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Eating Habits To Avoid if You Want a Lean Body, Say Dietitians

These eating habits can cause you to pack on the pounds before you know it, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Whether you've got a serious sweet tooth that's hard to ignore or find yourself rarely passing up a handful of chips, practically everyone has a few less-than-ideal eating habits. While eating habits like these are easily connected to weight gain, there are numerous seemingly innocuous eating habits you may engage in every day that could be leading you to pack on the pounds—and you may not even realize the harm they're doing to your weight and health.

Before you find yourself struggling with the weight you can't seem to lose, read on to discover the eating habits you should avoid if you want to stay lean, according to dietitians. And if you want to shed some extra pounds, check out these 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.

Eating all your protein at dinner

eating steak

If you're waiting until nighttime to enjoy your only protein-rich meal of the day, you could be doing yourself a major disservice.

"Evenly distribute your protein intake across three to four meals to sustain muscle health and keep lean. Most Americans don't get enough protein throughout the day and then over-consume protein at dinner," says Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, sports dietitian, and a consultant for Egglife Foods, who recommends consuming 25 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner instead. If you want to make better choices when it's time to pick your proteins, make sure to avoid the Unhealthiest Proteins for Weight Loss, According to Experts.

Not controlling your portion sizes

snacking with friends

Eyeballing those meals and snacks to determine the right portion size may mean you're eating significantly more than you intended.

"I often tell my patients that if they choose a kids' or small size the next time they get ice cream, I bet they will not feel deprived or wish they had ordered the larger size," says Elle Wittneben, RD, CSOWM, LDN, manager of nutrition services at Greater Boston Urology. "Having a little extra every once in a while is not likely to cause weight gain, but if you are consistently consuming more food, those calories will add up over time," Wittneben adds.

Eating right before bed

A woman in her 40s wearing headphones and eating popcorn while watching a movie on a streaming service on a laptop at night.

If you want to keep your body lean in the future, give yourself some time between your last meal and hitting the hay.

"Even veggies for example, though incredibly helpful, cause the body to work hard! If we are not allowing ample time for the body to digest then rest, we are not allowing our cells, hormones, and metabolism to adequately repair and restore themselves. The end result? An uphill battle to lose weight," says Kylene Bogden, MS, RDN, CSSD, CLT, IFNCP, of FWDFuel, who recommends leaving a two-to-three-hour gap between your last meal and bedtime.

For more incentive to ditch those midnight snacks, check out these Secret Side Effects of Eating Before Bed, Says Science.

Drinking pre-made smoothies

woman drinking out of white cup with straw
Shutterstock / Ollyy

While homemade smoothies can be a healthy part of your diet and may even help you lose weight, drinking the bottled ones you find in your local grocery store could be having the opposite effect.

"Typically, these ready-to-drink smoothies lack protein and fiber and just have you drinking lots of fruit and some veggies. Dietary fiber and protein should be included at every meal to help maintain your weight as both keep you full for longer and more satiated," explains Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For some tasty drinks that won't sabotage your weight loss, check out The 25 Best-Ever Weight Loss Smoothies.

Eating small meals throughout the day

eating salad

Though eating multiple small meals throughout the day has long been touted as a recipe for weight loss, sticking to this habit may mean you're accidentally eating more than you intended.

"A lot of diets or fad trends are telling people to eat six small meals a day, but what if you're not even hungry to eat that often? It's always best to listen to your body's internal cues, eat when you're hungry, and stop when you feel full," explains Ehsani.

Waiting until you're ravenous to eat

happy woman eating pasta for dinner

Listening to your body's hunger cues is essential, but waiting until you're famished to eat could be sabotaging your weight loss or maintenance efforts.

"When people wait until they feel ravenous to eat, this sets them up for eating quickly, overeating, and ending up feeling uncomfortably full. Waiting to eat until feeling ravenous can trigger binge eating or loss-of-control eating," says Sarah Williams, MS, RD, owner, and founder of Sweet Balance Nutrition.

Eating too quickly

eating quickly

Everyone finds themselves in a hurry to eat occasionally but eating too quickly on a regular basis could make it harder to stay lean in the long run.

"Fast eating often results in eating more than we need to feel comfortably full and satisfied. Stomach receptors need about 20 minutes to communicate fullness; eating quickly and not giving your body time to communicate fullness can lead to overeating and weight gain," says Williams.

Eating while distracted

woman eating pizza and watching tv late at night on sofa

Turning off the TV while you're eating could make it easier to maintain your weight in the long term.

"When you aren't paying attention to what you are eating, or how much, you can miss the cues that you are full and overeat. Even if you don't think you have time, take 10 to 15 minutes to stop and pay attention to what you are eating," says Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN, a Pittsburgh-based culinary nutritionist. "Your mind can use the break and your body will thank you."

Eating processed foods

person in blue button down eating from bag of chips

While they may be convenient, eating processed foods can quickly sabotage your weight loss efforts.

"Processed foods, such as chips, cereals, and fast food, often contain lots of added sugars and unhealthy fats to enhance their taste. This packs in a lot of calories, resulting in weight gain," says Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, LD, nutrition advisor for Exercise With Style.

If you're looking to slim down for good, try our 200 Best Weight Loss Tips, and for the latest healthy eating news delivered to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter!

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more about Sarah
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