10 Diet Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

From navigating traffic jams to managing stressful situations, find the best way to maintain your diet

1. Birthdays

Photo Marmee Birthday Cake Modified: Flickr/Kimberly Vardeman/CC 4.0

It's your party and you can eat if you want to, but if it's someone else's party and you're on a diet, overindulging may be a diet destroyer. You're biggest enemy: the cake. One mistake many make is asking for a sliver of a slice. If your willpower is weak (as many new dieters' resolve often is) a small slice may justify a second helping or the sliver syndrome — sampling various small pieces of different desserts. You are not effectively portioning. For the next birthday bash you host or attend, try making petite desserts for individual consumption, such as smaller cakes. Make a healthier cake by using neat tricks like swapping out sugar for apple sauce. Even choosing healthier cakes, like angel food cake, might be a better option for you to indulge in.

2. Holidays and Family Visits


With grandma spooning more food onto your plate and mom taking offense to your refusal of just one more piece of her famous pumpkin pie, it's a wonder that your family doesn't roll you out the door after the holidays. Celebratory holiday eating is consistently warranted in our own celestial heads, and the peer pressure and guilt-laden comments of diet-cheating approval don't help either. In fact, your loved ones — possibly due to their own guilt over their own eating habits or general lack of understanding of weight issues — may be a huge factor in how much you overeat during the holidays. Learn how to say no and stick to your commitment in the face of holiday pressure. Even allowing yourself small bites and leaving the rest is a way to sate your family's (and your own) temptation.

3. Weekends


We all don't just work for the weekend — some of us diet for it, too! We spend our week toiling away at work around a set schedule of meal times, so when the freedom of the weekend rolls around, our eating schedule goes out the window. In fact, a piece in the journal Obesity revealed that statistically, Saturdays are the enemy of dieters. How many of you have rolled out of bed at noon and justified a huge lunch to make up for missed breakfast, or ate more frequently because you were free to shuffle about throughout the house? Weekend overeating can be avoided by sticking to your daily calorie allowance. Or, you could try to set a weekly calorie allowance and cut back during the week to bank for the weekend, so you aren't overindulging.

4. Parties


Bite-sized hors d'oeuvres. Plates of cheese and crackers. Unique mini quiches. Parties are filled with tons of easily accessible, delicious finger food, and the tendency to eat it all is common. You chat, you drink, you eat... you rinse and repeat. Before you know it, you've consumed far more calories than you would have in a regular day, and busted your diet to boot. If you want to avoid overeating at a party, try to load up your plate once and for the rest of the evening pretend the opposite side of the room is magnetically keeping you there. Also, estimating the calories of each appetizer and portioning your meal accordingly will help your conscientious eating habits.

Click here to see Healthy Baking Shortcuts.

5. Alcohol


After several drinks and a few blurry shots, a bucket of cheese fries sounds like heaven. Plus, greasy hangover food feels so good the morning after. Though eating after a night of drinking is important, your best weapon against drunken overeating is knowing what hangover foods are actually healthy for you. Ditch the fast-food chain's egg and cheese sandwich for homemade scrambled eggs, which contain cysteine to break down hangover toxins, or have a banana that is filled with potassium to help your injured liver. Also, filling up on whole grains before you knock back a few will not only help you avoid ordering extra at the bar, it will help to ease your possible hangover.

Click here to see Chefs' Favorite Hangover Cures.

6. Stress


Whether you are worrying about a big meeting or meeting the in-laws, the good or bad stress you often experience can lead to dangerous overeating. Food can be comforting and snacking at emotional times can serve as a great distraction. But instead of heading for the snack cabinet, take a quick walk around the block. A walk will not only add exercise to your daily regimen, but it will trigger those feel-good endorphins that will help you combat the feelings of stress.

7. Boredom


Eating is truly a social experience — food encompasses almost every activity we do with those we love at some point. So when you are alone with a day of nothing ahead of you, it is easy to fall into the pattern of overeating. The trick is to occupy your hands with things that are not food. Manicures, crossword puzzles, and even engaging online games are a great way to shift your focus. But if you're desperately in need of an oral fixation, instead of reaching for chips, try chewing gum or enjoying a 3 p.m. cup of tea. If you must snack, reach for nibbles of carrots and pop-able veggies instead of that pop-able bag of hard pretzels.

8. Movies


There is something about the magic of the movies that entrances us into rationalizing a giant bag of popcorn and a soda the size of our own heads. If the price of movie theater food isn't enough to deter you, you could find yourself buying boxes of candy and unnecessary snacks when you aren't even hungry — simply because popcorn and movies go together like peanut butter and jelly. However, in one large serving of movie theater popcorn looms 1,200 calories, so not only are you unnecessarily eating, you’re consuming more than half a day’s worth of your recommended caloric intake! Try eating dinner right before the movie, or sneaking in a snack bag of healthier options. If you can't kick the craving, buy a small bag and divide amongst friends to limit your intake.

9. TV


Losing yourself in a season finale can leave you gaping at the screen, while mindlessly shoving in food you're not even hungry for. When sitting down in front of the tube, your mind is essentially disconnected from your body. Visually and mentally, you are focusing on the moving pictures, so you are not conscientiously paying attention to your body's actual needs. So, without thinking, you are consuming calories you don't need or even want. Instead of just sitting while watching TV, do small at-home exercises or keep your hands occupied with an art project. This way, you are stimulating your mind and it won't feel the need to fill the gap with food.

10. Driving


Ever have an Office Space moment on the way to work? Not only is it enraging to be stuck in traffic, it's boring, too. Often, we reach for the snack we packed for work to distract us from the urge to ram our cars into the bumpers of thoughtless drivers. Not only does this have you consuming unnecessary calories, but if the snack isn't filling, it opens the door to eat even more detrimental food. While keeping your hands busy behind the wheel is out of the question, your mind can still be safely stimulated. Download audio books for your trips or make a playlist of your favorite songs — either is better than scrounging for chips while cursing your fellow commuters.