The food fibs you tell yourself that keep you fat

Here’s how to get over some common self-deceptions and keep the weight off.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Here’s how to get over some common self-deceptions and keep the weight off.

Little white lies aren’t so bad when, say, your mother-in-law gives you something you don’t like for your birthday. But with your diet, honesty really is the best policy. That’s because the small food fibs you tell yourself – as in, “I’ll just cut off a tiny piece” from a batch of brownies, can sabotage your diet goals. Do any of these common self-deceptions you tell yourself sound familiar?

Photo Ada Summer/Corbis
Photo Ada Summer/Corbis

“Calories don’t count if I drink them.”

Reality check: Liquid calories count just as much, if not more, than solid-food calories do. That’s because they’re not as satiating. “When people drink water, milk, fruit juice, soda, an energy drink, a smoothie, or whatever beverage, they don’t compensate for those calories by reducing their food intake,” says Barry Popkin, Kenan Distinguished Professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in the United States.

In other words, liquid calories can slide in under your brain’s calorie-counting radar.

Diet fix: Aside from non-fat milk to help reduce the risk of bone-weakening osteoporosis, stick to water or non-caloric beverages like unsweetened iced tea in-between meals.

And realise that when you do drink something caloric, including alcohol, it won’t fill you up but it will fill you out unless you exercise more or make a conscious effort to account for the calories, by saying to yourself, for example, “This is lunch”, while sipping a smoothie.

“I’ll eat less if I skip breakfast.”

Reality check: A major study that analysed the breakfast patterns of more than 12,000 men and women for five years found that breakfast skippers were more likely to have a higher body mass index than breakfast eaters. The breakfast eaters also set a healthier tone for the rest of the day. They consumed fewer foods high in fat and sugar.

Diet fix: The study found that you only get that morning advantage if you start the day off with foods low in energy density, such as unsweetened hot or cold cereal, or whole-grain bread, fresh fruit and non-fat milk.

Otherwise, breakfast can backfire. Your overall daily calorie tally will be higher if you feast on the likes of pastries and sausage/egg/ bacon sandwiches, says Ashima Kant, a professor of nutrition at Queens College in the United States, and the study’s lead researcher. This can lead to weight gain.

“I’m not losing weight because my metabolism is slow.”

Reality check: Your resting metabolic rate – the rate at which you burn calories when you’re, say, glued to the TV, could indeed be to blame for those stubborn pounds. But chances are, you’re just eating more than you think and not exercising enough, says Dr David Edelson, an obesity medicine physician.

Diet fix: To budge the scale, you’ll need to track calories with a food diary, get a good night’s sleep and exercise more to build muscle – the engine that drives metabolism. Doing all of those things may raise your metabolic rate by five to 10 per cent, or an extra 100 calories a day.

“I can just eyeball my portion sizes to gauge calories.”

Reality check: “Most of us aren’t good at perceiving how much we eat,” says Sandria Godwin, a professor of dietetics at Tennessee State University in the United States. In fact, Sandria did a study where subjects judged portion sizes just by looking at them – they underestimated amounts by an average of 23 per cent.

Diet fix: If you’re serious about controlling portions, don’t guesstimate. Weigh meat with a food scale (aim for 85g a meal) and measure everything else with teaspoons, tablespoons and measuring cups for at least a week, and track it all in a food diary.

After that, go ahead and just eyeball amounts. Return to weighing and measuring every few months, however, to tweak your portionsize perception.

“Portions tend to get a little bigger and bigger over time,” Sandria says. To outwit your appetite, use a dinner plate with a 22-25cm diameter so portions don’t look too small and tempt you to go back for seconds.

Keep eating out to a minimum or when you do, eat less of what you’re given because no matter how much you think you ate, it’s probably more than that.

“My body needs a detox every once in a while.”

Reality check: You actually need to detox every day. The good news? You don’t need to do anything special beyond eating a healthy diet. “Your body is well-endowed with the apparatus to take care of the job,” says Dr David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Your liver, spleen, kidneys and gastrointestinal (GI) tract constantly filter “toxins” out of your system – breakdown metabolic gunk such as fat molecules, spent red blood cells, urea (a by-product of protein metabolism), and other waste products, all of which come out in your poop, pee or sweat.

Diet fix: Keep these systems in good working order so you can continuously detox more efficiently by loading up on unprocessed foods, such as fruits and veggies. Their high water and fibre content speeds waste through your GI tract.

Get plenty of fluids too (anything watery counts) so your kidneys can flush water-soluble by-products through your system – you’re getting enough if you pee every three hours and the urine is pale or clear, and odourless.

Regular exercise also helps keep your blood circulating through your arteries and delivers a robust supply of blood to your spleen, liver and kidneys. Meanwhile, avoid smoking, shun second-hand smoke and steer clear of foods high in refined sugar and artery-clogging saturated fat and trans fat.