4 Habits That Pack on Pounds

From sitting to stress eating, drop bad habits and drop weight

“No one is white-knuckling the steering wheel after a stressful day at work and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on some cauliflower.’”
“No one is white-knuckling the steering wheel after a stressful day at work and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on some cauliflower.’”

When it comes to weight loss, we all crave easy answers.

Believe it or not, sometimes the answers are easy. Acting on them is what’s difficult. Take the following four habits, for example. If they seem all too familiar to you, take steps to rid yourself of them. You’ll drop pounds and lower your risk of disease in the process.

1. You love your chair

We sit too much, in office chairs or armchairs in front of the TV. Unfortunately, sitting can put you in the grave earlier. Prolonged sitting puts you at risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And even hitting the gym won’t offset the risk. A 2012 study found that women with regular exercise routines still sat as much as others. To avoid the risk, you have to stand and move.

I sit at a desk more than I like. Once I hit 35, I realized sitting was costing me. I spent $99 on a podium that I now use several times a day in my office. You can also schedule 10-minute walking breaks the way you would schedule meetings throughout the day. Being vertical as much as possible is one of the healthiest habits you can start.

2. You don’t eat often enough

I get strange looks when I tell people struggling to lose weight they need to eat more. But think about how your ancestors ate. Pretend you’re a hunter-gatherer. You haven’t found an animal in a while, and the berries in the forest are poisonous. So you cut your food intake way down. To keep you alive, your body lowers your metabolism so you need less to survive and holds onto every last calorie.

Now fast-forward to present day. Food is available 24 hours a day. You know that, but your body still works the same as your ancestors’. If you starve yourself, you’ll mess up your metabolism and pile on pounds when you start eating normally again. Instead, start each day with a healthy breakfast full of fiber and protein. Then eat small but frequent meals and snacks to keep your metabolism fire lit. You also may establish healthier dietary choices in the process.

3. Most of your meals come from a menu

All those meals at restaurants add up. A 2012 study found that, in addition to keeping a food journal and not skipping meals, not eating out for lunch was a key factor for successful weight loss. The study found that women who ate lunch out at least once a week lost about 5 pounds fewer than women who ate out less frequently.

Let’s not forget heart health. Even an occasional fast-food meal can do damage. A recent study found that consuming just one fast food meal a week was associated with a 20 percent increase in the chance of dying from heart disease. If you’re trying to drop a jean size and live longer, too, make sure most of your meals are coming from home.

4. Your emotions dictate your diet

We are drawn to certain foods when we are sad, depressed or anxious because they provide temporary comfort. The comfort may come from a childhood memory (mom’s mac and cheese), but chemicals in the brain also make us crave certain foods. They nourish our emotions — but not our bodies.

Let’s face it: No one is white-knuckling the steering wheel after a stressful day at work and thinking, “I can’t wait to get my hands on some cauliflower.” We choose less healthy options (think milk chocolate, pasta and ice cream) that have an effect on our emotions. In fact, one study found that people with high amounts of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, were more likely to consume junk food than those with lower levels. And another study found that negative moods make us not only eat the wrong foods but also eat more of them.

Healthier habits start with understanding. Next time you’re searching for food to enhance your mood, try omega-3-rich foods, whole grains, lean protein, Brazil nuts, whey protein and black tea. All have been associated with increasing our feel-good hormones.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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