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4 Not-So-Obvious Dieting Mistakes Every Woman Makes

Make sure you put these on your radar — now.

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Emily Alvarez
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When it comes to eating for better health, you know you need to cut the junk and processed foods, and even eat less meat. If only it were as easy as that. Truth is, you could be making subtle dietary mistakes that could be sabotaging your goals to get healthier, lose weight or both. Here are four to put on your radar.

Counting calories

Forget calorie counting. Instead, think about calorie density, or the calories per pound of food. “By changing the calorie density of the food you eat, you can lose weight and get healthier,” says Chef AJ, Los Angeles-based culinary instructor and best-selling author of The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss. Best part? You can eat more food in terms of volume without consuming as many calories. That’s because the most nutrient-dense foods, namely plants, contain the fewest calories. Foods, after all, can range from 100 calories per pound (like nonstarchy vegetables) to 4,000 calories per pound (like all oils). To maintain or lose weight and optimize health, Chef AJ suggests mainly eating foods that are under 750 calories per pound, namely nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, potatoes, unrefined complex carbohydrates, whole grains and legumes. Foods with a higher calorie density such as ice cream, cheese, sugar, bread, chocolate, nuts, seeds and oils should be limited or avoided.

Lumping all carbohydrates as ‘bad’

Don’t get duped into thinking low-carb is the healthiest way to eat or a long-term strategy for weight loss. “People tend to lump all carbs into the bad category and may avoid them as a result,” says Pamela Bonney, an integrative dietitian nutritionist and cofounder of Tried and True Nutrition in Long Island, N.Y. Even though it’s true that there are unhealthy carbs — namely highly processed carbs made from white flour and simple sugars like white breads, pastas, rice, cakes, cookies, desserts and sugary drinks — your body needs carbohydrates. By going low-carb, you may be eliminating healthy carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Not only are these complex carbohydrates loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they’re also high in fiber, which will help fill you up and lower your risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, Bonney says. Although guidelines recommend that women eat 25 grams a day, most Americans are getting only about 15 grams, and only 1 in 10 adults are getting the recommended amount of fruits and veggies. Aim for 2.5 cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit a day, says Marisa Moore, an integrative and culinary dietitian in Atlanta. Just go slow in increasing your fiber intake or you could get gastrointestinal upset like bloating and gas. Also, drink more water to avoid constipation, Bonney adds.

Noshing hidden added sugar

You know that desserts and sugary beverages aren’t a recipe for health. Yet while those are obvious sources of sugar, others aren’t as easy to spot, namely because they contain added sugar. A whopping 75 percent of packaged foods have added sugars, according to a study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The problem? “Excessive added sugar has been linked to higher blood pressure,” Moore says. Added sugar can also raise your risk of type 2 diabetes and weight gain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than six teaspoons, or 24 or 25 grams, a day. Fortunately, food manufacturers are now including added sugar on labels (look under the carbohydrate section), so check the labels — even ingredient lists if you’re not sure. Just know that added sugars can hide under numerous names, including agave nectar, cane juice, glucose solids, and anything that ends with “ose” like glucose and dextrose.     

Not getting enough sleep

One bad night of sleep does more than make you grumpy and irritable. It can also mess with your appetite. “Studies show that sleep deprivation, even if only for one night, can increase cravings the next day for sweets, unhealthy carbs and caffeine,” Bonney says. Yet these are short-lived energy boosters that can make cravings worse over time. If you’re regularly not sleeping well, you could gain weight or suffer worse health. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults age 18 to 64 get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and seven to eight hours if you’re 65 or older.