good rule of thumb is to eat larger meals before your more active hours, smaller meals before less active hours and never let more than four to five hours go by without eating.

Counting Calories
Aside from the fact that the quality and timing of the calories you consume is critical for weight loss success, the practice of counting calories can backfire. One study found that even without limitations, calorie counting made women more stressed. Nobody wants that. Plus, an increase in stress can cause a spike in cortisol, a hormone known to rev up appetite, increase cravings for fatty and sugary foods and up belly fat storage. Also, the calorie info available on packaged foods or on restaurant menus isn’t a perfect system. I’m not saying that calorie info is meaningless, but I do think there are more effective and less cumbersome ways to shed pounds.

Shunning Good Fat
healthy fats
Despite the best attempts of nutrition experts (including me) to dispel the notion that eating fat makes you fat, Americans have remained fat-phobic. Just yesterday someone told me they avoid avocado because it’s high in fat, and last week a client was shocked when I recommended using olive oil and vinegar in place of fat-free salad dressing. But eating the right fats is a smart weight loss strategy. In addition to quelling inflammation — a known trigger of premature aging and diseases including obesity — healthy fats are incredibly satisfying. They delay stomach emptying to keep you fuller longer, and research shows that plant-based fats like olive oil, avocado and nuts up appetite-suppressing hormones. Plant fats have also been shown to boost metabolism, and they can be rich sources of antioxidants, which have been tied to leanness, even without consuming fewer calories. Aim to include a portion in every meal. Add avocado to an omelet, whip coconut oil into a smoothie, add nuts to your oatmeal, drizzle garden salads with olive oil and enjoy dark chocolate as a daily treat.

Emotional Eating
The habit of reaching for food due to boredom, anxiety, anger or even happiness is by far the number one obstacle my clients face when trying to lose weight. We’re practically taught from birth to connect food and feelings. Many of my clients share stories about being rewarded with treats after a good report card or a winning game, or being consoled with food after being teased at school or going to the dentist. We bond over food, bring it to grieving loved ones, use it to celebrate or turn to it as a way to stuff down uncomfortable feelings. It’s a pattern that’s socially accepted (even encouraged) and it’s challenging to overcome. But it’s not impossible. And even if you found non-food alternatives to addressing your emotional needs 50 percent of the time, I guarantee you’ll lose weight. Instead of a fad diet, consider making this your New Year’s resolution — while you can’t break the pattern overnight, this change may be the most important and impactful for weight loss success.

More from Health.com:
30 Healthy Foods That Could Wreck Your Diet
9 Low-Fat Foods You Shouldn’t Eat
10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

7 Eating Habits You Should Drop Now originally appeared on Health.com

The 10-Second Trick That Can Help You Lose Weight

There are plenty of arguments that advocate throwing away the bathroom scale, but a new study suggests daily weigh-ins may be a key component to weight loss.

The study, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE and conducted by Elina Helander and co-authors from Tampere Univeristy of Technology in Finland, sampled 2,838 weight observations from 40 people attending a health program and found that when people weighed themselves daily they tended to lose weight, while taking breaks from daily weigh-ins for longer than one month led to weight gain in certain cases.

This isn’t the first time the odds have been in favor of the bathroom scale.

“Get out of bed, use the bathroom, then step on the scale. Every day,” personal trainer Marshall Roy advised in an article for Be Well Philly earlier this year. “It will give you a very reliable baseline and daily data point. It will fluctuate a little bit day to day, but when you look at all the numbers over the course of a week or month, trends will be obvious.”

And a University of Minnesota study, cited by Prevention magazine, surveyed 1,800 dieting adults and found that people who weighed themselves every day lost about 12 pounds over the course of two years, while people who weighed themselves every week lost only 6 pounds.

So if weight loss is one of your New Year’s resolutions, be advised: The scale may be a better friend than you thought.

Where Does The Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

Where Does The Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

When you drop pounds, what happens to the fat you lose? It can’t just disappear into thin air … or can it? (David Harrigan/ableimages/Corbis)

When Australian scientist Ruben Meerman lost 30 pounds last year, one question kept bugging him: Where did the fat go?

The answer might seem obvious: It was burned up, as we say — which implies that it was transformed into heat or energy. And when Meerman polled 150 doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers, that’s what a majority of the experts said, too.

But Meerman knew that couldn’t be true; turning fat into heat would violate a basic principle of chemistry, the law of conservation of mass. Only nuclear reactions turn matter into energy, and, as he says, “humans are not nuclear reactors.”

Related: 6 Reasons Why You Can’t Out-Exercise a Bad Diet

The fat must have turned into something else, which was then expelled from the body. But what did it turn into? And where did it end up?

To find out, Meerman conducted some simple but novel calculations. Chemically speaking, fat loss (technically called fat oxidation) occurs when the triglycerides that fill fat cells are converted into carbon dioxide and water. Scientists have known this fact for years. But no one had looked into what exactly happens next. So using the standard formula for fat oxidation, Meerman tracked the path of every atom in a triglyceride molecule through and out of the body.

His discovery: A full 84 percent of fat is exhaled through the lungs as carbon dioxide. The rest becomes water, which is excreted via urine, sweat, tears, and any number of various bodily fluids.

Of the small sample of health professionals surveyed, zero doctors or personal trainers knew that fat became carbon dioxide. Three out of 50 dietitians answered the question correctly. “I was deeply shocked by this gap in the knowledge,” Meerman tells Yahoo Health.

Related: The 5 Biggest Myths About Metabolism

The study was recently published in the journal BMJ and coauthored by biochemist Andrew Brown, PhD, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

The research also clarifies the common saying “energy in/energy out.” The maxim refers to the idea that to maintain weight, you need balance the number of calories you consume with the calories your body uses to fuel exercise and other daily functions. Technically, “carbon in/carbon out” would be more precise, according to Meerman’s findings. “For weight loss, carbon is the key element to be excreting from the body,” he says. 

On a typical day, the average person breathes out about half a pound of carbon through the lungs via carbon dioxide. When you eat food, you replace some of the exhaled carbon atoms. “If the atoms ingested and digested equal the number exhaled, your weight won’t change. If you eat less than you exhale, you’ll lose weight. If you exhale less than you ingest, you’ll gain weight.”

If you’re trying to shed pounds, don’t worry too much about all of this talk of carbon atoms and oxidation. Balancing the calories you eat with the calories you expend is a sound strategy. In fact, it’s what Meerman did when he trimmed down last year.

“I was drinking three cappuccinos made with full cream milk each day, and I’d hit 40 years of age,” he says. “Your metabolism slows a bit as you get older so you can’t consume as many calories and expect to stay slim. So I cut out those coffees, started monitoring and counting the calories I was eating plus how many I was burning.”

When You Lose Weight, You’re Literally Disappearing Into Thin Air

The Question: According to my nutritionist, I’ve lost 15 pounds of fat this year. Where did it all go?

The Answer: Our most predominant metaphors for weight loss are words like “melt” or “burn.” But if you consider the actual biochemistry of the weight loss process, it would be more accurate to say that when you lose fat, you’re literally disappearing into thin air.

If this is news to you, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Physicist and Australian TV science presenter Ruben Meerman recently surveyed a group of 150 doctors, nutritionists and physical trainers to ask them what they thought happened to body fat in the weight loss process. Their answers: fat is converted to energy or heat (which violates the law of conservation of mass, notes Meerman), fat turns into muscle (physically impossible) or fat gets pooped out.

They were all wrong.

In truth, human fat cells are made up of triglycerides, which are molecules made of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. When you metabolize fat in your body, the waste products are released as carbon dioxide when you exhale, and water when you excrete body fluids in urine, sweat or tears. Metabolizing those triglycerides involves a complex set of biochemical steps, but the co-authors summarize the process with this formula: C55H104O6+78O2→55CO2+52H2O+energy.

But Meerman and Brown took the calculations one step further and found that 84 percent of the fat lost is through our breath, while 16 percent of it is lost via water.

“Our calculations show that the lungs are the primary excretory organ for fat,” wrote Meerman and biochemistry professor Andrew Brown at the University of New South Wales in their study. “Losing weight requires unlocking the carbon stored in fat cells, thus reinforcing that often heard refrain of ‘eat less, move more.’”

“None of this biochemistry is new, but for unknown reasons it seems nobody has thought of performing these calculations before,” they added in a press release. “The quantities make perfect sense but we were surprised by the numbers that popped out.” Their findings were published in the typically quirky Christmas issue of the BMJ.

But just because fat leaves the body as air, it doesn’t mean that weight loss is as easy as breathing. Nor does it mean that upping your aerobic exercise will make you breathe harder and thus exhale more fat. The authors note that their calculations show that “physical activity as a weight loss strategy is, therefore, easily foiled by relatively small quantities of excess food.”

But anyone who’s ever struggled with weight loss already knew that!

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You can lose weight, just by breathing!

Diet Fitness

14 hours ago

You can lose weight, just by breathing!

The headline seems too good to be true, but it’s scientific fact, as laid out in the British Medical Journal.

Every breath you let out take carries a little body fat in it.

Ruben Meerman and Andrew Brown at the University of New South Wales in Australia calculated just how much. The good news is that each breath carries not just water weight, but actual matter, in the form of carbon atoms, taken right out of your fat cells.

The bad news is, it’s not very much.

Meerman and Brown ran the calculations and found that when 10 kg —22 pounds — of fat are fully broken down in a process called oxidation, 18.5 pounds of it leaves the body as exhaled carbon dioxide and the rest is breathed out as water vapor.

“Our calculations show that the lungs are the primary excretory organ for fat,” they wrote in their report, published in the notoriously lighthearted Christmas issue of the BMJ.

Most people just don’t understand this, they said.

“We encountered widespread misconceptions about how humans lose weight among general practitioners, dietitians, and personal trainers,” they wrote. “Most people believed that fat is converted to energy or heat, which violates the law of conservation of mass.”

In fact, fat breaks down into the elements of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is the lightest, and combines with oxygen to make water. The three elements make up the basic building blocks of living matter, including carbohydrates and fat.

This actually explains why exercise helps people lose weight. It speeds up breathing. The more breaths you take, the more carbon you lose. And you also lose a little weight just sitting on the couch watching TV, or even while you’re asleep.

Unfortunately, general living easily compensates for this loss. And it doesn’t alter the depressing fact that one pound of body weight equals 3,200 calories.

chocolate muffin

“For comparison, a single 100 gram muffin represents about 20 percent of an average person’s total daily energy requirement,” Meerman and Brown wrote.

“Physical activity as a weight loss strategy is, therefore, easily foiled by relatively small quantities of excess food.”

So the advice remains the same, whether you understand the scientific principles or not. “Losing weight requires unlocking the carbon stored in fat cells, thus reinforcing that often heard refrain of ‘eat less, move more’,” they concluded.

When You Lose Weight, Where Does It Go?

Wobbly and out of breath, you jab at the button on the treadmill that makes the machine come to a stop. Finally, it’s over. You completed your workout and can now retreat home to grab a shower and complete the ritual of stepping onto the bathroom scale — your fate all but sealed in the buckets of sweat released over the last hour.

The read-out confirms your hopeful anticipation: You lost 3 pounds. But being your curious self, you begin to wonder where those 3 pounds went. There’s no way you lost 3 pounds of water weight, you think, so how else could it have escaped? Where did the weight go?

Breathe In, Breathe Out

As we try to settle in to the complicated and mind-numbing cycle of eating well and exercising regularly, it’s easy to forget the simple fact that our bodies are fuel-burning machines. Like cars that thirst for gasoline, they run on the energy and nutrients in the food we eat. A series of complex chemical reactions turns an entire pizza (you monster) into various forms of energy that get released and burned off, depending on the food’s nutritional make up and how much of a demand you put on your body.

“So, if we are riding a bike, we are essentially transferring some of ‘our’ energy to the bike, which is what propels the pedals around against a resistance,” explains Dr. Beau Greer, director of the Exercise Science and Nutrition M.S. Program at Sacred Heart University. “However, the majority of energy used in a biking session — or any exercise session — is lost as heat.”

More specifically, you can thank the citric acid cycle, or, the Krebs cycle (as my inner biology student somehow remembers it), for this energy expenditure. As you take in food, the various fats and carbohydrates composed in the food sliding down your gullet get digested and turned into a form of chemical energy called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP does lots of different things. It helps cellular metabolism, respiration, and locomotion. It’s also what lets your muscles, both the internal and external ones, contract. (It’s so versatile and essential that scientists call it the “molecular unit of currency.”)

At the tail end of this energy burn are certain forms of waste, similar to the exhaust spewed out by your car. Only, your body isn’t giving off pollutant gas, but steady emissions of urine, feces, and, to a lesser extent, sweat. But there’s something else going on there, too. In addition to the tangible act of breathing — a sure sign of a well-oiled Krebs cycle — your body is giving off heat. That, Greer says, is where the weight goes.

“We expend energy at all times,” he says. “Rest, exercise, and all times in between — the difference is solely the rate of expenditure.” When you get your heart pumping like mad during aerobic exercise, very little of the energy you produce gets directed toward the specific activity. “For reference, if you burn 100 calories in a biking session, only about 20 calories of energy was needed to actually move the pedals. The remaining 80 calories expended went to heat production.”

Heat isn’t the only factor, however. As you exercise, you are constantly taking in air to bring oxygen to your muscles. The end result of this is the equal and opposite act of expelling carbon dioxide. With every lumbering stride on the treadmill, you exhale a plume of carbon dioxide whose molecules are heavier than the oxygen molecules your body consumed during energy production. So, at the same time you’re burning the energy, you’re literally also exhaling your weight.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Clean Eating For Calorie Burns

This should make sense if we reverse-engineer common health advice. We do cardio because it “burns fat.” But the reason it burns more fat than doing nothing is that our bodies undergo aerobic respiration to produce more ATP for energy, rather than something else, like sulfate or nitrate.

In this sense, metabolic functions don’t really need exercise at all. Most of the energy we burn throughout the day is done while we’re at rest anyway, Greer says. “This is why I love the Men’s Health-type snippets that show some 500-calorie junk food and then say how many minutes of stair-climbing you would have to do to burn it off.  It’s true, but you could just lie on the couch for seven and a half hours and achieve the same effect!” It all depends on how quickly you’d like to burn off those 500 calories.

Gaining or losing weight is the difference between how many calories you take in versus how many you use. Partially influencing this second number is a person’s basal metabolic rate, or BMR. It refers to the number of calories someone will burn over a given period without any special energy expenditure. Some people, like the string beans who can eat all day and not gain a single pound, have very high BMRs. As machines, their bodies burn through their fuel a lot faster than everyone else’s, meaning that to maintain a certain weight, they have greater caloric demands.

For most people, or at least the 69 percent of the U.S. who are obese or overweight, the goal is to increase their BMR. Exercise is one option, and anaerobic exercises like weightlifting in particular because they build lean muscle mass. When we are at rest, most of our energy comes from fat-burning, rather than the carbohydrate stores we recruit during aerobic exercise. The more we can build lean muscle, in other words, the greater our BMR will be.

Eating cleaner also helps, says Marissa Lippert, a New York-based dietitian. “If you’re eating whole fresh foods versus more processed foods, your body works more efficiently and it’s going to burn calories the right type of way, meaning it can burn energy consistently at a slower, steadier pace.” With a more refined diet, calories get used up much more quickly and your blood sugar drops, sending your metabolism, as Lippert says, “out of whack.”

This is why both diet and exercise are important. You can’t just kill yourself on the treadmill. Without the right food to power the machine that is your body, the whole system runs worse and you won’t have to wonder where the weight went, because it never left.