10 Habits That Make You Fat

If losing weight were easy, no one would be overweight. Unfortunately, the facts are indisputable: A chili-cheese omelet is more delicious than an egg-white omelet, French fries taste better than side salads and chicken is yummier when battered and fried.

On the other hand, being a healthy weight feels better than being overweight. And a healthy weight is a lot easier to accomplish when the right choices become second nature. In other words, weight-loss goals are more achievable when healthy choices turn into healthy habits.

HABIT 1: Poor Preparation

Boy Scouts and healthy eaters have the same motto: Be prepared. Having a refrigerator and pantry stocked with the right foods -- lean proteins, whole-grain carbohydrates, fruits, nonstarchy vegetables and healthy fats -- means you'll be prepared to eat what you should when you should. Similarly, entering a restaurant armed with a plan will keep you on the right track when dining out.

Preparation also means knowing your cravings and having healthy alternatives on hand to curb them, says Molly Kimball, a nutrition writer and registered dietitian in New Orleans. If sweets are your weakness, for example, keep fresh fruits or single-serve, sugar-free pudding cups on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth without taking a huge caloric hit.

HABIT 2: Not Drinking Enough Water

Drinking the right amount of water promotes overall health, from skin, bones and joints to the digestive system, memory and brain function. But Kimball says proper hydration can also help when you're concerned about weight.

"Fatigue is one of the first signs of mild dehydration," Kimball said. "A lot of people misinterpret that sluggish feeling as hunger, and they eat to boost energy."

The impact of hydration on weight loss, however, goes beyond the prevention of misinterpreted body messages. A study published in the November 2008 issue of "Obesity" showed a definite association between increased water intake and increased weight loss. In another study, its results presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers from Virginia Tech confirmed that dieters who drink two 8-oz. glasses of water before their three daily meals lose about 5 lbs. more than dieters who do not drink pre-meal water.

So how much water is the right amount? Kimball says the old "64 oz. a day" rule is too one-size-fits-all; different bodies need different amounts of water. She says a good guideline is to divide your weight in half and drink that number of ounces per day. So a 180-lb. person would shoot for 90 oz.

HABIT 3: Not Getting Enough Protein
People who get too much of their daily caloric intake from carbs are going to have a hard time losing weight. Kimball recommends including a source of protein with every meal. The body uses twice as much energy processing protein as it does carbohydrates and fat, meaning when you eat protein, your body actually burns more calories digesting it.

Low-fat meats such as skinless chicken, pork tenderloin, lean cuts of beef and ground turkey and seafood are excellent sources of protein. Kimball says you can also sneak protein into your meals in the form of eggs, cheese, peanut butter, nuts, Greek yogurt, or low-sugar protein bars and powders.

HABIT 4: Consuming Too Many Liquid Calories

Calories that enter your body in liquid form are inefficient calories. They count against your daily total, but they don't make you feel full. Kimball advises against drinking your calories.

"No fruit juice, soft drinks or sports drinks," Kimball said.

Instead, drink water, tea or coffee without sugar. If you must have sweetened drinks, Kimball has no problem with sugar-free soft drinks or low-calorie powdered flavored beverages.

Liquid calories often come in the form of alcoholic beverages, and those should be limited, too. If you can't do without, Kimball recommends sticking with wine, light beer, or liquor with a noncaloric mixer like water, club soda or diet soda. Women should limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day, and men should stop at two.

HABIT 5: Not Getting Enough Zzz's

You don't even need to be conscious to work on losing weight. Getting the right amount of sleep seems to be a major factor in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

A study released in 2006 by researchers at Case Western Reserve University tracked the weight and sleeping habits of 68,000 women over 16 years. The women who reported sleeping five hours or less nightly weighed an average of 5.5 lbs. more than the women who slept seven hours or more at the start of the study.

The reason is hormones, specifically leptin and ghrelin. Separate studies conducted by the University of Chicago and Stanford University suggested that sleep deprivation causes a reduction in leptin levels, while also causing ghrelin levels to rise. High ghrelin stimulates the appetite, while low leptin makes you feel unsatisfied after eating, leaving you hungrier during your waking hours and, likely, heavier.

HABIT 6: Skipping Breakfast

It can be hard to make time for breakfast during the rush to get out the door in the morning, but if you're interested in losing weight or keeping it off, you should make the effort to fit it in. Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism, forcing it to begin burning calories.

But many people simply don't have an appetite first thing in the morning. Kimball says that's fine -- just make sure you eat something within the first two hours of waking.

She says the perfect breakfast combines complex carbohydrates with protein and a bit of healthy fat. Try two scrambled eggs with a slice of whole-grain toast, a cup of Greek yogurt with a handful of berries and chopped nuts stirred in, or a bowl of oatmeal topped with berries and a splash of skim milk with two slices of center-cut bacon on the side. If you're usually in a rush in the morning, stock up on low-sugar protein bars and have breakfast during your morning commute.

HABIT 7: Shopping the Center Aisles

A good basic rule to follow at the grocery store is to do most of your shopping near the four walls.

"The perimeter of the grocery store is what you need to be eating," said Nicole Wynne, staff dietitian at Women & Men's Nutrition and Weight Control Centers of Louisiana. "It's where you usually find the fresh produce, the meats and the dairy. In the middle aisles, you find more of the processed foods you want to avoid."

Wynne said there are a few exceptions, namely in the freezer section with its frozen vegetables and no-sugar-added frozen fruits and berries, which are nutritious additions to smoothies, yogurt and oatmeal.

HABIT 8: Poor Record Keeping

You want to lose weight, and you've been trying to maintain a healthy diet, but the pounds are not coming off. The problem may be that you're eating more than you think. A food diary can be an effective solution.

"Write down everything that goes in your mouth," Wynne said.

According to Wynne, the act of recording what you consume in a food diary is effective on multiple levels. First, you get the full picture of your daily caloric intake -- it's impossible to forget the handful of candy-coated chocolates you eat every time you pass your co-worker's candy jar if it's right there in black and white. Knowing you'll have to write it down might make you reconsider that late-night bowl of ice cream. Also, once you've kept your diary for a while, you'll probably begin to notice patterns -- like a caloric uptick every time you have dinner at your uncle's house -- enabling you to make adjustments for particular situations.

How you record your daily food intake is a matter of preference. Some prefer an old-fashion pen and notepad, while others choose to use one of the many food diary applications available online, such as the MyPlate Calorie Tracker at Livestrong.com.

HABIT 9: Not Lifting Weights

You will not achieve your weight-loss goals easily through diet and cardio alone. A regimen that combines weight training and cardiovascular training optimizes the ability to shed pounds.

Studies have demonstrated a significant relationship between resistance training and weight loss. While both weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise burn calories and boost the metabolism, cardio only raises the metabolism during the exercise and for a short time after. Weightlifting, however, increases metabolism during the exercise and for a long time after. This "afterburn" -- the continued burning of calories from lifting weights after the training session has ended -- can last for hours, even days.

During the recuperation period, the muscle metabolism is still burning energy, and that's when it's time to perform cardiovascular activities. Combining low-repetition exercises (weightlifting) with high-repetition cardiovascular exercise will stress muscles in a complementary way to increase the total fat-burning effect.

HABIT 10: Throwing in the Towel

Cut yourself some slack. It's one of the most important things you can do when you're trying to lose weight. Missteps happen. You succumb to a craving and have an unhealthy lunch. Forgive yourself for it and get back to your plan right away.

"If you blow a meal, it is not a free pass to blow the rest of the day," Wynne said.

Those who give up for the rest of the day, week, month or year due to a momentary setback will never achieve lasting weight loss. Mistakes happen, and the weight-loss battle is won and lost by how you respond to those mistakes. The best way to do it, Wynne says, is to forgive yourself for the lapse in willpower and move on at once, immediately resuming your healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Habits for a Healthy Life
If you see yourself in any of these 10 habits that make you fat, the best time to start changing them is right now. For every bad habit, there's a good habit. And the only way to turn healthy choices into healthy habits is repetition. So start shedding your unhealthy habits, and you'll be shedding pounds soon enough.