Be honest: Have you ever taken the last piece of pumpkin pie just because it was there? Or finished off a dish of candied yams even though they were cold and soggy? Most of us have committed these diet sins, and there's a reason: At almost every meal, there are triggers that cause us to overindulge, even when we're no longer hungry.
As the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of the new book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, I've discovered in my research that the smallest things can lure you into impulse eating: the size of a popcorn bucket at the movie theater, the level of light in your dining room, or the number of people at your Thanksgiving dinner. And over time, that extra bite (or three, or five) at each sitting will really pack on the pounds.
You can't count on your body to send you signals like a stomachache to stop you from overeating. When you consume only 200 or 300 extra calories a day, your body doesn't get upset it just gets bigger. The good news is that you can curb your impulses when you eat, even during these festive holiday months. If you outsmart the traps that keep you nibbling, you could lose up to 10 pounds a year, without any dieting or exercising.
DIET PITFALLS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS
TRAP: Friends and Family
That's right your loved ones can be lethal to your waistline. A study conducted by Sam Houston State University professor John de Castro, Ph.D., which tracked about 500 participants , showed that if you dine with even one other person, you'll eat about 44 percent more, on average, than you would if you were alone. Sit with a group of 12, and you'll put away a whopping 76 percent more.
Why? When you're with other people, it's easy to lose track of how much you're eating. Absorbed in conversation, you may forget whether you had two rolls or three. If you're sitting next to a speed-eater, you may clean your plate faster and end up consuming too much. (It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to send an "I'm full" signal to your brain so when you gobble down dinner, you finish the meal hungry and still have room for more.) Free-flowing alcohol at holiday feasts can do double damage: It packs on calories and erodes your self-control, so you wind up eating more.
Good manners can be dangerous too. Most people wait until everyone has finished before they push away from the table, which makes it more likely that they'll take another piece of garlic bread or opt for dessert even if they're already full.
FIX: You don't have to eat alone to watch your weight. When you show up at a holiday dinner, snack on some healthy veggies immediately, so you won't be ravenous when the meal starts. Portion-control trick: Instead of waiting to accept the humongous piles of food your great-aunt dishes out, offer to serve everyone at the table. That way, you choose how much ends up on your plate (and you get brownie points for being helpful). Then move all the food including the bread baskets away from your end of the table to keep yourself from grazing. Skip alcohol altogether. If you can't resist having a drink, go with a low-calorie wine spritzer or make sure you drink at least one glass of water or club soda for every glass of wine. If possible, sit next to a slow eater so you can pace yourself. And always leave something on your plate. That might keep Mom from urging you to "have seconds, honey!"
Read about more diet pitfalls and their solutions on page 2.