4 bad food habits that can derail your nutrition

1/ Cluttered kitchen

Jeans feeling snug? Take a look at your counter. A study from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, US, found that people who spent time in a kitchen that had a sink filled with dishes ate twice as many cookies from an easily accessible bowl as those who had a clean kitchen. Another Cornell study showed that people who left unhealthy snacks on their kitchen counters were up to 26lbs heavier than those who stashed these items out of sight or didn’t have them in the house at all. ‘If your kitchen is messy, it can lead to feelings of being out of control, which may lead to mindlessly snacking on items you have easy access to,’ says Alissa Rumsey, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. ‘Even a handful of crisps or a few biscuits each time you go into the kitchen soon adds up.’

READ: 17 household items runners should chuck out and 5 to keep

The fix: Store treats out of sight – and out of mind. Research in the journal Appetite found that women who had to walk six feet for sweets ate about half as many as those who had them within arm’s reach. Instead of treats, leave out healthier snacks such as fruit and veg, says Rumsey. Subjects in the Cornell study who kept a bowl of fruit out in the open weighed an average of 13lbs less than those who didn’t.

2/ ‘Healthy’ food labels

The words on a package may have you eating more. In a study at Pennsylvania State University, US, subjects consumed more trail mix when the label included the word ‘fitness’ and an image of running shoes versus trail mix with no claims. And researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, US, found that people ate more popcorn when they were told it was ‘healthy’ than when eating popcorn deemed ‘unhealthy’, despite the fact both foods were nutritionally identical. And it’s not just fitness packaging. Research has also found that shoppers think foods labeled ‘organic’ are lower in calories and higher in fibre, and that’s often not the case. Additionally, confectionery bars in green packages – a colour associated with power foods such as kale and spinach – were viewed as healthier options. ‘Package claims and health halos often cause people to eat too much, thinking that since the food is healthy, it’s OK to eat a larger portion,’ says Rumsey. ‘Unfortunately a lot of these foods, such as protein bars, all-natural or gluten-free snacks and trail mixes, are high in calories. Eating extra portions can sabotage your training or weight-loss goals.’

READ: 9 'healthy' foods that can ruin your running

The fix: Don’t get drawn in by packaging claims. Read the nutrition label to determine what products have better ingredients, such as whole grains and fibre. People who read labels tend to weigh less than those who don’t. Practise portion control by measuring items onto a plate based on serving size. Using a smaller dish will also prevent you from overeating – it can cut your calories by 30 per cent, says the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

3/ Paying by card

Using plastic can derail your plan to get to your racing weight. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that shoppers tend to make at-the-checkout impulse purchases of less-nutritious foods such as sweets when they pay by card compared with those who hand over cash.

READ: 15 ways to cut hundreds of empty calories a day

The fix: Make a shopping list and stick to it. Bring cash, don’t even look at the goodies by the cash till and have a healthy snack before filling your trolley or basket. Shoppers who ate an apple before their grocery run bought 25 per cent more fruit and vegetables than those who did not, according to research from Cornell University.

4/ Distracted dining

Healthy eating isn’t just about what you eat; it’s also about how. Research from Northwestern University in Chicago, US, found that exposure to blue-enriched light (such as that emitted by your smartphone or laptop screens) before and during meals can increase hunger and could lead to overeating. Looking at a screen instead of your plate may stimulate the regions of the brain that regulate appetite. And UK researchers found that people who ate their lunch while playing a computer game ate more biscuits 30 minutes later than those who ditched the electronics.

But don’t rush your meal to get back to work. Studies show that people who eat their meals quickly consume more calories, feel hungrier and are more likely to carry extra weight. ‘When you eat while distracted or shovel in your food, you’re less likely to notice satiety signals,’ says sports dietitian Molly Kimball.

READ: How to use mindfulness

The fix: Treat your gadgets like your elbows and keep them off the table, take lunch breaks away from your desk, and don’t multitask during meals. Also, save your speed for the track: a study in Appetite found that people who chewed each bite for at least 30 seconds consumed fewer calories two hours later than those who’d eaten quickly. You can trick your brain into thinking you have more on your plate by cutting your food into small pieces, according to a study at Arizona State University.