You may think you're doing your body a favor by consuming something that won't add to your waistline, but there's also no nutritional value in diet soda, and unlike water, which your body needs in order to function, diet soda serves no real purpose. Russell has noticed that diet soda can actually lead you to consume more sugar later because the diet soda won't fully satisfy your sugar cravings. "Your mouth tells your brain you had something sweet but your brain knows otherwise – it's been cheated," she explains. Swap soda for water with a squeeze of citrus or a splash of juice if you're not used to the taste of plain water.
Like diet soda, low-fat food remains a diet saboteur for some. "It's an older problem, but still bears mentioning because low-fat food is fundamentally unsatisfying," Russell says. While low-fat food may have little fat, but it's often full of sugar, making you want to eat more of it – a decision that can pack on the pounds if you fall into this trap too often. A gooey full-fat brownie actually digests slower because it has fat in it, rather than the fat-free cookie, which is going to digest quicker, leaving you hungry again soon. "You need either fat or fiber to buffer food through your digestive system so you don't feel hungry an hour after eating," Russell says.
We know sometimes you get so busy that lunch falls by the wayside or you spend so much time getting the kids awake, dressed and out the door for school that you forget to eat breakfast, but skipping meals is a major diet don't, especially if you're doing it deliberately to cut calories. The problem with skipping meals is twofold. The first is that you aren't getting the nutrients and energy your body needs to function. If your body were a car, it would be sputtering by lunch if you forgot to gas up in the morning. Second, the longer you go without food, the more you're likely to eat just about anything once you get within grabbing distance of what's in your fridge. It's much easier to say no to tempting food when you're not starving.
In theory, a salad is a healthy, low-fat and highly nutritious food choice. But their calorie and fat count skyrockets with the wrong dressings and toppings. Most dressings are oil- or mayonnaise-based. Oil alone clocks in at 80 to 100 calories per tablespoon, and you're going to need three for four tablespoons to cover a salad, leaving you with 300 to 400 extra calories you might not have considered. Add to that high-fat toppings such as cheese and nuts (which are healthy in moderation) or tortilla chips and deep-fried calamari, and you're looking at a diet disaster. Err on the side of less oil, more lemon juice or vinegar and lots of fresh or dried herbs when dressing your salad.
It's easier than you think to forget about calories consumed in a day. "Unless people keep a food diary they can forget they ate a slice of pizza earlier in the afternoon," says Russell. The little extras (a bite of your boyfriend's doughnut, a small slice of cake at your boss's office birthday) add up. A hundred or two hundred extra calories here and there won't pack on the pounds, but if you're eating that much extra every day it can add up. "One chocolate éclair isn't going to make you gain weight, but one a day for a month will make a difference in your diet." Keep a close eye on calories consumed and if you need to, keep a small notebook with you to record everything you eat.
People often assume that if they're not adding salt to food then they don't have to worry about sodium, but your salt shaker isn't the problem. The new dietary guidelines recommend that Americans limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams, which amounts to about a teaspoon. But processed foods (think canned soups, boxed meals, snack food and frozen dinners) are loaded with sodium, so unless you read labels, you may not be aware of how much you're getting. Salt makes things taste good, and as Russell explains, companies want their products to taste better than the competition -- so that means more salt. Know how much you should be getting, avoid processed food whenever possible and keep track of your intake.
When in doubt, opt for fresh food, focusing on fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, and keep an eye out for nutrition traps that can sabotage your diet.