You work out regularly, and you watch what you eat -- so why do you have to lie down to button your jeans?
Things around you, from big serving bowls to eye-catching food packages, are setting you up to overindulge. "But if you understand the external forces that make you buy and eat more, you can avoid the pitfalls," says Brian Wansink, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Here's how to spot -- and sidestep -- five diet traps.
Diet Trap #1: Low-Fat Labels
When a food -- even chips or cookies -- is labeled low-fat, we think it's healthy and tend to go overboard, research shows.
Sidestep It: Take a look at the serving size, and portion that amount into baggies, suggests Genevieve Smith, 32, a teacher from South Jamesport, New York. She prepares her own 100-calorie packs of baked chips and whole-grain crackers. A bonus: Smaller packages provide a stopping point, so you can decide whether you want to keep eating. If you think you've downed an entire serving, you're more likely to feel satisfied.
Diet Trap #2: Meals in Front of the TV
Fess up: How many times this week did you dine under the influence of TV? Kids in a University of Toronto study who ate in front of the tube consumed, on average, 228 more calories than those who didn't. "If you're distracted during a meal, you'll enjoy your food less and lose track of how much you're eating," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Sidestep It: Can't give up a night with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin? TiVo 30 Rock and consider it your after-dinner treat. Or do what Jessica Downey, 31, an editor in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, does: "I eat during the commercials. I enjoy my food more because I'm not distracted, and the pauses help me recognize when I'm full."
Diet Trap #3: Family-Style Dinners
A serving bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes on the table is just begging you to take a second (or third) helping. Instead, put a full portion on your plate at the beginning of the meal and leave the rest on the kitchen counter; you'll eat less, according to Wansink.
Sidestep It: Make it harder to pig out. When Jill Roth, a 29-year-old therapist in Boulder, Colorado, makes comfort food, like macaroni and cheese, she puts the leftovers in the freezer immediately after she serves her meal. "Since it takes more effort to defrost the mac and cheese, I'm less likely to dip into it all week," she explains. Plus, no serving dishes to scrub!
Diet Trap #4: Buying in Bulk
It may be better for your budget, but loading up at a club store can sabotage your diet if you're not careful. In one study, people who were given large packages of spaghetti, sauce, and meat typically prepared 23 percent more (around 150 extra calories) than those given medium-size ones. "Big packages make you think that your portions can be bigger too," says Wansink.
Sidestep It: When you're unpacking your groceries, separate the contents of giant value packs into several smaller containers.
Diet Trap #5: In-Your-Face Goodies
If candy is in a clear container rather than an opaque one, we'll eat 22 percent more, research shows. "When we see something delicious, the pancreas secretes insulin, which lowers our blood sugar and makes us feel hungry," says Wansink.
Sidestep It: Keep treats under cover. Susan Smith, a 28-year-old bartender in Southold, New York, banishes her boyfriend's favorite snack, cheese, to one of the produce drawers at the bottom of the fridge. "If it's not right in front of me, I'm less likely to reach for it," she explains.
-- Meghan Rabbitt
More from FITNESS:
Burn more calories! Pick up the July/August issue of FITNESS magazine (on newsstands now) for 10 new ways to boost your metabolism.