As a registered dietitian in private practice, it's something I often hear when I meet clients for the first time. "Why can't I lose weight? I eat healthfully, don't touch desserts and exercise regularly but the scale won't budge. I think I'm doing everything right."
People often wonder if their inability to lose weight is the result of a sluggish metabolism, an underactive thyroid or simply bad genes. Almost always the answer is no.
Instead, diet blunders are to blame - oversights that can quietly add hundreds of calories to your day and keep those excess pounds on.
If your healthy diet isn't helping you lose weight, take a moment to identify if any of the following mistakes are getting in your way. This list is not all encompassing, but includes the most common slip-ups that prevent weight loss. How many calories do you overlook each day?
Blunder No. 1: Eating 'unhealthy' portions of healthy foods
Sure, grilled salmon is better for you than a juicy, marbled steak. But that doesn't mean you should eat a 10-ounce portion.
Even though it's packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, 10 ounces of salmon has 583 calories (the same number of calories found in 10 ounces of sirloin steak). Keep your portion size of cooked meat, poultry and fish to three to six ounces at meals.
And yes, skim milk is a nutritious, fat-free beverage but it still has calories. Instead of drinking two 12-ounce glasses with dinner, limit yourself to an eight-ounce serving. Drink water if you're still thirsty. Doing so will save you 165 calories.
Bottom line: Portion size matters whether it's a chicken stir-fry or a burger and fries.
Blunder No. 2: Thinking fruit and vegetables are 'free' foods
Produce is one of the best sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. That's why we're told to get seven to 10 servings, combined, each day. (One serving is a medium-sized fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit, ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables or one cup of salad.)
The fibre in fruit and vegetables also helps fill you up at meals, making you less likely to overeat higher calorie foods. Even so, if you want to lose weight you can't eat all the fruit and vegetables you want.
Consider that peas (1/2 cup equals 62 calories) and potatoes (68 calories) have more calories than vegetables that have higher water content such as broccoli (22 calories) and green beans (27 calories).
And a medium-sized fruit, because it contains natural sugar, has anywhere from 70 to 100 calories.
Fill up on low-calorie, water-rich vegetables such as leafy greens, zucchini, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Aim for four to five servings a day. Keep your fruit intake to three servings a day. Choose fresh fruit over fruit juice and dried fruit, which are higher in calories.
Blunder No. 3: Going crazy with condiments
That seemingly innocent squirt (or two) of ketchup, brush of barbecue sauce, dollop of sour cream or slather of peanut butter may not be as harmless as you think. Especially if you use condiments to flavour most of your meals. Calories aside, many condiments also deliver a hefty dose of refined sugar and sodium.
Lower calorie alternatives include salsa, hot sauce, mustard, hummus and fat-reduced mayonnaise. When you do use higher calorie condiments, use them wisely. Read nutrition labels to learn calories for each serving.
Sugars can sneak in too. Maple syrup on oatmeal, sugar in coffee and honey in tea can add up over the course of a day. For each tablespoon you'll find 52 calories in maple syrup, 64 calories in honey, 50 calories in sugar, and 60 calories in agave nectar (a sweetener produced in Mexico from agave plants).
If you can't give up added sugars, cut back. Use only one teaspoon of sweetener on your cereal and in coffee and tea.
Blunder No. 4: Sprucing up the salad
What starts out low in calories - lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms - can turn into more than a meal if you're not careful. Add-ins such as cheese, nuts, avocado and dried cranberries boost flavour but at a cost: plenty of calories.
Once you account for the dressing, a small side of greens can pack in as many as 600 calories.
Keep salads simple: stick with leafy greens and vegetables. For main course salads, top with chicken breast, tuna, salmon or beans (e.g. chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils).
Vinaigrette dressings often have fewer calories than creamy ones, but they're still oil-based. And at 120 calories for each tablespoon of oil, it's wise to use a measuring spoon to dress your salad.
Blunder No. 5: Eating like an athlete
It's easy to do - justify eating a larger portion or an extra dessert because you're working out four days a week. Surely you're burning those calories off. So why isn't the needle on the bathroom scale budging?
To lose one pound each week, you need to create a daily 500-calorie deficit through a combination of eating less and burning more calories with exercise.
Another common mistake: overusing protein supplements because you're strength training. It's true exercise increases protein requirements. But most people - athletes included - can get what they need from diet alone.
If you're already getting the calories you need - and I suspect you are if you're not losing weight - excess protein from a steady intake of shakes and bars will be tucked away as fat.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.
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