A few days off here, an extra beer at happy hour every now and then: Weight gain isn’t always as obvious or as blatant as stuffing your face with wings and melting into the couch.
“It’s usually ‘small behaviors plus time’ rather than the big ones that might be easy to spot that lead to weight gain,” says Jonathan Ross, the American Council on Exercise’s senior adviser on personal training and author of Abs Revealed. “We might think about knocking out a half of a pizza one night while out with friends watching the game, but the bigger issue might be the soda we have in the afternoons as a pick me up. It’s a small, single choice but if it’s repeated frequently enough, it can cause a big impact.”
The fix, according to Ross: Examine your daily habits more than the “big” slip-ups—starting with these eight.
“High-intensity workouts are not an excuse to empty the refrigerator,” says Adam Kelinson, a nutritional consultant for athletes and author of The Athlete's Plate: Real Food for High Performance. While this kind of training can burn more calories in shorter amounts of time (and help you keeping burning throughout the day), you have to moderate your diet to match your training, says Kelinson. “Your exercise nutrition plan is only as good as your daily nutrition plan.” Focus on quality rather than quantity—and eat slowly. While the exact “what” of your post-workout meal will vary on a slew of factors (including what you did, how long you worked, and how hard you sweat), you should focus on a mix of carbs and protein, specifically, 20 to 40 grams of protein.
“The health benefits of alcohol have been grossly overstated,” says Ross. And beyond the detrimental health effects of too much booze, any calorie-dense liquid can easily promote weight gain, Ross says. That’s in part because the stomach doesn’t sense the calories in liquids as well as it does solids, so you don’t get as good of a sense of how much you’ve consumed, he adds. “Add to that the inhibition lowering effects of alcohol and the sometimes terrible food options that are served alongside it, and this can add up.”
“The exercise industry is rife with supplements and products designed to build muscle, trim fat, [help you] lose weight, and bulk you up,” says Kelinson. And sometimes they bulk you up the wrong way. “These products are heavily weighted with protein or a metabolic accelerator that needs to be accounted for in one’s daily diet, and when unchecked can lead to weight gain.” (Research does show that, if you’re not diligent about it, going high-protein can lead to weight gain.) Supplementing with protein powders or bars? Make sure you’re not going overboard by always checking the labels. We say you should aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per every pound of body weight.
So you eat clean and commit to focused, high quality workouts on the weekdays—but come Friday, you do whatever you want. “I hear this all the time,” says Ross. But the cold, hard truth: The weekend is 2/7 of your days—or about 28.5 percent, he adds. “Doing things right 70 percent of the time gets you a ‘C’ grade in school and a C-grade body isn’t what most men are after.”
Skipping breakfast? Eating dinner at midnight? Your social life, work schedule, and family commitments can get crazy (we know), but not making time for meals means a perfect opportunity for weight to creep on. “Eating breakfast fires up the metabolic engine and gets the body burning calories all day long,” says Kelinson, who adds that skipping the first meal of the day can make you hungrier later in the day—and make you eat more.
If you go on to eat a calorie-packed dinner, your body has nothing to do with the extra food but sleep on it, he says. Then the cycle continues: You may wake up with no appetite because you ate so late and skip breakfast again. Soon, you’re a few pounds heavier and scratching your head. A better bet: “Use the calories you consume during the day to fuel your efforts while you are awake. The evening should be the time the body recovers and repairs and to ‘break-the-fast’ the next morning,” says Kelinson. (And yes, you do have time. Try these 8 Stupidly Easy Breakfasts You Can Make in 60 Seconds.)
“Sustainable fitness requires a dynamic system. That system needs to change with age and with activity level,” says Kelinson. What that means: You can’t do the same things at 50 that you did at 25 and see the same results. That’s because your body adapts. And what may have challenged you in college has now become second nature. In order to change your body, and fight future weight problems, you have to constantly confuse and challenge your muscles—and then alter your diet to support those changes.
The good news: You don’t have to do a fitness overhaul. Small tweaks can go a long way toward changing your body with some of your favorite moves.
File this under bummer: You likely can’t. Make enough bad decisions when it comes to grub and the pounds become harder and harder to fight off, says Ross. Why? Because a fatty or high-sugar diet doesn’t just lead to weight gain, it affects a slew of bodily systems and organs from your heart to your immune system, which disrupts the way your body works as a whole, he says.
Greek yogurt and avocadoes still have calories. And it’s easy to overeat a healthy food, merely shrugging the action off as good for you. “When a healthy food becomes massively popular, it often gets consumed without limits as if the calories in it are of no consequence since it is healthy,” says Ross. Consider serving size. Did you know a single serving of an avocado is 1/5 of the fruit?