The holidays and other food-focused times of the year call for extra vigilance to keep from gaining extra weight. But even nutrition-minded eaters may sabotage their best intentions. Read on for how your habits may make you eat more calories than you realize -- and how to prevent weight gain from whole-grain, high-fiber, organic, and other good-for-you foods.
Habit: You Hit the (Whole-Grain) Bread Basket Hard
Don't let the earthy flavor and hearty texture confuse you. Whole-wheat breads and pastas have roughly the same number of calories as their white counterparts.
While the fiber in healthy carbs makes them a satisfying choice, it still takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. Before you overstuff, mix your grain with veggies: Start with 1/2 cup of a whole grain and mix in roasted cauliflower or chopped spinach. You'll save calories and get filling fiber.
Habit: You Start the Day with a Big Bowl of High-Fiber Cereal
Dry cereal is mostly carbohydrates, and gets digested quickly. And that fast burn can make you feel like you're ready for lunch before you've rinsed out your bowl.
Add protein to your meal to slow digestion and keep you feeling full. Substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for milk. Or pair your breakfast with a soy latte. Measure out one serving (around 3/4 cup) of cereal. Add sliced fruit, and you've got a filling, perfectly sized breakfast.
Habit: Your Go-To Snack Is an Energy or Protein Bar
Bars can be lifesavers when there's just no time to eat. But if you grab one midmorning and to refuel after an evening workout -- or pick a higher-calorie one -- you could be calorie-loading your day.
Time your workout so you eat a meal within an hour of your cool-down. Something with protein and carbs -- turkey, lettuce, and tomato on whole-grain bread, or brown rice with tofu and veggies -- is ideal. If you need a bar between meals, look for one with no more than 200 calories.
Habit: You Toss Nuts into Everything
Nuts deliver heart-healthy fats, and can decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol and lower risk of developing diabetes. But nuts are extremely calorie-dense, which means that a sprinkle of almond slivers here and a topping of walnuts there add up quickly.
Don't eat more than two ounces of nuts a day. Reuse an empty Altoids tin as an almond holder; it fits just about two ounces and travels for an emergency boost. In the kitchen, stash a 1/4 cup scoop in your bulk container to avoid doling out more.
Habit: You Give Yourself the Green Light on Organic Foods
Organic produce, meat, and dairy are better for the environment and for your body. But what about organic salad dressings, granola bars, and veggie chips? You may be underestimating the damage they can do to your diet.
A treat is still a treat. Instead of assuming a food is good for you, look closely at the nutrition-facts label and size it up for yourself. Try the 80/20 rule of thumb: Eat the healthiest foods you can 80 percent of the time, and kick back a little the rest of the time.
Habit: You Reach for Dried Fruit When Your Sweet Tooth Hits
While dried fruit still packs roughly the same antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber as fresh fruit, cup for cup the dehydrated stuff is far more caloric. What's more, the dose of fiber you get from an oversize serving of dried fruit may lead to gastrointestinal upset.
Opt for fresh fruit when possible -- its combo of fiber and water will fill you up and keep your digestion on track without the gas and discomfort that dried fruit can trigger.
Habit: You Overhydrate with Sports Drinks
If you're working out intensely for an hour or more, or sweating like crazy, it's important to drink fluids that contain minerals. But if your workout doesn't require a shower afterward, all a sports drink provides is extra sugar and sodium, which can leave you feeling bloated and hinder weight loss.
If you're walking on the treadmill, doing Pilates, or out for a leisurely bike ride for less than an hour, water will suffice. Miss flavor? Fill a pitcher with water, cubed melon, and mint leaves; steep in the fridge overnight.
Foods That Fool You
Is it as healthy as it sounds? Think twice before you grab one of these hyped-up products:
While a boon to people with gluten sensitivity, products free of this don't seem to pack any extra health benefit for the rest of us. Many are also generally lower in fiber and several vitamins, and some have more calories than their wheat-flour-filled counterparts.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Most of the fat in natural nut butter is the heart-healthy type -- so there's no reason to fear it. What's more, the fat removed is often replaced with things like hydrogenated oils and sweeteners. Stick with the regular stuff; the only ingredients that should be in nut butters are nuts and -- if you like -- salt.
Without the word "whole" on the label, this claim just tells you a product is made with flour (which is usually made from wheat).
More from Martha Stewart:
13 Crazy Beauty Tricks That Really Work
19 Tips for Perfect Laundry Every Time
47 Ways to Maximize Space in Your Kitchen
65 Quick and Easy Holiday Decorating Ideas from Martha Stewart
Compromise with a treat that's a little bit healthy...and a little bit indulgent.