The Real Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight
By Maggie Moon, MS, RD

Maggie Moon, MS, RD, is a food-first dietitian based in Los Angeles, and author of The Elimination Diet Workbook (Ulysses Press 2014). She holds a Master of Science degree in Nutrition Education from Columbia University. Connect with her at maggiemoon.com.


You do your best to eat right, but the scale won’t move. What gives? Some of it is what you’re eating, but mostly it’s how you’re eating. If you see yourself in any of the following weight loss saboteurs, it’s time for a healthy change.

1. You Eat Potato Chips
Chips are America’s favorite snack, which means you probably eat them from time to time. While you know potato chips aren’t good for you, do you know just how bad they are? Don’t misunderstand, potatoes aren’t the problem: they’re a great source of potassium and vitamin C. However, turning them into chips adds fat and salt and strips away fiber. Need another reason to quit chips? A large study from Harvard University found that the number one most fattening food was, you guessed it: potato chips. Not far behind: French fries (the poor potato can’t catch a break), sugary drinks (say goodbye to sodas and frappuccinos), red meat, and deli meat. The best foods to stay lean? The science says go for fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and yogurt. Next time you need a salty snack fix, your waistline will be better served by a handful of pistachios or whole wheat crackers. In the meantime, throw your chips away and never look back.

2. You Live in America
Wait, what? Yes, really. Your food environment can help or hinder your health, and if you live in America, you live in one of the fattest countries on Earth. The toxic food environment in the United States is full of addictive, nutrient-poor foods served up in huge portions, which programs the brain to get hooked on all the wrong things. Short of moving abroad, what can you do to improve your circumstances? You can create your own personal oasis by surrounding yourself with healthy choices at every turn. That means giving your refrigerator, pantry, car, office, handbag, and even your secret stash, a major makeover. Throw out the junk, and stock up on nutrition rock-stars like red quinoa, brown rice, butternut squash, black beans, broccoli, beets (they can’t be beat!), baby arugula, blueberries, avocado, almonds, salmon, and edamame, just to name a few.

3. You Eat Too Fast
Have you ever looked up from clearing your plate only to realize a mere minutes have passed and you can’t even remember what it was you just inhaled? Research suggests plate-clearers tend to be more obese (a risky habit in a supersized food system). What can you do? First, check that nobody saw you eating like an animal, then take steps to eat more mindfully. Turn off the TV and put away your phone (screen time is linked to obesity), and make an effort to put your fork down between bites to slow down (because the body needs about 20 minutes to signal its full). If out-of-control hunger is what’s driving you to eat like a speed demon, “take along a bag of nuts or fresh fruit to smash hunger before a workout or the commute home. A little snack can protect against ravenous attacks on the first thing that resembles food,” says Marisa Moore, registered dietitian nutritionist, owner Marisa Moore Nutrition (marisamoore.com).

4. You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
You feel unstoppable on day one of your total diet overhaul, but (sorry) it’s not sustainable. In the nutrition field, we call that setting yourself up for failure. Eating happens everyday, multiple times a day, which means bad habits are reinforced constantly. Changing habits takes time and effort, so take it one bite at a time. With your new healthy habits, you’re going to live to 150, so you’ve got time to work on each healthy change in turn. Spoiler alert: you may just see collateral benefits. For example, if you want to drink more water, let’s say you create a plan to drink a glass first thing in the morning, take swigs from a big water bottle at work, put a glass by your dinner plate, and keep a another by your bedside. You do this until it’s automatic. In the meantime, all that water replaces other drinkable calories (never drink your calories!), and prevents you from eating out of thirst confusion. See? Collateral benefits.

5. You Have Portion Blindness
Portion-blindness is a condition that most of America suffers from. For example, that time you had cheese and crackers for dinner, which sounds like a snack instead of meal, but in reality it added up to a full day’s calories. Christen Cooper, registered dietitian, nutrition consultant and doctoral candidate at Columbia University, shares that she once had a client who couldn’t understand why she was gaining weight when that’s all she had for dinner. After going over portion sizes, turns out her client was eating 1,800 calories for dinner by downing an entire box of crackers with an 8oz block of cheese nightly. The easiest thing you can do to control portions is to eat at home more, using smaller bowls, plates, and cups. When eating out, put half your food in a to-go box at the start of the meal.

The bottom line? Eating is complex. These are only some of the very real reasons you aren’t losing weight. But now that you know, what are you going to do about it? What do you think? Were you nodding your head because every one of these issues describe you? Are you planning to make healthy eating changes soon? What’s stopping you? Have you already started? How’s it going?

Maggie Moon, MS, RD, is a food-first dietitian based in Los Angeles, and author of The Elimination Diet Workbook (Ulysses Press 2014). She holds a Master of Science degree in Nutrition Education from Columbia University. Connect with her at maggiemoon.com.


America loves chips:
Nielsen global snacking survey http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/global-consumers-nibble-nosh-and-snack-their-way-to-big-sales.html

Most potatoes American's eat are fried:
Healthy Vegetables Undermined by the Company They Keep” USDA. ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Foods most associated with weight gain and weight loss:
Mozaffarian D. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. New England Journal of Medicine. 2011.  364:2392-2404 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1014296

U.S. foods are unhealthy:
Changing the Food Environment for Obesity Prevention: Key Gaps and Future Directions. Anderson Steeves E. Curr Obes Rep. 2014 Dec;3(4):451-458. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25574452

Plate clearing is associated with obesity:
Robinson E. Is plate clearing a risk factor for obesity? A cross-sectional study of self-reported data in US adults. Obesity. Dec 2014 epub ahead of print. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25521278

Screen time associated with obesity:
Mitchell JA. Greater screen time is associated with adolescent obesity: a longitudinal study of the BMI distribution from ages 14 to 18. Obesity. 2013;21(3):572-5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23592665

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