It’s that time of year again when the holidays are over and the health and fitness industry along with the food industry will be in full force to try and “help” you on your path to lose the extra weight.

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The volume of information is overwhelming to say the least and often times it’s downright misleading.  Here are the top 3 traps that many people fall into when it comes to stalling or halting their fat loss. These 3 areas seem to be the most frequently misunderstood or “misconstrued” time and time again by those seeking to find ways to change their habits in order to trim their physiques.

1.) EATING EVERY FEW HOURS– You probably have heard and/or read somewhere that you need to “stoke the metabolic fire” by eating every few hours. Somewhere along the line “eating every 3 hours” became the golden rule. People assume that this 3 hour rule came from the idea that every single person’s metabolism begins to slow down after 2 hours and 59 minutes have passed or after your stomach has fully emptied and digestion of your last meal has sufficiently taken place. Do not get trapped by this type of black and white thinking. Although it seems scientifically reasonable, there is so much more to metabolism and weight loss than calories in and calories out and meal timing. The idea behind eating something more often is that it will keep blood sugar levels stable and you will consume less because you never get too hungry and will avoid overeating at your next meal. It makes sense right? While it is important to manage hunger hormones by keeping blood sugar levels from dropping, there really is no NEED to eat every 3 hours “just because.” Your body will give you signals when you need to eat and at what times of day you need to “fuel” more or fuel less. This can change daily and depends on many factors so you must learn to be mindful of these signals and find what works for you. Your body will signal you with either the feeling of true hunger (like when your stomach is empty and rumbling) and/or you will experience low energy or your mood will change and you will get “hangry.” Again, when and if this happens can vary from day to day. Have you ever noticed that on certain days you can easily coast from breakfast to lunch and on other days you are hungry before it is time for your lunch? You can respond to these signals day by day instead of subscribing to an idea that you have to “eat by the clock” and eat every 3 hours just for the sake of eating.  Not everyone needs to eat every 3 hours. Sometimes this idea that you have to eat just because 3 hours has gone by can have you consuming excess energy (calories) that your body doesn’t necessarily need. You can also “train” your body, or your brain for that matter, to signal you to eat at certain times of the day over time by following this approach without necessarily needing these extra calories. For instance, one day you may find that you need a mid morning snack but can make it from lunch to dinner without a snack and feel just fine. On another day, you may make it from breakfast to lunch without the need for a snack but experience a slump in energy or focus at around 2pm or 3pm and need to grab something to continue your day to make it to dinner. Your best bet is if you eat enough protein and fiber and just the right amount of healthy fat and carbs at each meal you should be able to make it from one meal to the next without needing to eat. If you do find that on any given day (take it day by day) you experience true hunger or low energy, always keep a healthy snack on hand that will get you back to balance. Great options are snacks that are higher in protein and fiber but not too high in fat or sugar. Protein bars, apples with some nut butter, rice cakes with nut butter, 1-2 hard boiled eggs with some carrots, celery, or nuts or a slice of avocado should do the trick. Remember, every single person’s metabolism is different and every day is different with regard to your mental and physical energy usage and what you have in your reserve tank. Sticking to rigid rules like “eat every 3 hours” or eat 5 small meals throughout the day just because you read it somewhere is silly if it isn’t working for you and you aren’t reaching your fat loss goals. Losing fat requires that you use just a little bit more energy than you are taking in. (Food=energy) If you are eating every 3 hours (just because you read that somewhere) and not necessarily needing that much energy (food) than you are more likely to store it then you are to use it and lose it.

2.) OVEREATING ON “HEALTHY FOODS”-  Low fat and low calorie foods are not always “healthy” and may not result in fat loss in the long run. Many of them are less satiating than the original and/or contain artificial ingredients (sweeteners) that cause bloating and disrupt digestion and simply lack nutrients which help your body to function properly which is essential to losing fat.  Some studies have shown that diet foods with fake sweeteners and flavoring blunts your body’s ability to feel fullness and sets the scene for over consumption.  Don’t fall victim to the labels “natural” and “low fat” because this doesn’t always translate into “healthy.” Healthy foods are whole foods that are unprocessed and ideally have less than 5 ingredients on their label with words you can actually pronounce. However, that is not to say that people can’t or don’t over consume on truly healthy foods either. Take nuts for example. Nuts are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats which support heart health and encourage greater feelings of satiety, however, they are calorically dense. Overeating on otherwise healthy items like nuts, nut butters, and avocados can halt fat loss or promote fat gain. Be aware that one avocado has about 300 calories and 16-18 almonds have about 180 calories. It is quite easy to pack a lot of extra calories from too many handfuls of nuts or adding the extra healthy avocado into your salad which already has olive oil on it. Be mindful of your intake of the healthy fats and how those calories fit into your overall daily caloric intake so that you don’t end up in the fat storage arena when you really want to be in the fat burning arena.   

3.) GETTING ENERGY FROM COFFEE OR ENERGY DRINKS AND NOT PROPERLY HYDRATING- The remedy to the afternoon slump for many is the afternoon cup of joe. Besides that, people believe that some caffeine will serve to keep them away from nibbling on snacks and they will consume less calories with choosing a cup of coffee or an energy drink over a healthy snack. This is not a good plan and here is why. First of all, people who don’t rely on coffee or caffeine each day to wake up, don’t often experience that afternoon slump. The reason is because day after day your body comes to rely on that caffeine and you experience the late afternoon crashes from the caffeine effects leaving the body. In addition, if you drink your coffee with sugar or artificial sweeteners and some form of milk or dairy product, you are not only adding extra calories into the mix of your overall daily intake but you are adding glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream which creates an insulin response and when the blood sugar levels in your blood drop back down you may experience more cravings and particularly cravings for sweets. Many people do not drink enough water in the first place and certainly don’t drink extra to make up for the water loss that caffeine causes. Drinking coffee, diet sodas, or energy drinks that rob the body of adequate hydration means that you must consume even more water than someone who doesn’t drink caffeinated beverages. Make it a point to focus on hydration (especially if you drink caffeinated beverages) because adequate hydration is key in aiding the body to shed waste (and fat) as well as keeping us feeling satisfied and keeping hunger at bay.  Aim for 64-80 ounces of water per day. Keep this in mind, caffeine= synthetic “fake energy.”  Real energy comes from adequate nutrition and hydration, proper rest/recovery in the form of relaxation or down time and high quality sleep!