There are two sides to every story, even when it comes to the flabby and flubby versus the shredded and lean. At Eat This, Not That!, we research and report on nutrition and weight loss trends all day, every day—and we'll be the first to explain that there are some legit reasons why someone struggles with losing weight or not. But for every excuse or scary restaurant fact we come across, we also seem to discover another awesome nugget of info that shows serious health-boosting, fat-burning potential.
The first 20 items you'll see below are the things that make weight loss harder than ever; the last 20 are the things that make it easier than ever. As you go through the list, think about if and how these modern day situations apply to you—and what you can do to either minimize or optimize their impact. And then keep your positivity going with these 40 Tips for Motivation That Actually Work!
Reasons It's Harder Than Ever to Lose Weight
Up your weight loss game by tuning into these sneaky saboteurs that could be major landmines in your pursuit of a healthy, happy life.
Seamless is So… Seamless
Ding dong, your calorie overload has arrived! More than ever, we rely on handy apps and websites that let us order our dinners in a snap. Seamless and Grubhub (the same company, as of February 2015) send along more than a billion dollars in sales to restaurants every year, and other services like PostMates and Delivery.com are also taking off. We love the convenience and time-saving technology, and we're certainly not blaming these businesses for why people may gain weight. But ordering in is similar to eating out because you often wind up eating more calories, salt, and sugar than you would if cooking at home. Ordering in also becomes more of an occasion, too, either to meet a delivery minimum or just because it's so easy. While you would normally skip an appetizer with weeknight dinners, those scallion pancakes and shrimp dumplings are just a click away. Want to cook at home more but intimidated about where to even start? Check out this list of healthy kitchen staples!
New Dietary Guidelines Conflict with Old Ones
Confused about if a no-no is now good for you? And vice versa? We don't blame you. "After years of swearing off high-cholesterol foods like egg yolks, the new dietary guidelines of 2015 lifted the limitations, stating that dietary cholesterol has far less of an impact on total cholesterol than originally believed," offers Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities. "While nutrition professionals can adapt to this change of information, the public has a harder time understanding how such a drastic change could be made." The result: Old habits die hard, and we hold on to our older beliefs, instead of adapting to new findings.
Our Social Media Addiction is Stretching Us Out
It's not just an unflattering photo making you wide. Along with some wildly unhealthy viral videos of recipes, social media is a reason it's harder than ever to lose weight because of the lifestyle involved. "We're more addicted to social media than ever, which often translates to snacking late at night while at the computer," explain The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. Research published in Obesity points out that eating at night (even if you don't eat any extra calories) changes the body's circadian rhythm and leads to weight gain. No wonder this is one of the 25 Things You're Doing to Slow Your Metabolism! The Nutrition Twins build on that by noting: "Nighttime exposure to light from computers, phones, and tablets is linked to interrupted sleep and negatively impacts your body's stress hormones, your metabolism, and how much fat you store around your midsection."
Everyone Around Us is Fat
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than two-thirds of adults are considered to be overweight or obese—and as of mid-2015, the number of obese people is actually a larger group than that of the overweight-but-not-yet-obese. Study after study explains why Americans are getting rounder: We're subconsciously influenced by social norms and by those around us. Studies have even shown that when we eat with larger people, we may consume more food than what we usually do or what we would if dining with non-overweight people.
Food Scientists Aren't Always on Our Side
Sad, but true: "More, please!" is music to the ears of many food scientists looking for feedback on their products. "The food industry brilliantly designs their products to be hyperpalatable, ensuring their customers come back for more," states Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. "With chemists in the lab concocting recipes with just the right level of sweet, saltiness, and fattiness, the human palate is easily convinced. This is why you literally 'can't eat just one.'" Avoid these 150 Worst Packaged Foods in America.
Your Clothes Are Lying to You
Your tag says size 4, but walk into any vintage clothes boutique and you won't get a size 4 over your head or butt. In the 80's, clothing manufacturers realized that appealing to someone's vanity (hence, "vanity sizing") could help them sell clothes—so they started lowering the size numbers as the average weight of American women started to balloon. And the numbers just keep on fibbing to you as your waistline keeps expanding. In 2001, a standard size 4 had a waist size of 25. Just 10 years later, that size 4 averaged between a waist size of 26 and 27.5. This is more common with mainstream brands like J. Crew than with high-end designers like Max Azria—which is partly why so many svelte celebs and thin models flock to luxury brands. It's where they can actually find a "real" size 0 or 2 that doesn't engulf them.
There Are More Fad Diets Than Ever Before
Choosing a fad diet (we suggest you don't) can be more challenging than choosing a Fitbit color—and there are a lot of colors! It can be easy to be lured into a buzzy plan—even if it's not effective or safe. "Then, when you tack on diets like gluten-free, Paleo, low-carb, low-fat, and so on, people get confused about what's best for them," the Nutrition Twins comment. "Many wind up throwing in the towel altogether and just eating whatever they feel like."
Plus-size Furniture Has Taken Over
You've probably heard about how the size of seats on public transportation and even schools are bigger than they used to be. But that trend is everywhere, from movie theaters to restaurant booths that could almost pass as twin-sized beds. "Furniture has been supersized," comments Mary Hartley, RD, a consulting nutritionist from Providence, Rhode Island. "Chairs now are practically as big as a loveseat. So, sitting down in [these McMansion-status] chairs fails to prompt the sitter to think about weight management. The small seats of an earlier era offered a constant reminder of the need to cut back. Nowadays, we're never reminded." Even funeral caskets are now extra big to accommodate the spike in obesity.
Sugar is Slipped into Everything
And boy, do we mean everything. Ketchup, salad dressings, protein bars, and numerous "healthy" snacks are loaded with the sweet stuff. When manufacturers dump it into our food supply, It's often labeled under the guise of high fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane syrup, sucrose, turbinado, malodextrin, dextrose and more. People tend to think of desserts as a sign that they're in for a dose of the addictive ingredient, but one look at these 23 Restaurant Foods With Crazy-High Amounts of Sugar will make you realize how it's hiding everywhere.
Dietary Tribalism is Like a Civil War
As if all the health information out there isn't confusing enough, proponents of different dietary theories (think Vegan vs. Paleo) often tear the other down as a means to build up their own following, suggests Kayleen St. John, RD at Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive cooking school in New York City. "This 'Dietary Tribalism' confuses consumers—even though many dietary theories actually have a great deal in common at their core. It's usually to eat more whole foods and more plants!" Consumers often feel so overwhelmed by the contrasting information available that they either give up or go on crazy dieting benders that are more about the challenge than the lifestyle change.
Farm to Table Isn't Exactly Dollar Menu-status
Well, it is if you literally have your own awesome garden. But if your green thumb isn't quite so seasoned, then farm-to-table can require deeper pockets. "While we know organic, local, and seasonal food is better for us, it's still the more expensive choice," Hayim says. "This makes it a battle between striving to do what's right versus being realistic about what we can actually afford." For some mealtime inspiration, check out these 17 cheap organic foods you must buy.
We Literally Can't Evolve as Fast as We Want to
In late 2015, Evolutionary Anthropology revealed findings that humans evolved to need less sleep (seven hours, give or take) than our closest animal relatives. But the rate at which we're actively trying to do this—one less hour every 40 years—is simply too fast. Since good sleep health is directly tied to overall health and waistlines, this is a chronic problem for many people. "Our busier schedules mean that we may be getting up very early in the morning or burning the midnight oil—sometimes both," comments St. John.
Labels Still Don't Declare Added Sugars
Added sugars hurt our bodies. Meanwhile, the naturally-occuring sugars in certain foods (like fruit) are okay. "The problem is that food labels [in general] don't tell you how much sugar is added versus natural," offers Hayim. "There's a proposal that the new nutrition label—the one we have now was created 20 years ago—will better reflect this kind of information." Until the government can get that launched, check out these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
We're Ingesting Chemicals and Hormones
"There are many theories now about how the onslaught of chemicals and hormones found in foods—at levels never before seen—contribute to excess weight and obesity over time," shares Hever. "This may be a hidden reason many people hold onto weight and have a tough time losing it." When in doubt, follow food writer and advocate Michael Pollan's adage: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."
Current Food Labels Are Bogus
And you thought Ashley Madison was the worst perpetrator of deception? Pffft. "A lot of the nutrition labels go unregulated by the government," Hayim states. "This means that a food product can throw shocking claims on their labels [with no consequence]. For example, the last few years have been big for the phrase 'all natural.' However, there is no government definition of the term and there's little control over how it's used." On the encouraging side: The FDA has opened its ears and is actively taking feedback until May 2016 to develop stricter guidelines.
Serving Sizes Make No Sense
If you're going to see two options of the same food, one with "100 calories" and one marked "200 calories," which one are you going to pick? "Food companies are taking advantage of your rushed lifestyle," Hayim says. " Even as a registered dietitian, I can sometimes get deceived. I was looking at something the other day, impressed by the low numbers, until I realized it had so many more servings than another item. You've got to be a detective these days!"
We're Not Breaking a Sweat
If our iPhone screen cracks, we're sweating bullets. But when it comes to losing weight, we act like we can't be bothered. "Less than half of the U.S. population meets the recommended physical activity guidelines, meaning we are not moving enough," comments Hever. "Sedentary lifestyles promote obesity and chronic disease. We drive everywhere, sit at desks all day, and most people don't make time for formal exercise." Don't be a stat: Start by reading 15 New Ways to Sweat Your Way Slim.
Protein Shakes Have Health Halos
It's hard to find a juice bar that doesn't offer 'em on their menu—and we guzzle them down like mere snacks. But sucking down a hefty protein shake full of calories when you didn't just come from an intense workout is one of the easiest, sneakiest ways pound creep onto your figure. Hungry between meals? Opt for lighter fare like a handful of carrots and some almond butter.
We Get Soundbites, Not Full Stories
"In a world where we are inundated with information, quick headlines are all many of us are reading," Hayim says. "We're not taking in the full story, and therefore not truly understanding the science behind our dietary choices." Remember: Some studies are conducted on a super small sample size, some on animals and not humans, and some might work for one type of person but not for everyone. But anyone posting 'em to the web is probably going to give it the most shocking, hyper-specific but misleading, click-baity headlines they can. It's all part of the crazy interwebs, but don't believe everything you haven't actually read.
Cooking Shows on TV Are Too Indulgent
"Television recipes often contain more calories, protein, and fat than the experts recommend," says Hartley. "According to a study from Cornell, watching cooking shows and then cooking from scratch is associated with a higher body-mass index (BMI). However, cooking show viewers who watch but don't cook do not have higher BMIs." Bottom line: You can watch, but don't cook the food porn.
Reasons It's Easier Than Ever to Lose Weight
Now for the good news! Let's make this second part a positive boost, shall we? Even though we just gave you a bunch of reasons it can be tough to drop weight, it's also more of a cinch in 2016 to drop the weight than it was several years ago.
We Now Have Healthy Meal Kit Services
Whether you feel like cooking plant-based meals from scratch with Mark Bittman's Purple Carrot or heating up a health conscious meal with Veestro, there's no shortage of tantalizing options that make nutritious (and tasty!) meals a snap. There's a best meal delivery option for every type of eater, with Blue Apron and Plated helping pave the way.
Bike Sharing Programs Are Sweeping the Country
"Bike riding is a significant calorie-burner, and when combined with walking and public transportation, who needs a car?" asks Hartley. "Bike sharing programs allow riders to pick up a bicycle at a self-serve bike station and return it to any other bike station located within the system's service area for a point-to-point trip. To date, more than 50 U.S. cities and college towns offering bike-share programs." So grab your helmet and get pedaling!
You Can Lose Weight in Style
Resort-style, that is. From hiking at luxe boot camps to indulging in massages and spa treatments, fat camps have gotten a serious makeover. Whether you want to melt away the calories practicing yoga on an island retreat or just spend a few days working one-on-one with a coach on an anti-stress, weight management routine, choices abound in this rapidly growing class of travel. Just be sure to bring all those good health habits home.
Chain Restaurants Have to Tell You the Scoop
"New government regulations mandate that food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations must provide calorie and nutrition information for standard menu items," shares Hayim. "Knowing what [your food is] made up of in terms of calories, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and sugars may actually alter your decision to get that double mocha Frappuccino with whip."
"Fat Tax" is Gaining Traction
It may not be mainstream yet (and it's still pretty controversial), but even just the fact the government is discussing implementing taxes on candy, junk food, and soda helps to raise awareness and build consciousness in the collective public about what we're chomping on and guzzling down. In 2014, Berkeley, California even successfully passed a soda tax, becoming the first of its kind in the United States. For every popular diet and regular soda—ranked!—check out these 70 Worst Drinks That Give You a "Soda Belly"!
Being Plant-based is Trendy
"There are more plant-based options than ever, and it's now considered 'trendy' for food delivery services and restaurants to feature vegetarian, vegan, and otherwise veggie-filled items on their menus," comments St. John. "What does this means for dieters? They can feel good about not only receiving loads of nutrients from meals, but also naturally-occurring fiber and water in these foods, which is a winning combination to help people feel satiated with fewer calories." Not a veggie-vore? No problem. Learn these plant-based weight loss secrets omnivores need to know.
There Are More Farmers' Markets Than Ever Before
Farmers' markets are becoming more prevalent and accessible around the United States. "In fact, according to the USDA, there has been a 76 percent increase since 2008," says Hever. Grab your (reusable) bag and check one out this weekend.
Salad Places Are in Vogue
Grabbing lunch mid-day used to be a 'whatever you can get your hands on' type of thing. Now, cool places like Sweetgreen and Dig Inn are popping up, which serve local and seasonal vegetables. "The vibe is cool, the people are edgy, and the salads are delicious," says Hayim. "Essentially, being part of the 'Sweet Green' tribe means you're 'the the know.' And, if you're in enough, you may even be able to join one of their yearly music festivals 'The Sweet Life.'" And while we're at it, this year will totally be the year we stop scarfing down lunch at our desk. Right? Right!
Healthy Fats Are Hip
Healthy fats are getting some overdue love, finally! "In the past, people slashed fat from all sources, and never felt satisfied since fat contributes to mouth satisfaction and feelings of fullness," offer The Nutrition Twins. "Now that plant-based fats from foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds are encouraged, people feel satisfied and they no longer feel deprived—so it makes weight loss much easier!" Start with these 8 best fats for weight loss!
They Might as Well Call it Fit-stagram
Sure, the popular photo sharing app can compel you to eat your way to muffin top oblivion—but only if you're not following accounts strategically. Instead of scrolling through a stream of bacon bloody mary's and over-the-top calorie-bombed cakes, use it to your advantage. Google "best healthy bloggers" or "yoga instagram accounts" and get followin'. The 30 Best Avocado Recipes Ever on Instagram can also give you some good inspiration!
There Are Tons of Free Apps and Online Programs to Choose from
MyFitnessPal is one of the biggest and most successful free services out there—because it's kind of amazing. They're helping to lead the charge, with many others innovating as well. "There are so many free online programs where you can easily track what you eat—and your exercise!— and see how many calories you eat versus how many you should be eating for weight loss," say The Nutrition Twins. "They even track recipes and help to track when you dine out at restaurants." So, while in the past you had to guess whether you may have exceeded the amount of food you needed daily to lose weight, now it's easier than ever to know when you've reached your limit.
There's a 5K for That
Or a color fun run. Or a 10K walk. Or a cycle for survival. It used to be that unless you were a marathoner, you probably weren't competing in many racing events. Nowadays, from yoga to swimming, there are countless opportunities to get involved in communal (and friendly!) sporting activities. Bonus: These events benefit a great cause. Visit active.com to find one near you! For more ideas to shed a few layers of fat, check out these 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.
The Hospitality Industry is Catching on
Remember when vacation pretty much meant an excuse to skip the gym for a week? No more. All sorts of hotels are catering more and more to travellers who don't want their gym experience to feel like being locked in their in-laws' basement "treadmill room." From chains like the W Hotel offering beachside yoga to budget-friendly hotels getting gym makeovers, it's almost easier to workout on vacay than it is during the regular grind.
Birthday Parties Don't Always Mean Pizza and Cake
Get sweaty has never been more fun! More people are using birthday parties, bachelorette celebrations, and other social opportunities as an excuse to pump up their endorphins and torch some calories. So why not make your next b-day a group class at your favorite cycling studio or a zumba class? Getting married? Some couples are even choosing to host a group run the night before the big day to blow off some steam and get better acquainted with everyone. Give it a shot—and find out more feel-great ideas with these 30 Ways to Be Happier This Year!
Added Sugar Has Finally Gotten the Bench
Or at least put in its place. "For the first time, the government has put a suggested limit on sugar," says Hayim. "The 2015 nutrition labeling guidelines state that added sugars should be less than 10 percent of your calories per day. For example, if you're eating 2,000 calories a day, that's about 50 grams allotted for added sugar, which can be found in just one Snapple Iced Tea!" We practically did cartwheels down the Eat This, Not That! office halls when this new guideline was announced! It's still a lot of sugar but at least it's a start. Find out 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar today!
There's Tinder for Gym Rats
The new app Sweatt makes it easy and fun to connect with others in your local fitness community and to find those with similar fitness interests as your own. (You simply list your two favorite workouts on your profile.) Geared towards folks with a "fit lifestyle and mindset," you may just find your Crossfit-loving, clean-eating soulmate quicker than you could have dreamed!
Waiters Aren't Rude when You Ask for a Menu Swap
Remember the next-level rude attitude you'd get when you asked if those string beans were sautéed in butter or olive oil? "In previous years, going out to eat was a nightmare for anyone trying to keep their diet clean. After years of arguing with waiters and chefs, most have caved," comments Hayim. "Now, you can say things like, 'No butter' or 'Hold the cheese' and they are more likely to respect your dietary requests." For healthy eating when you're at home, though, check out these 40 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim.
There's More GMO Awareness
This has been a serious win for People vs. Big Food. "People are catching on and the major brands are listening to the feedback," comments Hayim. "Big brands, like Cheerios, are taking the steps to eliminate GMOs in their food, and chain restaurant Panera Bread is removing all its artificial ingredients from everything by the end of this year." We can't wait for everyone else to follow!
You've Got a Support Group at Your Fingertips
As derailing as social media can be, you can also find 24-hour support when you're trying to lose weight and make healthier choices. "Features [on various platforms] such as groups, meetups, and chats enable mutual encouragement, recipe sharing, and the exchange of advice," notes Hever. Skip the guilt trip of inhaling half a sleeve of cookies and turn to your cheering squad, instead! Better yet, share your tips like these 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism!
You Don't Even Need a Gym to Work Out
Got this thing called a smartphone? Then you're good to go. "If your reason for not working out is because it's expensive or a hassle to get to, you're going to have to look for a new excuse," Hayim states. "Home workouts are available from tons of sites and apps." Can't make it to your favorite yoga class? No problem, subscribe to sites like My Yoga Works and work out whenever you want.