Dinner is your largest meal of the day
Americans tend to eat their largest meal of the day at dinner, but that could be a one-way ticket to extra pounds. "Loading up the body with calories that it never has an opportunity to burn translates to weight gain," says Michael Russo, MD, a general surgeon specializing in bariatric surgery at Memorial Care Center for Obesity at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Instead, try making your largest meal a high-protein breakfast or lunch instead. "You'll feel more energized throughout the day and give your body the time it needs to effectively use the calories, instead of storing them while you sleep," he adds. A study from Tel Aviv University, published in the journal Obesity, suggests racking up as many as 700 calories at breakfast—as long as you eat less at lunch and dinner. In their study, obese women who ate that jumbo breakfast (and then 500 calories for lunch and as few as 200 for dinner) for 12 weeks lost double the amount of weight and double the inches off their waist compared to a group of obese women who ate the same number of calories, just in reverse order (200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 at dinner).
You don't brush your teeth after dinner
Do you tend to snack at night, either because you're bored or because it's become a habit to snack and Neflix? Boredom eating can easily pack in the number of calories in an entire meal. "Brushing your teeth right after dinner is a great way to prevent post-dinner snacking," suggests Leslie Belfanti, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Kaiser Permanente in Salem, Oregon. "A lot of people find themselves eating desserts and caloric foods at night, even if they aren't hungry. But after brushing they tend to stop eating because they don't want to have to do it again." If you find yourself munching mindlessly night after night, try brushing and flossing your teeth immediately after dinner. It could curb weight gain, plus you'll have one less thing to do before hitting the hay.
You become a sloth on the sofa
After dinner is done and the dishes are cleared, you retreat to the sofa for your nightly date with the remote. You might want to reevaluate this nighttime habit, as exercising after a meal, especially a fatty one, may speed the rate at which your body uses fat, according to a 2013 study. "Go for a walk to help kick-start digestion and increase metabolism," suggests Dara Huang, MD, a Manhattan-based internist and nephrologist and founder of New York Culinary Medicine. Taking a stroll around the neighborhood may also lift your spirits. It takes only 10 minutes of exercise to see a mood-boost!
Your hands have nothing to do
If you take Dr. Huang's advice about an after-dinner stroll but still want to plop down and watch the tube, be aware that your while your brain is being distracted, your hands are bored and will retaliate by reaching for food. "Keep your hands occupied and hold a pillow or drink water," Dr. Huang suggests. Still not entertaining enough? Try knitting, coloring in an adult color book, or putting a puzzle together. Check out the science-backed reasons that coloring is good for you..
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You don't eat dinner at the table
If you consistently eat dinner in front of the TV and focus more on the plot line than your plate, it can lead to weight gain. A team from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom examined hundreds of studies to look at how attention and memory affect food. Each of these studies had at least two groups—one that ate while watching TV and another group eating the same meal away from any screens. The team came up with two conclusions published in a 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: not being mindful of the meal you're eating can lead to eating more; and paying attention to a meal can lead to eating less later. If you're not connecting with what's going in your mouth, your brain doesn't process that information as efficiently, so it doesn't leave a strong impression. Without a memory of having eaten, you're more likely to visit the fridge later that night than if you had eaten mindfully. Here's how to be a mindful eater.
You check your work email after hours
Your habit of checking work email in the p.m. hours—and getting reminded of a looming deadline, requests for information, complaints from dissatisfied customers or a demanding supervisor—may lead to packing on the pounds. Not just because stress drives you to munch (which it does), but also because stress hormones themselves can cause the body to hold onto weight. It's an evolutionary behavior—our bodies learned to store fat supplies for the long haul, and during times of chronic stress, we're prone to developing an extra layer of fat (especially in the belly area) to see us through what the body anticipates will be hard times. Excess cortisol also slows the metabolism, so the body will have ample resources to deal with whatever danger it thinks is coming. A survey by the American Psychological Association shows that a quarter of Americans rate their stress at a whopping 8 (or more) on 10-point scale. Successful people do these things after work to feel less stressed and more in control.
You tip a few back
It can be lovely to unwind with a glass of wine or bottle of beer at night, but if you're going back for seconds or thirds or more, a beer belly may be in your future. "Alcohol consumed at night means extra calories in the form of sugar, which ends up being stored as belly fat," explains Lisa Cohn, registered dietitian consultant for miVIP Surgery Centers. "On average, people consume 300 to 500 calories from sweet alcoholic drinks and 120 to 200 calories per 12-ounce beer. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram and is metabolized similarly to fat in that it's broken down first and promotes fat storage for later use." Add those calories to the bag of Goldfish you scarfed while boozing, and you're running up quite the bar tab in calories and potential inches around your waistline. (These simple tips can help you cut back on the adult beverages.)
You pop pills in the p.m.
"Certain medications, including some psychiatric medications, can cause an increase in glucose when taken before bedtime," Cohn says. That includes some antipsychotics, antidepressants, and stimulants, which can trigger increased appetite. Don't stop taking any meds without talking to your doc, of course, but you may be able to split the dose, or try a similar medication that doesn't have the same side effects. These are the depression facts psychologists wish you knew.
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You create a melatonin meltdown
The body is a well-oiled machine with a built-in circadian rhythm that tells the brain when it's time for some shut eye—but modern technology can seriously screw it up. "As the sun goes down, your pineal gland senses the loss of daylight and begins to produce the hormone melatonin," explains Mark Sherwood, MD, of the Functional Medicine Institute. "Melatonin creates a sensation of sleepiness and also drops your basal body temperature, signaling to the body that it is time to go to sleep." Since melatonin production starts around 9 pm, we can throw it off by exposing ourselves to too much artificial light at night. Exposure to "blue light"—via devices like TVs, phones, and tablets—can result in weight gain even if we eat a healthy diet and exercise. According to Dr. Sherwood, "blue light" takes our biological clock for a spin by spiking the stress hormone cortisol, suppressing melatonin, impairing the satiety hormone, leptin, increasing insulin, and pumping up production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Power down at least one hour before bedtime. Here's what personal organizers do every night before bed (spoiler alert: They turn off their devices.)
You don't get enough sleep
Not getting your nightly z's? Sleep deprivation has more consequences than a foggy head. It can lead to serious health issues such high blood pressure, cognitive dysfunction, and heart disease, not to mention weight gain. A 2016 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who don't get enough sleep on a consistent basis may consume more calories the next day. Participants with partial sleep deprivation tended to eat an extra 385 calories the next day on average. Those extra calories on a daily basis can easily add up to unwanted pounds. Suffering from insomnia? Here's how to deal.