Why air conditioning, unreasonable goals, and ignoring potassium keep you from attaining your goals. Dieting is complicated and we often unwittingly sabotage our best intentions. For instance, who would ever think that working out in the a.m. or cranking the AC might be the reason you're not slimming down? Luckily, once you've identified these flubs, fixing them is nowhere near as hard as pulling on a pair of control-top hose. Roadblock number 1: Always a go-getter, you skip sleep to work out at 6 a.m. What's wrong with that? Morning workouts are great—if you go to bed at 10 p.m. In a recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who slept seven or more hours a night were less likely to put on weight than women who didn't. Those who slept only 6 hours a night were 12 percent more likely to gain substantial weight—33 pounds on average over the course of 16 years! (Women who slept a measly five hours had a 32 percent chance of gaining 30 or more pounds.) Other studies have linked lack of sleep to a higher BMI and have found that it negatively affects levels of the appetite-regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin. Detour: Don't sacrifice your snooze time—not even for an extra-long run. And quality matters more than quantity, so taking a siesta later won't help. "In a 20-minute power nap you don't get into the deep-sleep stage. You need to go through the cycles of sleep over a few hours to get the restorative rest that allows your body to work properly." Bottom line: You're better off sleeping through your workout every other day than stumbling to a sunrise Pilates class on too few zzz's. Roadblock number 2: Your favorite vegetable is a french fry. What's wrong with that? Without adequate plant foods in your diet, you rob your body of the phytochemicals you need. They protect you against things like jiggly thighs, deteriorating arteries, and chronic disease. Phytochemicals are found only in plant foods. So if you’re among the 75 percent of who eat fewer than three servings of veggies a day, you’re at higher risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. The good news: When it comes to weight loss, most fruits and vegetables are so low in calories they hardly make a dent in your daily intake. Plus, they're high in fiber. To maintain optimal health and lose weight, the scientist recommends you shoot for two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of veggies every day. By the way, even though they're made of potatoes, high-fat, high-cal french fries don’t count!
Detour: To kill veggie and fruit tedium, try something different: cauliflower puree in salads, hold the lettuce and have cucumbers and tomatoes with a sprinkling of feta cheese; grill peaches with honey; bake an apple with cinnamon; broil a banana. Try to eat all vegetable varieties several times a week.
Roadblock number 3: You crank the AC.
What's wrong with that? Everyone wants you to lay off the thermostat to save the planet. Here's how it can save (the shape of) your own butt, too: In a study published in Physiology & Behavior, researchers found that exposure to temperatures above the "thermoneutral zone"—the artificial climate we create with clothes, heating, or air conditioning—decreases our appetite and food intake. "At a slightly uncomfortable 81 degrees, the women in the study experienced a 20 percent decrease in appetite and ate 10 percent less than at 72 degrees," says lead author Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantenga, Ph.D., a professor of food-intake regulation in the department of human biology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Detour: Instead of cranking the air conditioner every time you feel a little warm, learn to endure slightly steamier conditions. Hitting the "off" button is well worth a little discomfort if it helps you lose the saddlebags.
Roadblock number 4: You log extra miles on the treadmill to make up for giant meals.
What's wrong with that? When it comes to dieting, success isn't 90 percent perspiration. You can't achieve lasting weight loss via exercise alone. But a new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that dieting can shrink your fat zones just as effectively as dieting plus exercise.
Detour: If you try the diet-only approach, you need a clear idea of how much you should be eating. Multiply your weight by 10, then add your weight again to that sum: That gives you the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight without activity. For example, 135 pounds x 10 = 1,350 + 135 = 1,485 calories. Eat more than that regularly, and your "loose-fit" pants won't anymore; eat less, and your muffin top will start melting away. But not so fast—before you burn your gym membership, read on about sarcopenia.
More from Women's Health: Steer clear of diet pitfalls
Roadblock number 5: You’ve got a quick-fix fixation. What’s wrong with that?
If you’re contemplating the lemon juice and maple syrup diet so popular with celebs, you need to know now that starvation, diet pills, and get-slim-quick products are not the solution to your weighty dilemma. The more you fall for quack diets and potions, the harder it becomes to lose weight the next time around. You go off your diet (or diet pill) and the weight comes back—sometimes faster than you lost it—and can leave you heavier than you were when you started!
The fr-enemy diets: Recent research gave the Atkins Diet a modest nod over other popular diets. But the overall results of this JAMA study (which weren’t trumpeted in the media) actually found that none of the most popular diets of the past few years works! Average weight loss after a year on the high-protein Atkins Diet was 10.4 pounds. The low-fat Dean Ornish eating plan: a paltry 4.8 pounds. The low-carb Zone diet: only 3.5 pounds! Most of the weight was lost in the first two months, then regained over the next 10. More promise breakers: Don’t waste your money on weight-loss products or OTC diet pills, either.
Detour: Three to four pounds are worth an entire year of self-sacrifice? Come on! Legit studies backed by the National Institutes of Health show that you can achieve long-term weight loss only by reducing your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity. No more truthful equation was ever written. Many studies have shown that you can lose about a pound a week by eating 500 fewer calories a day, eventually resulting in weight loss of 15 percent of your total body weight. Instead of starving yourself or wasting your hard-earned cash.
Roadblock number 6: You're shooting for a realistic size 6 instead of a near-impossible 2.
What's wrong with that? We know size 2 jeans look like they were made for a 10-year-old, but, according to a study of 1,801 people published in the International Journal of Obesity, women who set unrealistically high weight-loss goals dropped more weight in 24 months than those who kept their expectations low.
Detour: The study authors concluded that having an optimistic goal motivated women to lose more weight. And the participants who failed to reach their magic number did not quit trying to drop the weight. Could aiming for Aishwarya Rai's figure really help you reach your goal weight healthfully? "If you're a driven person and a lofty goal motivates you, it can work."
Roadblock number 7: Ever since the headlines about chocolate, you've been popping candies like they're pain relieves.
What's wrong with that? You've heard the news: Cocoa can lower blood pressure; reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and dementia; and possibly even prevent cancer. But the research isn't as delicious as it seems. The cocoa-bean products used in the studies are a far cry from the highly processed chocolate candy you find on the shelves of your local store. "Milk chocolate contains about 150 calories and 10 grams of fat per ounce," says Campbell.
Detour: The key here is small doses. Dark chocolate, which retains more of the bean during processing, generally has slightly less fat and fewer calories than milk chocolate—plus, it's richer, so less goes a longer way.
Roadblock number 8: You think "water-rich diet" means more trips to the cooler.
What's wrong with that? Water in your glass is good, but water in your food can have serious slimming power. In a new American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, obese women ages 20 to 60 were told to either reduce their fat intake or increase their intake of water-rich foods, such as fruits and veggies. Although they ate more, women in the water-rich group chose foods that were more filling—yet had fewer calories—so they still lost 33 percent more weight in the first 6 months than the women in the reduced-fat group.
Detour: Fill up on food that's high in H2O. Some good choices in addition to fruits and veggies: broth-based, low-sodium soups; oatmeal and other whole grains; and beans. For other filling options, consult The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories, by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D. (Harper Paperbacks, 2007).
Roadblock number 9: You take a three-minute drive to run an errand two blocks from home.
What’s wrong with that? Labor-savers like automobiles decrease the amount of calories you burn daily. Get this: research recently showed that car-happy suburb dwellers have higher BMIs (Body Mass Indexes) and blood pressure levels than people who reside in urban areas where walking is necessary for day-to-day tasks. Oh, and the studied suburbanites weighed six pounds more.
Detour: It’s not just cars that are making us fat. Elevators, computers, dishwashers, and plenty of other machines have all decreased the amount of energy we expend daily. Saving time is great; getting chubby, not so much. We're not suggesting that you get rid of your TV remote, Facebook page, or even your new energy-efficient Prius.
Instead, buy a pedometer and aim to get 10,000 steps daily. You can burn 200 calories, and rack up a major amount of steps, by taking a 30 minute-stroll to get your morning coffee. Do this for just over two weeks and you’ll lose a pound (3,500 calorie deficit = a one pound loss).
Performing simple chores rather than hiring someone else to do them will also help you rack up steps and burn calories. For example, a 140-pound woman can burn quite a few calories in 30 minutes.
Roadblock number 10: You never think about potassium.
What's wrong with that? A recent Canadian study concluded that getting more potassium might help lower your weight and blood pressure. Levels measured in study participants were proportional to their diet and weight. "That makes sense," says Blatner. "The richest sources of potassium are beans, vegetables, and fruit, so the person with high potassium levels is consuming a lot of these foods, which are low in calories and are the most filling."
Detour: You should aim for 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day. Supplements may help you hit that target, but doctors don't recommend them for everyone. Try filling up on white beans (1 cup: 1,000 mg. potassium), winter squash (1 cup: 494 mg.), spinach (1 cup: 840 mg.), baked potato with skin (926 mg.), yogurt (1 cup: 600 mg.), halibut (4 ounces: 566 mg.), and orange juice (1 cup: 473 mg.).
Ayurvedic Research Center,
Rajauri Garden, New Delhi.