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10 Sneaky things that are making you fat

You know when to swap pizza for salad or how many calories you burn on an hour-long run. But those last five pounds or inches from your waistline? You can’t seem to shake ‘em (no matter what you do). So we’ve compiled a list of the 10 sneakiest ways your body puts on those pounds, plus a few tips and tricks to avoid them.

Woman eating pizza in front of TV

1. You skip a meal or two

The problem: Skipping meals may seem like a good idea on the surface, but feeling hungry is completely deceptive. By starving your body, you cut the fuel to your calorie-burning furnace (aka: your metabolism). And the more meals you skip, the slower your furnace’s fire will burn.What to do: Try to eat every four hours — this will help stave off cravings for sugary, fatty foods and will keep your weight in check. (Try these metabolism-revving recipes.)

2. You’re a fast eater

The problem: Once you begin eating, it takes 15 to 20 minutes for you to actually start feeling full. Scarfing down food almost guarantees you’ll overeat (and feel disgusting hours later).What to do: Slow down and chew your food. You’ll not only cut how much you eat, you’ll also the increase enjoyment you get from food. (7 Tips for eating with your senses)

3. You eat in front of the TV or computer

The problem: Science proves people eat mindlessly (and more) when distracted (like when watching the new singer on American Idol or a funny video on YouTube).What to do: Make it a rule to never eat away from the kitchen table. You’ll focus on your food and eat less as a result. (How to eat less and enjoy it more)

4. You eat “healthy” foods at restaurants

The problem: It may seem like a good idea to eat a sub instead of a burger, or a Caesar salad instead of a steak, but watch those extras. You could add hundreds of calories by saying yes to cheese, high-fat creamy dressings, heavy sauces or bacon bits.What to do: Skip the fatty accoutrements and ask for all sauces on the side. (Try these heart-healthy tips for dining out.)

5. You’re using large plates

The problem: Just like portions and the food packages, plate sizes have exploded in the past 50 years. And size can be deceptive. The larger the dish, the smaller the food will look on it. Essentially, tricking your mind into believing you’re eating less than you really are.What to do: Swap your super-sized plates or bowls (and even utensils) for smaller-sized dishes. (Learn about portion distortion.)

6. The scale is your enemy

The problem: Scales can be scary, but stepping on them on a regular basis will help you maintain (and gauge) a healthy, normal weight. However, weighing yourself frequently through the day or letting the number on the scale dictate your self-worth or mood is unhealthy. And it can sabotage your weight loss efforts by upsetting you to the point you eat (and eat too much) for comfort.What to do: Step on the scale once a week. But don’t get obsessive. Your weight usually fluctuates one to two pounds every day, depending on your monthly cycle and how much water and food you’ve consumed. Also, pay attention to how your clothes fit, rather than only the number on the scale – if you are working out, your weight may not change even though you have put on muscle and lost fat (muscle is smaller and denser than fat).

7. You’re stressed

The problem: When you’re stressed, your body overproduces cortisol, a stress hormone responsible for keeping your blood pressure and sugar levels in check. Scientists believe when it’s overproduced, it stimulates your appetite and sweet tooth. And it has been linked to abdominal fat (read Is stress making your belly fat?).What to do: Keep your stress levels low by exercising or taking up a soothing activity like yoga, meditation or journal writing. Visit our Stress section for more tips to bust stress.

8. You’re cold

The problem: When you’re cold, you may tend to crave rich (often calorie-laden) foods. This is a reaction that goes back to cave dwelling days when stockpiling fat was necessary for survival. But since your survival is probably not at stake, giving in to your chill-induced cravings will result in weight gain.What to do: Add an extra exercise class to your weekly routine, or add a side salad to every meal (it will make you feel fuller without adding extra calories — just watch the dressing). Also, remember to carry a sweater around with you (to warm up when cold moments strike). And turn down that air conditioner in the summer; it could have the same effect. And never underestimate the effectiveness of doing 30 jumping jacks or taking a brisk walk in the sunshine — just make sure you bundle up if its cold outside. (Outdoor fitness tips)

9. You don’t sleep enough

The problem: When you are tired, your body goes into a craving and hunger tailspin and your hormones go haywire (overproducing ghrelin, an appetite booster, and lowering leptin, an appetite suppressant). The result: Fake hunger pains that make you think you’re starving when, really, you’re not. You’re just in need of a nap and consistent nighttime sleep.What to do: Get six to eight hours of sleep every night. And if you’re tired, take a 15-minute power nap. (Why women have trouble sleeping and tips to sleep better)

10. The company you keep

The problem: When you get together with family or friends, do you dig into fried foods or alcohol? Do you spend more time sitting around rather than doing group activities? If so, you, and everyone around you could be consuming hundreds of empty calories, all without burning them off.What to do: Get into the habit of preparing healthy nibble-worthy snacks, and swap what you do at get-togethers (even games night is better than watching TV). You can also schedule exercise get-togethers and try one of these top 10 calorie-burning activities.

More diet and weight loss tips

Top 30 diet tips
The single best way to lose weight
Top 10 diet mistakes that prevent women from losing weight

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