Many people begin a weight loss program with the best intentions. They reduce calories, exercise regularly and slowly begin to drop weight. After losing for a few weeks or months they hit a plateau which can have a psychologically devastating effect on their desire and ability to stay on track. Many people have difficulty making the proper food choices which will help them achieve their weight loss goal, and believe that because they exercise they can eat larger portions to compensate.
Altering Our Food Perception to Lose Weight
There are a variety of factors which influence the way we view food when trying to lose weight. Most people understand that burgers, fries and ice cream are all bad options individually, but when a healthy food item is added, dieters tend to believe that the total calorie count was somehow magically lowered. Adding a side of broccoli to a piece of fried steak makes it appear more acceptable even though the calories have increased.
Understanding ‘The Dieter’s Paradox’
Researchers call this misperception of mixing healthy and unhealthy foods ‘The Dieter’s Paradox’. The results of a study published in The Journal of Consumer Psychology explains the mindset behind combining foods which promote weight loss with calorie laden choices in participants trying to drop weight. People were shown a high calorie food and asked to estimate the calories. They were then shown the same food with a traditional diet food, such as steamed vegetables or a salad and asked to determine the calorie count.
When presented with the second option, they estimated 5 to 10% lower calories, even though there were clearly more total calories with the additional item. This type of research clearly shows there’s a disconnect occurring in our brain when making the correct choices for a healthy meal to promote weight loss. We see less food calories when even the smallest amount of healthy food is added to the meal.
Eating to Lose Weight
You can combat the natural tendency to underestimate food calories by planning your meals in advance, employ nutritional tracking software and maintaining a food diary. Weigh and measure every food item you prepare and keep track of daily calories and physical activity in your journal. You’ll quickly understand which foods contribute to your weight loss plateau. It’s important to understand that everybody will hit a plateau which can last a few days up to a month or more. This is normal, as your body adjusts to each new weight level. Be patient and your good efforts will be rewarded.
Regular Exercise Leads to Excess Calories Consumed
Everyone knows that regular exercise is vitally important to our health and assists in the weight loss process. The problem is we overestimate the number of calories actually burned through exercise and compensate by eating more food than we need. This is one of the most common mistakes people make when pursuing a weight loss lifestyle.
The best way to avoid eating too much when exercising is to fully understand how many calories you’re burning for each type of exercise. Walking is one of the most popular forms of physical activity, and you’ll burn around 125 calories in a moderately paced 30 minute period. While the exercise is great for your heart and muscles, you don’t need to take in any more calories to compensate. The best rule is to monitor your food diary, and avoid extra calories as a result of your physical activity.
When trying to lose weight, we’re faced with difficult decisions about proper food choices at every meal. Psychologically we perceive the addition of a healthy food item to our plate as a way to include fattening foods, as if they’ll calorically offset one another. We overestimate the number of calories burned through exercise and eat to make up the difference. The only way to avoid these mistakes and achieve your weight loss goal involves judicious tracking of all food eaten each day in a journal, being careful not to rely on exercise as an excuse to overeat.
John Phillip is a Health, Diet and Nutrition Researcher and Author of the popular Optimal Health Resource Blog who regularly reports on the alternative cutting edge use of supplements and lifestyle modifications to enhance and improve the length and quality of life. Health problems can be avoided and overcome with a sensible approach to monitoring key health factors such as weight, blood glucose, blood pressure and body temperature. His mission is to discuss the relevant findings on nutritional factors as they become available, and how you can incorporate this latest information to better your lifestyle. Read John’s latest healthy articles, updated regularly at his Optimal Health Resource Blog.