Madelyn Fernstrom

Common diet busters -- and how to avoid them

May 15, 2012 at 3:00 AM ET

Have your healthiest summer yet! Ease into the dreaded "swimsuit season" with healthy tips from TODAY experts. All throughout May, we'll offer smart do-it-yourself ways to look, eat and feel better. So stop stressing about that swimsuit, and read on.

Who isn’t always looking for ways to boost the results of a summer weight-loss plan? Your best efforts can be undermined by “diet mistakes” that often sound like good advice, but can sabotage the efforts of even the most well-intentioned dieters, new evidence shows.

Eating too often. While skipping meals will sabotage a diet effort, eating three times a day is sufficient for healthy people. No need to “fuel” constantly, as eating more often frequently leads to eating more calories. And grazing often prevents the biological development of strong hunger and fullness signals, which help keep your food intake under control.

Skimping on protein. A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables is a major plus for weight-loss success. But don’t swap out protein. Protein enhances your sense of fullness and is also essential to fuel muscles - a plus when bumping up your exercise effort. Stick with animal proteins like lean cuts of beef, skinless poultry, fish, whole eggs or egg whites, and low or non-fat dairy. Vegetable proteins like soy (as tofu or burger/chicken substitutes) and beans are other sources.

Confusing healthy and low-calorie. It’s hard enough to swap out artery-clogging fats for heart-healthy ones, but the calories are the same for butter and olive oil. Avocados and nuts are tasty and satisfying because they contain a lot of heart-healthy fat -- but the calories add up quickly. For best control, choose single serving packs of nuts (100-150 calories), or the new 100-calorie guacamole packets. Measure out the portions and avoid “eyeballing” serving sizes of your high-fat favorites.

Overestimating calorie output from exercise. Exercise is a major boost for mind and body, but when it comes to weight loss, don’t be fooled. Just like we don’t accurately estimate food intake, we’re all just as unreliable in our estimates of calorie use. It’s not just duration, but intensity of your exercise matters. Covering one mile burns about 100 calories, roughly 15-20 minutes if you walk, and 10 minutes running. Sweating is also not an indication of calorie burn. Get an electronic monitor or go online for more precise estimates. Be wary of exercise equipment calculators; they are just a ballpark number as well. To boost weight loss, view your activity calories as “saved” -- not a reason to overindulge with food later.

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