Even if you’re watching your calorie intake like a hawk, it’s easier than ever to overeat - and you may not even notice until you step on the scale.
Between packaged goods and dining out, finding healthy options isn’t always easy - even if you think you’re making good choices.
Here are ten ways you’re consuming more calories than you think - and what you can do instead to stay on the right track:
1. Hidden Price of Packaged Goods
A small portion of whole wheat pasta with a nice thick red sauce sounds like a healthy meal, but if your sauce is store-bought, you might be in trouble.
“We don’t often think of pasta sauce as being ‘sweet,’ but many jarred pasta sauces have sugar listed as an ingredient,” writes Hailey Miller, associate editor of Eating Well. “Although it’s not a lot of sugar, it certainly isn’t necessary. Another problem with jarred pasta sauce? It’s high in sodium.”
Added sugar and salt is a common pitfall in prepackaged grocery store staples. You should also keep your eye on the ingredient lists for breakfast cereals and canned soup, suggests Miller.
What to do: It might take a little bit more time in the kitchen, but it’s worth it. Learn how to make homemade versions of your store-bought favorites, like spaghetti sauce, granola, and soup stocks to cut down on calories and fit more fresh fruits and vegetables into your day.
2. Diner’s Dilemma
If you reach for the take-out menu more often than your knife and cutting board, you’re probably knee-deep in calorie overload.
According to CNN, a 2014 report from Public Health Nutrition found that “people who ate at a fast food or full-service restaurant consumed an extra 200 calories per day [compared to] people who ate at home.”
That’s thanks in part to increased sugar, salt, and fat intake - exactly where you don’t want your calories to come from!
What to do: Save a night out on the town for a special occasion - even if that special occasion is a hard week at work and nailing all your deadlines. When you do go out, make smart choices - like filling up on protein and eating smaller portions, suggests Linda Gassenheimer at Fitness.
“This one simple step can easily shave up to 300 calories off your meal,” writes Gassenheimer.
3. Children’s Menu
When you’re a working parent, finding time to make and eat your own dinner seems almost impossible.
So why not steal a bite of your kid’s uneaten sandwich or snack along with them after school?
For starters, all those small bites start to add up, and they can lead to an unhealthy habit: grazing.
What to do: If your own health and nutrition isn’t a priority, it’ll be pretty hard to watch out for your kids. Make sure you fuel up with protein during the day, so you’re not tempted to graze when the kids get home. Keep healthy snacks for your entire family within reach for when you get the munchies. Think apples and peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, and homemade trail mix.
4. Happy Hour
After a long day at the office, it’s oh-so-tempting to blow off some steam with your pals. But don’t get carried away with that happy hour drinks special, unless you want your waistline to pay the price.
Even though the carbs in beer add up quick, it’s more often the cravings brought on by drinking that do the real damage. “Alcohol influences your brain chemistry in a way that makes you want junky food,” dietitian Dana James told Women’s Health.
What to do: Pick one night a week to go out and have fun - but remember to eat dinner first. As for safe picks at the bar? “The best choices are wine, champagne, and some type of spirit with soda,” said James.
5. Portion Control
When was the last time you thought to measure out three ounces of chicken? That’s what we thought.
Most of us have no idea how much food we’re actually eating - or what a real portion size looks like.
What to do: Get back to basics with measuring cups and a kitchen scale. You’ll be surprised by how different your plate starts to look once you measure out your dinner every day for a week. Plus, if you shift the ratio of your plate away from carbs in order to consume more protein and veggies, you’ll feel more full - even with a more moderate plate.
6. Health Food Halos
Don’t get sucked in by the health food industry’s promises and pretty packaging. A gluten-free or reduced sugar cookie is still a cookie - and it might even be worse for you than noshing on the real deal.
We tend to trust these labels in places where we shouldn’t - on the boxes of pre-packaged foods, in fast food restaurants, and even in fine dining, suggests the newspaper.
What to do: If you have a sweet tooth, do your best to appease it without going overboard. An ounce of dark chocolate for dessert, or one chocolate chip cookie every now and then isn’t going to tank your diet. We get into trouble when we eat too much junk - not when we indulge now and then.
7. Post-Workout Peril
There are two common pitfalls for every exercise enthusiast: eating too much after a workout and thinking every workout justifies a major recovery meal.
In fact, if you’re working out on a cardio machine, chances are you’re overestimating how many calories you burn.
“A recent study named the elliptical trainer the least accurate when it comes to calorie counting, with most machines overestimating your burn by 42 percent,” Jay Cardiello, fitness editor-at-large at Shape, told the magazine.
What to do: Make your recovery meal proportionate to your workout. If you had a light cardio or weights day, you may only need an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter, says dietitian Dawn Blatner at Fitness.
8. Not-So-Great Yogurt
When the yogurt craze hit America in the 90s, you could find just about every flavor you dreamed of and snack away guilt-free. Now that snack bubble has finally burst, thanks to lots and lots of sugar.
One of the worst offenders? Ironically - lowfat yogurt, which generally has a lot of additives.
What to do: If you’re craving yogurt opt for low-fat or non-fat Greek yogurt - and check the label to make sure there’s no added sugar. Want something a little sweet? Add berries and honey for a light snack or healthy breakfast.
9. Smoothie Madness
Most gyms offer juice bars as a perk for members - but even green juice can have lots of sugar to offset bitter kale and spinach.
“Although they’re great in moderation, additions like nut butters, chia seeds, flax seeds, and coconut oil mean you can all of a sudden have an 800-calorie smoothie before you realize it,” dietitian Dana James told Women’s Health.
What to do: Save a little money - and some calories - by blending your own drinks at home. Check out Cooking Light for healthy smoothie ideas that won’t push you over 250 calories.
10. Salad Woes
Think you should get a medal for ordering a salad when you could’ve gone for the cheeseburger and fries? Think again.
“If you aren’t selective with the ingredients you scoop onto your plate, you could quickly end up with a 1,000-calorie salad, defeating the purpose of getting a salad in the first place,” writes Kristin Kirkpatrick at U.S. News and World Report.
Kirkpatrick points to bacon bits, tuna salad, and croutons as some of the most problematic - and common - salad toppings.
What to do: Ask for dressing on the side and apply with caution. Better yet, take dressing into your own hands with oil and vinegar or oil and lemon juice for a light summer seasoning. Stick to lean proteins - like black beans and roast turkey - and healthy grains if you’re looking to add a little pizazz to your plate.
Sometimes it seems like the entire world is out to get you when you’re on a diet. And while it may be easy to ignore the donut in the break room, it’s much more difficult to avoid sneak attacks from your favorite item on a restaurant menu or in the grocery store.
By building in more time to cook at home - and making smarter decisions when you eat out - you’ll be a pro calorie cutter in no time.
Have you ever been shocked by a high-calorie food masquerading as a healthy option? Tell us what opened your eyes in the comments below :