Diet & Nutrition | Wellness
Woman sitting in chair

4 Habits That Pack on Pounds

From sitting to stress eating, drop bad habits and drop weight

When it comes to weight loss, we all crave easy answers.

Believe it or not, sometimes the answers are easy. Acting on them is what’s difficult. Take the following four habits, for example. If they seem all too familiar to you, take steps to rid yourself of them. You’ll drop pounds and lower your risk of disease in the process.

1. You love your chair

We sit too much, in office chairs or armchairs in front of the TV. Unfortunately, sitting can put you in the grave earlier. Prolonged sitting puts you at risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And even hitting the gym won’t offset the risk. A 2012 study found that women with regular exercise routines still sat as much as others. To avoid the risk, you have to stand and move.

I sit at a desk more than I like. Once I hit 35, I realized sitting was costing me. I spent $99 on a podium that I now use several times a day in my office. You can also schedule 10-minute walking breaks the way you would schedule meetings throughout the day. Being vertical as much as possible is one of the healthiest habits you can start.

“No one is white-knuckling the steering wheel after a stressful day at work and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on some cauliflower.’”

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Wellness Institute

2. You don’t eat often enough

I get strange looks when I tell people struggling to lose weight they need to eat more. But think about how your ancestors ate. Pretend you’re a hunter-gatherer. You haven’t found an animal in a while, and the berries in the forest are poisonous. So you cut your food intake way down. To keep you alive, your body lowers your metabolism so you need less to survive and holds onto every last calorie. 

Now fast-forward to present day. Food is available 24 hours a day. You know that, but your body still works the same as your ancestors’. If you starve yourself, you’ll mess up your metabolism and pile on pounds when you start eating normally again. Instead, start each day with a healthy breakfast full of fiber and protein. Then eat small but frequent meals and snacks to keep your metabolism fire lit. You also may establish healthier dietary choices in the process.

3. Most of your meals come from a menu

All those meals at restaurants add up. A 2012 study found that, in addition to keeping a food journal and not skipping meals, not eating out for lunch was a key factor for successful weight loss. The study found that women who ate lunch out at least once a week lost about 5 pounds fewer than women who ate out less frequently.

Let’s not forget heart health. Even an occasional fast-food meal can do damage. A recent study found that consuming just one fast food meal a week was associated with a 20 percent increase in the chance of dying from heart disease. If you’re trying to drop a jean size and live longer, too, make sure most of your meals are coming from home.

4. Your emotions dictate your diet

We are drawn to certain foods when we are sad, depressed or anxious because they provide temporary comfort. The comfort may come from a childhood memory (mom’s mac and cheese), but chemicals in the brain also make us crave certain foods. They nourish our emotions — but not our bodies.

Let’s face it: No one is white-knuckling the steering wheel after a stressful day at work and thinking, “I can’t wait to get my hands on some cauliflower.” We choose less healthy options (think milk chocolate, pasta and ice cream) that have an effect on our emotions. In fact, one study found that people with high amounts of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, were more likely to consume junk food than those with lower levels. And another study found that negative moods make us not only eat the wrong foods but also eat more of them.

Healthier habits start with understanding. Next time you’re searching for food to enhance your mood, try omega-3-rich foods, whole grains, lean protein, Brazil nuts, whey protein and black tea. All have been associated with increasing our feel-good hormones.

Tags: diet, healthy diet, nutrition, weight loss
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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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  • dietengineer

    Are there any studies supporting habit #2? It’s the only one without any citations.

    • Health Hub Team

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the feedback and have updated the story to include those citations.

      Here are a couple of good studies on this. The first looked at eating frequency and BMI in weight loss maintainers, normal weight and overweight individuals. This preliminary investigation suggested that eating more frequently is associated with lower BMI and maintenance of weight loss. The study also found that greater frequency of snacking was related to energy intake and physical activity, prompting a call for additional research. The second study found that higher daily eating frequency was associated with healthy lifestyle choices and dietary habits in men and women. Additionally, more frequent eating was associated with a lower likelihood of general and central obesity in men. This was also true for women however the results in females did not reach statistical significance. — Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

      • GeorgeBMac

        Speaking for myself, I find that when I do not eat and let myself get overly hungry that I then tend to start snacking on less filling and less nutritious foods — and THEN, once my hunger has been satisfied, eat a regular meal… So, essentially, skipping meals encourages more junk food for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.cardoza.5 Janet Cardoza

    I love “….’I can’t wait to get my hands on some cauliflower’ “. You made me laugh out loud. That is what’s wrong with all diets. We all know we need our veggies, but they don’t comfort us like the “junk” food. We can hang on to the diet, but sooner or later and probably sooner, we need our comfort food.Thanks for a very good article.

    • SCB

      I have two delicious recipes with cauliflower that are comfort food for my family, but neither is a friend for the dieter. One is a soup made with cauliflower and sharp cheddar cheese, pureed until smooth. The other is a layer salad with lettuce, cauliflower, onions, bacon, peas, cheese and a mayonnaise dressing.

      • Freida Buttrey Ratliff

        I have made that salad and it is delicious ….:)

  • http://twitter.com/DeafRanger Ron Southwick

    That is what I have been telling people forever. But, will they listen!?! So far NOT.

  • Nosy Nosy Nosy

    Raw cauliflower not bad with just a little bit of your favorite healthy dressing dribbling through the cracks. I’ve also noted I get a slight lift if I eat raw broccoli from someone’s garden the moment it’s picked.

  • IF guy

    I eat only twice a day and I am in the best shape of my life. Eating often has minimal effect on your metabolism. I know numerous people who do the same and are achieving great results. It is also easier to track your nutrition this way as well. Check out intermittent Fasting and it’s many benefits.

  • Lillie

    I would like to know what to eat to GAIN weight I am down to 112 and don’t really have an apetite I am losing all the time and am very weak also my bowels are not funtioning

    • Health Hub Team

      Thank you for your comment. Based on your description, we recommend that you speak to a doctor to determine if there is a medical concern. In addition, you might try Cleveland Clinic’s MyConsult system. Best of luck to you.

    • Susan

      I recommend that, when you do see your doctor, you ask about being checked for Celiac disease. I also suffered from severe lack of appetite, and lost perhaps 30% of my body weight (though I could afford to lose it), before I was diagnosed.

  • doug

    The new research involving IF (intermittent fasting) is proving the “eat small meals often” theories wrong. Google IF. Fasting apparently put our cells into a rebuild mode and causes our bodies to burn stored fat for energy. Cleveland Clinic???….what are your thoughts on intermittent fasting?

  • Janice M Giaco

    Hmmm, I would have agreed with the above but after watching Dr R. Lustig’s lectures about Insulin resistance and depression of Leptin receptor,the fact that the internal mileau drives behavior..His lectures are a must see “a calorie is not a calorie and sugar is the culprit”

  • Garlin miller

    I dopn`t lose I want gain some weight I don`t weigh but 136pounds right now I am 74years and my weight is low 5foot 8 I would like weigh around 160-165 and I eat all the time

    • Wendy

      I would kill for your problem!!

  • Jeannie

    I understand the need to look at BMI, however my doctors have told me a NOT to look at that because in my particular case, my BMI is incorrect. According to my BMI, I should weigh 145-150 and when I got down to that weight, I was told I had to gain 20 LBS immediately. You could see my bones ypthrough my skin and often people thought I was anorexic. When I put on the 20 LBS, I looked healthier according to my doctor and he was satisfied with my weight even though according yo the BMI chart, I was considered to be overweight. I just think there is too much emphasis on the BMI chart.

  • Florence Bernstein

    I am almost 80, 5′ 10 1/2″ tall, and weigh 130 pounds. No breakfast, usually. Light lunch only if I skipped breakfast, and a well-balanced dinner. Sweets a must for me. Fats kept to a minimum. Never felt better. My twin and I over 60 here and have danced most of our lives.

  • L.L.S.

    I wonder if the writer reads these posts. There are a lot assumptions and no science. Three generations back there were less weight problems, by far and those people were no eating lots of little meals. Even the wealthy were not eating even three meals a day. As a licensed healthcare provider, I see bodies and hear stories every day and not every thin person is funning around. Many of them are sitting on their bums and yes, eating foods, some deem unhealthy. The comments are vast assumptions and one study does not make a body of research. Yes, these statements are too in many cases, but blanket statements can be misleading. Everyone is different but you can’t create theories without sticking everyone in the same box. It takes real effort to approach us as individuals. Now who is the lazy one?

  • Peggy Graber

    If I eat little meals often I gain weight

  • Robin Rairdon Borchers

    I recently lost 30 pounds on the Naturally Slim program. It was sponsored by Anthem insurance through my employer. That program has you not eat breakfast and instead drink what they call H2Orange. It is a mixture of 1 part orange juice and 7 parts water. You are encouraged to drink this throughout the morning and throughout the day if desired.This keeps your blood sugar high enough to avoid hunger and cravings, but doesn’t interrupt fat burning. Then two normal meals are eaten at lunch and dinner. The only difference is to eat very slowly, putting down one’s fork between bites. Stop eating for 5 minutes after eating for 10 minutes. Resume eating and stop when you are full. This method worked very well, I was not hungry; did not have cravings; and feel very healthy. I also reduced my cholesterol numbers and fasting blood sugar. Check it out, Cleveland Clinic! Marcia Upton is the leader of the program. She is a certified nurse practitioner.