- Written by Sandra Gordon Sandra Gordon
Little white lies aren’t so bad when, say — your sister-in-law gifts you with a not-so-great sweater.
With your diet, however, honesty really is the best policy. That’s because the small food fibs you tell yourself, as in “I need to eat this macaroni and cheese to get through the pandemic,” can sabotage your health goals.
Do any of these other common diet self-deceptions sound familiar?
You tell yourself: “I’m not losing weight because my metabolism is slow.”
Reality check: Your resting metabolic rate — the rate you burn calories when, say, you’re glued to the TV — could be to blame for those stubborn pounds.
But chances are, you’re just eating more than you think and not exercising enough, says David Edelson, M.D., an obesity medicine physician. With any weight gain, behavior is often a big component.
Diet fix: Still, why not test your theory? You can get your metabolic rate checked at an obesity medicine physician’s office (some upscale gyms offer it too) with an indirect calorimeter.
This simple test, which runs $50 to $100, measures the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide going in and out of your lungs to calculate your metabolic rate and determine your caloric output.
An abnormal (slow) result could signal a thyroid problem or a sleep disorder. But those are rare. To budge the scale, you’ll more than likely need to track calories with a food diary, get a good night’s sleep, and exercise more to build muscle — the engine that drives metabolism. Doing all of those things may raise your metabolic rate by 5-10%, or an extra 100 calories per day.
You tell yourself: “I can just eyeball my portion sizes to gauge calories.”
Reality check: “Most of us aren’t good at perceiving how much we eat,” says dietetics professor Sandria Godwin, R.D.
In fact, with Godwin’s research in which subjects judged portion sizes just by looking at them, they underestimated amounts by an average of 23%.
Diet fix: If you’re serious about controlling portions, don’t guesstimate.
Weigh meat with a food scale (aim for 3 ounces per meal) and measure everything else with teaspoons, tablespoons, and measuring cups for at least a week, and track it all in a food diary. After that, you can just eyeball amounts.
But go back to weighing and measuring every few months to tweak your portion-size perception.
“Portions tend to get a little bigger and bigger over time,” Godwin says.
To outwit your appetite, use a 9- to 10-inch dinner plate so portions don’t look too small and tempt you to go back for seconds. Of course, you can’t exactly haul this equipment to restaurants, so keep eating out to a minimum or just eat less of what you’re given because no matter how much you think you ate, it’s probably more than that.
You tell yourself: “My body needs a detox every once in a while.”
Reality check: Forget the seasonal juice fast. You actually need to detox every day. The good news? You don’t need to do anything special beyond eating a healthy diet.
“Your body is well endowed with the apparatus to take care of the job,” says David L. Katz, M.D., co-author of How to Eat.
Your liver, spleen, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract constantly filter “toxins” out of your system — breaking down metabolic gunk, such as fat molecules, spent red blood cells, urea (a byproduct of protein metabolism), and other waste products, all of which come out in your poop, pee, or sweat.
Diet fix: To keep these systems in good working order so you can continuously detox more efficiently, load up on unprocessed foods, such as fruits and veggies. Their high water and fiber content speeds waste through your GI tract.
Get plenty of fluids, too (anything watery counts) so your kidneys can flush water-soluble byproducts through your system. (You’re getting enough if you pee every three hours and urine is pale or clear and odorless.)
Regular exercise also helps keep your blood circulating through your arteries and delivers a robust supply of blood to your spleen, liver, and kidneys.
Meanwhile, avoid “toxins” by not smoking, shunning secondhand smoke, and steering clear of foods high in refined sugar and artery-clogging saturated fat and trans fat.
You tell yourself: “Calories don’t count if I drink them.”
Reality check: Liquid calories count just as much, if not more, than solid-food calories do. That’s because they’re not as satiating.
“When people drink water, milk, fruit juice, Pepsi, Red Bull, a smoothie, or whatever beverage, they don’t compensate for those calories by reducing their food intake,” says Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
In other words, liquid calories can slide in under your brain’s calorie-counting radar. And consider: Adults down an average of 533 beverage calories per day, which has doubled over the past 30 years. Gulp!
Diet fix: Aside from nonfat milk to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, don’t drink your calories. Stick to water or non-caloric beverages, like unsweetened iced tea, between meals.
And realize that when you do drink something caloric, including alcohol, it won’t fill you up, but it will fill you out unless you exercise more or make a conscious effort to account for the calories, by saying to yourself, for example, “This is lunch,” while sipping a smoothie.
You tell yourself: “I’ll eat less if I skip breakfast.”
Reality check: A major study that analyzed the breakfast patterns of 12,316 men and women for five years found that breakfast skippers were more likely to have a higher body mass index than breakfast eaters.
The breakfast eaters also set a healthier tone for the rest of the day. They consumed fewer foods high in fat and sugar.
Diet fix: The study found you’ll only get that a.m. advantage if you start the day off with foods low in energy density, such as unsweetened hot or cold cereal, or whole-grain bread, fresh fruit, and nonfat milk.
Otherwise, breakfast can backfire. Your overall daily-calorie tally will be higher if you feast on the likes of pastries and sausage/egg/bacon sandwiches, says Ashima Kant, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher, which can lead to weight gain.