13 Weight Loss Rules Pros Cheat on—So You Can Too
Even the experts don't follow the golden rules of weight loss. In fact, breaking these rules can actually help tip the scale in your favor.
Pay attention while you eat
When you eat mindfully, you have no distractions; you focus on the food—its textures, colors, and tastes—so you’ll know when you’re full. But it’s OK to sometimes eat a meal in front of the TV, if that’s what you need to unwind and decompress. Or maybe you’re a multi-tasker, eating and answering emails at the same time. Yes, you’ll pay attention more to your body and have a better eating experience if you eat mindfully, but even the pros break that rule once in a while. “I’m running a group private practice, consulting for major corporations and a major league baseball team,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN of Essence Nutrition. “Of course I’m eating in front of my laptop. But I’ve portioned out my food on a real plate.” Don’t miss the 50 things your doctor wishes you knew about weight loss.
Bread is enemy number one to many when it comes to weight gain. However, not all carbs are created equal. “I’ve found that eating enough carbs helps me with satisfaction and also with my weight,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. Legumes, quinoa, oats, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, brown rice, apples, and other filling complex carbs aren’t the problem. You need to watch out for refined or simple carbs. Those are the ones that digest quickly and raise blood sugar, increasing hunger. Think crackers, pastries, white bread, and rice. They don’t fill you up, so you get hungry quickly and consume more calories. Complex carbs digest slowly, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and more importantly, they decrease the reliance on insulin, which in turn may promote weight loss. Of course, you’ll gain weight if you eat too many calories—regardless of whether they’re carbs, fat, or protein. But you don’t have to ditch all carbs when you’re trying to lose weight.
Don’t eat late
“Personally, I eat when I’m hungry and I stop when I’m full—it’s as simple as that,” says Auslander Moreno. “But folks feel as though they need some kind of ‘plan’ to grasp on to.” Studies have found that your metabolism burns calories at a consistent rate at all hours of the day. A study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel was inspired by Muslims practicing Ramadan (where they fast during the day and eat high-carb meals at night). In the study, a group of police officers was divided into two groups. One followed a Ramadan-style diet and the other had their carbs consumption spread over three meals. The Ramadan-style group had healthier appetites as well as smaller waistlines compared to those who ate their carbs and calories earlier in the day. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, says she is guilty of eating late, often starting to cook dinner around 8:30 p.m. “What counts more than your dinner time is the quality and size of your dinner,” she says.
Sleep in your gym attire
Yes, sleeping in what you’ll wear to work out will likely inspire you to hit the gym or the pavement in the morning. While it does save time, few really want to sleep in a sports bra and spandex. “Gym clothing can sometimes be tight and expensive,” says Mark Langowski, celebrity personal trainer, CEO of Body By Mark Wellness, and author of Eat This, Not That! for Abs. “No need to wrinkle those $50 pants and be uncomfortable.” Set out your workout clothes for the next morning and sleep in some cozy pajamas. Read about the worst pieces of health advice on the Internet.
Don’t eat dessert
Three cheers for not having to give up ice cream and cookies in the name of weight loss. The new school of thought is to indulge in these treats on special occasions. “Deprivation leads to overindulgence. Of course, I eat dessert. Daily? No,” says Auslander Moreno. “Aim to lower your odds of overeating them and see sweets as a treat.” Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian based in Dallas, says she lives by the 80/20 rule, eating dessert typically on Friday and Saturday nights. “You have to live a little,” she says. “So if you’re trying to lose weight, pick two meals or so a week and eat what you want, not everything you ever wanted.” Also consider where you’re enjoying your treat. “Eat ice cream at the ice cream shop instead of hoarding it in your freezer,” says Shereen Lehman, MS, health care journalist and author of Superfoods for Dummies. “You don’t have to give it up, but make it more fun, more special, and a little more work to get it.”
Don’t do gluten
It may be trendy to go gluten-free right now. And you may lose some weight when you eat that way. Still, absolutely no evidence supports the idea that simply getting rid of gluten will result in weight loss, says the Cleveland Clinic. “Unless you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, there’s no reason to give up gluten,” says Alix Turoff, MS, RD, CDN, CPT. That weight loss is usually caused by giving up foods that have gluten, ones with refined carbs like pasta, crackers, bagels, and pasta. Plus, gluten-free doesn’t always equal healthy; sure, an apple and a gluten-free sugar cookie are both gluten-free. But the apple is more nutritious, of course. “If you’re replacing the gluten-containing foods with gluten-free alternatives (like gluten-free bread), you’re doing yourself a disservice,” says Turoff.
Sugar is hiding everywhere. While naturally occurring sugar in foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy provides important nutrients for health, added sugars are a major health concern in the United States. Though experts warn about the dangers of added sugar—linked to heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers—even they have a hard time ditching sugary fruits. Fruit is full of filling water and fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants. “Fruit is a naturally occurring sugar. While you still need to consider the carbs, it’s much healthier than cookies,” says Goodson. Studies have found that increased fruit consumption is linked to a lower risk of obesity-associated diseases and lower body weight. And then there’s chocolate. “I’ll always have a hard time eliminating added sugars because I pretty much live for Norwegian chocolate,” says Lehman.
Always eat breakfast right when you wake up
Yes, you’ve likely been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day and to eat it first thing in the morning. The thought process was that the longer you delayed eating, the higher blood sugar levels would hike, which would make it more likely that you’d make poor food choices due to hunger. However, research now suggests pushing back breakfast to extend that natural fasting period that happens while we sleep to naturally reduce the number of hours you spend each day eating, aka your eating window. “I don’t like eating as soon as I wake up,” says Lehman. “In fact, I prefer coffee and to wait until closer to noon to eat.” Don’t feel like you have to force yourself to eat breakfast. Learn more about diet advice you can ignore.
Exercise on your vacation
“Do you want the truth? I don’t [do that]!” says Phyl London, a Level IV Master Trainer specializing in Pilates and group exercise instruction who created Bodiphy®, a combo of Pilates, Barre, strength, and alignment training. “I’ll walk and sightsee on vacation.” You may be able to spend more time exercising when you’re on the road. Or maybe you have access to better equipment and weather out of town. But it’s OK to veg out once in a while. The gym will still be there when you return to reality. “I don’t feel guilty not working out for a few days,” says Auslander Moreno. “Because in the scope of the entire year, it’s fine to take some days off.” Check out more health rules that doctors don’t always follow.
“Snacks get a bad rap because people associate them with candy. But snacks can be healthy and are the foundation of any weight-changing program for those looking to lose, gain, or maintain weight,” says Langowski. Look for snacks that are rich in fiber, protein, or a healthy fat, which have nutrients to help slow digestion, keeping us full. These 17 healthy snacks won the nutritionists’ seal of approval.
Don’t succumb to fast food
You may think a protein shake or energy bar is a better option than fast food. Still, a real meal will satisfy your hunger, providing nutrients, fiber, and protein. Just be sure to make good choices at the drive-through: Go for grilled, not fried dishes; don’t supersize anything; and pass on mayo. “Getting a kid’s meal can also be a great idea,” says Goodson. It will help ensure that you get a reasonable portion size. These healthy fast foods are always a safe bet.
Don’t weigh yourself too often
Many pros say weighing yourself daily is a form of torture. Instead, they advise you to hop on the scale no more than once or twice a week. But a Cornell University study found that people who weigh themselves daily and track the results are more likely to lose the weight and keep it off than those who check in less often. This method forces you to be aware of the connection between your eating and your weight. The scale makes you conscious of food, so you make healthy diet choices.
Make sure to measure
“If your diet plan requires you to measure two cups here and three cups there, it can be tough to follow,” Smith says. Instead, easily control portion sizes with smaller plates and cups. You’ll be forced to fit less on your plate, without having to pull out a calculator at every meal. Try these simple portion control tricks to make sure you’re not overeating.