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5 bad habits that are causing you to gain weight

Inactivity and poor food choices aren’t the only things that can cause your weight to creep up. Here are five bad health habits and how to overcome them

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1. Eating your meals too quickly

A 2011 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that people who race through their meals are more likely to become obese than diners who eat slowly. Your body is equipped with a natural ‘stop eating’ cue, but it takes about 20 minutes for that message to travel from your stomach to your brain. If you dine too quickly, you can overeat before those messages are received.

The challenge: Slow down! “If it doesn’t take you 20 minutes to eat a meal, you’re eating too quickly,” says Desiree Nielsen, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and the author of ‘Unjunk Your Diet.Try being mindful of your meal. Notice the aroma, and colours of your food before you dig in. Instead of counting chews, Nielsen recommends chewing until the food feels fully broken down. “You shouldn’t have any large pieces being swallowed,” she says. By eating more slowly and mindfully, you’re less likely to overeat, or miss your body’s ‘I’m full’ signal.

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2. You’re impulsive

Study data examined by the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore found that impulsive people typically weighed 22 pounds more than non-impulsive individuals These findings suggest that impulsive people are more likely to succumb to food cravings, forgo planning meals in advance, and spontaneously drop into fast-food restaurants than non-impulsive people.

The challenge: Curb some of your impulsive eating behaviours with a little pre-planning. “Set yourself small, achievable goals that don’t feel like a total life overhaul, and work them into your lifestyle,” says Nielsen. Bring healthy snacks to work to avoid impromptu vending machine visits. If lunch is usually takeout, plan to cook extra food two nights a week so you can bring leftovers for lunch.

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3. Your home has the heat cranked up

A study by the University of Turin in Italy found that people who kept their homes excessively toasty were more likely to become obese than people who kept their thermostats at a cooler 20 degrees Celsius. “When your body is cold it has to expend energy to heat up,” says Nielsen.

The challenge: Turn your thermostat down to the 20 degrees Celsius mark, and wear a sweater if you feel chilly. “A slightly cooler environment will encourage your body to burn more energy to keep your metabolic rate and basic body temperature at a healthy range,” says Nielsen.

Not only will you help your body burn calories, but you’ll also save on your heating bill. Walking or stretching breaks can warm up chilled muscles, and add to that calorie burn, too.

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4. You’re a people pleaser

Do you put the desires of friends and family before your own? While this empathetic trait can be endearing, it could also push you to consume extra calories. A study by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that people pleasers might overeat in social situations. “People pleasers are more likely to acquiesce to social demands and not pay attention to their own internal cues because they’re worried about disappointing others,” says Dr. Joti Samra, a clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. “We mirror the behaviour of people around us because that gets us accepted and liked.”

The challenge: Dr. Samra says the first step is to recognize that you’re vulnerable to peer pressure in social situations. Next, preplan your day’s eating decisions to help you be assertive when food is offered. It’s also important to realize your personal eating choices rarely impact other people, but if you still find it difficult to refuse, be respectful and honest. “Say that you appreciate this lovely dish, but you’re being mindful of what you’re eating, so you’ll have just a taste,” says Dr. Samra.

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5. You skimp on sleep

Sleep helps you avoid extra pounds. Researchers at the University of Turin calculated that for every hour a person sleeps, their chances of becoming obese dropped by 30 percent. “A lack of sleep leads to weight gain over time,” says Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, and scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Sleep is a huge factor in maintaining a healthy weight because people with a sleep deficit eat more (a lack of sleep interferes with leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite), and move less. “Lack of sleep increases fatigue so people are less likely to exercise,” he says.

The challenge: Increase your sleep quantity and quality. “Sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night,” says Dr. Chaput. To improve sleep quality, keep your bedroom cool, dark and free from TV viewing, smartphone and tablet use. Don’t smoke or consume large meals prior to bedtime, and move frequently during the day. “Active people sleep sleep better, so get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day,” says Dr. Chaput.