Giving your diet your all, but the number on the scale isn’t budging? You could be running your weight-loss efforts into the ground, despite your best intentions. All it takes is a few simple missteps in your diet, and suddenly you’re wreaking havoc with your metabolism. Here, we tackle five common dieting fumbles — and offer easy fixes — to help you score big points with your physique in no time.
The Fumble: You grab artificially sweetened products to cut sugar and calories from your diet.
You might want to think twice before downing a can of diet soda to crush your sugar craving. Turns out sugar substitutes also can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.
A study conducted at Yale University found that consuming noncaloric artificial sweeteners altered the brain’s pleasure center and dampened physiological responses to sweet taste, leading to gorging on higher-calorie alternatives later on. In the study, researchers examined the brain signals that influence whether one prefers sugars to artificial sweeteners. These signals regulate the release of dopamine — the “feel-good” hormone that keeps your brain feeling rewarded. They found that consuming artificial sweeteners caused dopamine levels to plummet and promoted an intense craving for real sugar. Those who consumed artificial sweeteners chose (and ate) more sweets later on than those who just consumed regular sugar.
Another study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that artificially sweetened drinks caused blood sugar and insulin levels to spike higher than good ole H2O. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the absorption of sugar (glucose) into cells. When there’s a surge in insulin, the body halts fat burning and instead starts to store fat. The more fat stored, the less fat you burn.
Kick the diet sodas and reach for water instead. Drinking water, especially before meals, will fill your stomach, making you feel satiated quicker and trimming the amount of calories you consume.
The Fumble: You don't drink enough water.
Even mild dehydration can send your metabolism spiraling to a snail’s pace. Water is involved in every type of cellular process in the body, and when you’re running low, all these processes run less efficiently — and that includes your metabolism. Staying hydrated keeps your metabolism humming along smoothly and, according to German researchers, can increase your calorie-burning potential. The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, tracked the energy expenditure of 14 healthy men and women. After guzzling about 17 ounces of cold water, the subjects’ metabolisms jumped by 30 percent. The researchers noted that the number of calories burned was partially the result of the body working to heat the water to body temperature. While the effect was small and lasted only about 30 minutes, remember that burning more calories daily, added up over time, will result in the number on the scale dropping.
Studies show that drinking a glass of water before each meal is more effective for shedding pounds than cutting calories alone. Try pregaming your meals with a glass of (cold) water.
The Fumble: You Shun Fats
If you’ve been dodging fat in an attempt to lose pounds and keep them off, you may be doing more harm than good. Fat not only has been found to improve mood, strengthen the immune system, lower the risk for heart disease, combat inflammation, speed up recovery and improve performance, but eating the right types also can help scorch more calories as you chew.
A study published in the journal Diabetes found that those who ate saturated fats ended up with more body fat and three times less muscle than those who ate polyunsaturated fats, also known as omega-3 fatty acids. These omega-3s can be found in fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut and also can be found in fish-oil supplements.
A study out of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that healthy subjects who supplemented with 4 grams of fish oil daily during an eight-week span experienced increased protein synthesis and gained considerably more muscle. To get lean, you need muscle to help your body burn calories. The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn, even at rest.
Another study, published in Nutrition in Clinical Practice, found that women who supplemented with either 1.5 or 2.5 grams of fish oil daily for a period of 30 days slashed body fat and trimmed their waistlines and experienced improved insulin sensitivity.
You get about 20 to 30 percent of your total daily calories from fat. Fill up on healthy fat sources like avocadoes, olive oil, nuts and fish.
The Fumble: You're not eating enough
While you need to cut calories to lose weight, eating too little for too long can actually hamper your weight-loss goals. Hormones, particularly leptin and ghrelin, play a significant role in keeping metabolism up and hunger down. Leptin, made by fat cells, sends signals to the brain to eat less and ramp up calorie burn, while ghrelin tells the brain that you’re hungry. When you slash calories to shed weight, ghrelin levels spike and leptin levels plummet. Sure, you’ll see the number on the scale drop at first, but not for long. Researchers from UCLA analyzed 31 studies of long-term diets, in which the dieters averaged an intake of 1,200 calories per day. They found that the dieters lost an average of 5 to 10 percent of their weight within the first six months. But within four to five years up to two-thirds of all the dieters packed the weight back on, plus more.
Instead of cutting calories for longer, cut carbs for a short period, focusing primarily on protein and veggies. British researchers found that those who followed a low-carb diet, even just two days a week, lost more weight and kept insulin levels in check better than those who followed a low-calorie diet.
The Fumble: You chew gum between meals to stave off hunger
Chewing a stick of gum between meals to keep your eating in check may actually backfire, according to research conducted at the University of Buffalo. The series of studies, published in the journal Eating Behaviors, surveyed whether chewing gum actually reduced hunger, energy intake and the motivation to eat. In the first experiment, researchers asked participants to play a slot-machine-style game in exchange for food. Some of the participants played for mandarin oranges or grapes, while others played for potato chips or candy. Before playing the game, participants chewed either minty- or fruity-flavored gum or didn’t chew gum at all. Those who chewed gum, no matter the flavor, quelled feelings of hunger. However, the minty-gum chewers were less likely to want and eat healthy foods (fruit) afterward.
In the second experiment, for part of the time, participants were asked to chew minty gum before every meal and snack for a week, while other times, they simply had to record their food intake. When chewing gum, participants ate fewer meals. But that didn’t translate into fewer calories. Instead, they ate more at the meals they did consume, and their meals ended up being less nutritious than those eaten by non-gum chewers.
Drink a cup of green tea instead of chewing gum. Green tea boosts the release of cholecystokinin, a potent hormone that contributes to the feeling of satiation.