published Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Pierce: Five things that can wreck your diet

Any worst/best list always grabs my attention because I have to wonder: “Who’s making these lists?” and “What gives them the authority to do so?”

So when I saw the “five worst bad habits of a dieter” by Rodale Publishing, I had to read it.

I’m guilty of three of the five.

Some I agreed with, some I didn’t. I passed them along to Jamie McDermott of McDermott Nutrition for her opinion. Jamie is a licensed nutritionist who counsels folks on nutrition needs ranging from sports nutrition to eating disorders.

Following is the list of bad habits, then McDermott’s take on it.

See what you think.

1) You skip meals.

Why it’s bad: Nutrition experts say your brain runs on glucose, a simple sugar produced by the breakdown of food. When you skip meals, it’s depriving your brain of the glucose it needs to make simple decisions — like saying no to unhealthy snacks. That’s why people who eat throughout the day generally eat less overall. The study suggests you should aim for three meals at 400 calories apiece, plus two snacks under 200 calories.

McDermott says: I totally agree with this. The longer the body goes without food, the more likely we are to eat at the next opportunity. Also, skipping meals gives many people the “mental license” to overeat, and usually this is more calories than would have been consumed had they eaten a sensible meal. It is very common for meal-skippers during the day to be nighttime nibblers from around 5 p.m. until bedtime.

2) Pigging out on the weekends.

Why it’s bad: A study found that fatty foods contain an acid that blocks the body’s ability to regulate hunger for up to three days. (For example, stuffing yourself on chicken wings Friday through Sunday can prime your brain to keep overeating well into Wednesday.) So dieters should limit themselves to one diet-cheating meal during the weekend.

McDermott says: Pigging out on weekends does not necessarily cause weight gain since weight gain is due to taking in more calories than the body needs. If the person is calorie deprived during the week and then eats more on the weekend and does not exceed their requirements, they will not gain weight.  

That being said, I do not advocate “cheat” days or permission to purposefully overeat on any day of the week.

I strongly believe that individuals need to listen to their bodies and their hunger/fullness cues each day. Some days during the week we may be very active and need more calories, and so we need to replenish properly.

3) Eating too many salty snacks.

Why it’s bad: Sodium dehydrates the body in a way that causes us to crave more snacks.

McDermott says: Salt does not cause fat weight gain. It may make some sensitive individuals retain more water, but there are no calories in salt, so it is impossible to actually become overweight from salt.  

However, salty snacks are usually processed and high in calories. So, if someone blames weight gain on a certain snack, it’s not the salt, it is the extra calories that they are eating that they do not need.

Many athletes need to make extra efforts to get enough salt, especially in hot weather, due to large quantities of sodium being lost in sweat. I counsel lots of athletes on how to eat more salt.

4) Eating in front of the TV.

Why it’s bad: You’re ingesting calories while burning none. If your TV time cuts into your sleep time, studies have shown you’ll eat up to 200 more calories the next day.

McDermott says: This may only cause weight gain if the person loses track of what and how much they are eating and consumes more calories than their body requires. It is best to eat mindfully, being aware of when that first sign of fullness takes place and putting the fork down then. Being engrossed in a TV show can completely undermine this process.  

5) Drinking alcohol.

Why it’s bad: One beer a night can add more than a thousand calories in a week.

McDermott says: One beer contains 100-180 calories, similar to a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. It takes a person 3,500 calories in excess of their daily needs to gain one pound of fat.  

So, alcohol in moderation (one drink a day for women and two for men) does not cause weight gain directly. But too much alcohol causes calories to add up quickly, and also undermines the ability to make rational judgments about food. (For example, that meat-lovers pizza at 11 p.m. after an evening of drinking seems like a great idea.)

Alcohol is a personal choice that one makes.However, I do not advocate alcohol as a way to improve health.

If Jamie were making this list, she’d have narrowed it down to three negative habits she believes most affects weight loss.

They are 1) eating too much sugar, 2) not eating enough protein, 3) not eating enough healthy fat.

Once again, I’m guilty of three. How’d you score?

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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