Turning Diet Dangers into Weight Loss Wins

According to one study, people eat 37 more calories per meal on the weekends than on weekdays, which can add up to more than a few unwanted pounds. Watch for these common weight-loss landmines and swap in healthier activities instead.

By Perri O. Blumberg
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    1. Instead of mindlessly flipping on the TV...

    Try: Throwing a dance party in your living room

    Here's Why: Reclining on your comfiest easy chair or on the couch can lead to mindless munching and overeating. In fact, studies have reported that people eat a whopping 40 percent more food when watching TV than during other activities. So instead of plopping down to unwind after a long week, blast your favorite tunes (whether Springsteen or Lady Gaga) and get moving to your heart’s content—the point is to just have crazy, silly FUN!

    Even Better? Make your tube time more active doing these simple strength moves during commercials (instead of fast-forwarding through them).

    2. Instead of chowing popcorn at the movies...

    Try: Munching on almonds

    Here's Why: At 161 calories per ounce (about 23 whole nuts), almonds are a delicious waistline-friendly treat. Compare that with a typical movie theater medium popcorn and soda combo, which clocks in at a whopping 1,610 calories (more than a whole day’s worth!)

    What’s more, almonds have actually been shown to help people lose weight. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, a group of obese adults on a low-calorie diet lost more weight when they included almonds as part of their diet than a control group who ate the same amount of calories, but no nuts. Almonds are packed with belly-flattening monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, and fiber, which may also be responsible for their heart-healthy benefits.

    Even Better? Make the movie a comedy. Research shows that an hour of laughing can burn as many calories as a half-hour at the gym.

    3. Instead of snacking in front of the fridge...

    Try: Entertaining yourself in another room of the house

    Here's Why: When we’re stressed or bored, it’s so easy to dig into whatever’s lying around. So often, we’re not even really hungry but just picking around out of habit. So when you find yourself wandering into the kitchen, stop and gauge whether it’s your tummy—or your mind—that’s really driving you there. Have a glass of water (we often confuse hunger and thirst) and distract yourself with a relaxing activity like a soothing bubble bath or a DIY pedicure.

    Even Better? Boost the benefit of  a tranquil experience by lighting a vanilla scented candle.

    Find out why on the next slide  »

    4. Instead of going out for dinner...

    Try: Throwing a dinner party with friends

    Here's Why: Restaurants—and their huge portions and multicourse meals—are one of the biggest diet landmines around. Research has shown that people who eat out at least 13 times a month consume an average of 32 percent more calories than people who eat out five or fewer times per month.

    When you make shrimp scampi at home, say, you know exactly what goes into it (and you can leave out all the extra butter and oil that restaurants are infamous for loading up on). What’s more, you may be more likely to eat less at home after cooking all day, thanks to a phenomenon called Christmas Dinner Syndrome. It’s when the host who’s been cooking doesn’t eat as much as her guests because she’s been smelling the food all day long and is therefore less tempted to indulge.

    Even Better: Try lighting a vanilla candle before you sit down to dinner. Forbes reports that the scent of vanilla reduces sugar and chocolate cravings. So surrounding yourself with that scent might downplay your desire to dig in to that caloric scoop of vanilla chocolate chunk swirl.

    5. Instead of loading up at the ballgame...

    Try: Playing ball

    Here's Why: Going to a live sporting event can be fun, but between Dippin’ Dots and greasy hot dogs, there are so many potential traps to make you stray from your diet. If you can swing it, though, it's fun to cheer for the home team if you can avoid the concessions.

    Otherwise, gather up the kids for some wiffle ball in the backyard or dust off the old basketball and play some one-on-one with your partner. You’ll burn calories, probably wind up laughing at yourselves, and save money on tickets and fattening fare.

    6. Instead of drinking at happy hour...

    Try: Pouring seltzer in a champagne glass, or having a glass of red wine

    Here's Why: A sneaky source of calories (it’s just liquid after all, right?), alcohol in excess can really slow down weight loss. Did you know that margaritas and mojitos pack over 150 calories a drink? Multiply that by two or three and you’ve got a recipe for fat creep. To get in a festive spirit, go for seltzer in a champagne glass and add a fun garnish like a pineapple chunk or a maraschino cherry.

    Vino lover? Happily, wine and weight loss can go hand in hand. Red wine contains resveratrol, an age-fighting nutrient that may improve exercise endurance and shield against weight gain. Women should stick to a four-ounce glass, where men can go up to six ounces. In a large study of nearly 20,000 middle-aged women of normal weight, the ones who were light to moderate drinkers had less weight gain and less risk of becoming overweight than those who abstained from drinking.

    7. Instead of staying up late...

    Try: Hitting the hay

    Here's Why: It’s natural to want to stay up later on weekend nights, since you don’t have the alarm blasting come 7a.m., but keeping your sleep schedule as consistent as possible will keep your diet on track for two reasons. First, the later you stay up, the more vulnerable you are to midnight snacking. Second, sticking to a routine helps lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and the less stressed you are, the less likely you are to overeat.

    8. Instead of reading for hours...

    Try: Taking small breaks between sections to walk around

    Here's Why: Carving out two or three hours on Sunday morning to read the paper might be great for your brain, but it’s better for your body to get up and get moving frequently. Research shows that people who take frequent mini breaks had slimmer waists and lower levels of a protein that signals potentially dangerous inflammation than those who skipped out on taking short breaks.

    Even better? Try reading the newspaper or your favorite magazine while taking a walk on a treadmill or on a stationary bike.

    9. Instead of brunching with friends...

    Try: Going for a walk with them

    Here's Why: If you know the clinking of Bloody Mary glasses and tantalizing smell of hash browns and waffles are too tempting to ignore, avoid brunch and make a date to meet your friends for a walk instead. Having the company of a friend along will keep your stamina and spirits up—which translates to means more mileage with less effort—and encourage you to keep a steady pace with each other.

    Even Better? Instead of e-mailing someone to catch up, kill two birds with one stone and power walk while you chat on the phone. For a more intense workout: Try walking up and down steps in a local park or your home while you converse.

    10. Instead of doing nothing...

    Try: Gardening outside...or carving time out for something you truly adore

    Here's Why: We were inspired by Facebook Digest Diet fan Kathleen Foley McKenna, who shared: “I just looked up how many calories I worked off yesterday while gardening for four hours…(drum roll) 977! Unbelievable! I am sore all over but seeing that is so worth it :) No wonder landscapers are so dang skinny!”

    Gardening is an excellent workout, and a way to do something enjoyable, too. As the Digest Diet suggests, for continued success with an exercise plan, it’s important you find at least one thing you truly adore. Don’t have a green thumb? Try reorganizing a closet, breaking out a favorite workout DVD, or running around with your kids. Play music or listen to a podcast while you do it for added pleasure.

    Sources: The Digest Diet, Reader's Digest Magazine, The Obesity Journal, MSNBC.com, The Globe and Mail, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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