Trying to lose weight? Having trouble? Women often find it harder than men to shed excess pounds. In part that's because women's bodies have a tendency to "hold on" to a certain amount of fat. But in some cases the problem can be traced directly to certain habits and lifestyle traps - including many that can easily be remedied. Here are 10 weight-loss traps to watch out for:
Trap: Uncontrolled Eating
If you have a healthy appetite, it's no fun to pay attention to your portion sizes. But experts say it's an essential part of an effective weight-loss regimen.
"When you're stressed out or tired, it's very easy to forget when your hand goes into the cookie jar," says Marisa Sherry, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City. "Are you being honest with yourself about taking just one handful here and there? When you have a cup, are you really having one cup? Most drinking glasses hold about three cups. By the end of the day, it all adds up."
To keep a lid on how much you eat, plan each day's food consumption. Know when you'll eat, and how much. And snack not on cookies and other sweets, but on healthy, filling natural foods. Nuts and raisins are a great option - in part because nuts help keep you feeling full for a long time.
Trap: Your Medicine Is to Blame
It's true - pills can make you fat. All sorts of prescription medicines can cause weight gain, including steroids, which are commonly used to treat asthma and other inflammatory conditions, and certain antidepressants.
What to do? If you think a drug might be contributing to your weight problem, ask your doctor. If he/she can't suggest an alternative drug, you might simply have to be extra-vigilant about what you eat and how much exercise you get.
Trap: Having a Heavy Mom
Did your mother gain a lot of weight when she was carrying you? If so, that might explain your own struggle with weight. Studies show that women who are overweight or obese during pregnancy are more likely to have overweight babies - and the problem often persists into adulthood. But try not to blame mom.
Trap: Failing to Exercise
It's no secret that exercise can help with weight loss. But plenty of women aren't getting enough exercise to lose stubborn weight. Most experts, including scientists at the American College of Sports Medicine, recommend 60 minutes of exercise each day.
And don't just stick with walking, running, and other aerobic exercises. Strength training boosts body metabolism a lot longer than does aerobic exercise.
What's more, strength training builds muscle tissue, which burns calories more efficiently than fat tissue.
Can't spare an hour a day? Aim for 20 to 30 minutes, says Marisa Sherry, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City. "Any exercise is better than none at all," she says.
Trap: Skipping Breakfast
Your metabolism is like a car. If you don't put gas in the tank, it won't run. And skipping breakfast helps ensure that your fat-burning metabolism never gets out of the driveway.
Marisa Sherry, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City, recommends eating breakfast one hour after waking up.
What's on the menu she recommends to her clients? Oatmeal with berries and crushed walnuts is a great choice.
Trap: Drinking Alcohol
For most women, there's nothing wrong with an occasional drink. But if you're having trouble losing weight, consider the possibility that habitual alcohol consumption - even at a moderate level - can cause a daily calorie "overdose."
A single five-ounce glass of wine, for instance, might contain 120 calories. A cocktail? More like 300 to 400 calories.
To lose weight, you might have to lose the habit.
Trap: Not Getting Enough Sleep
It's hard to eat while you're sleeping, right? And recent studies suggest that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol, a so-called stress hormone that seems to stimulate the appetite.
So if you're battling stubborn weight, be sure you're getting enough shut-eye. Seven hours a night seems to be the magic number.
Trap: Thyroid Trouble
Some women have trouble losing weight because of a hormonal problem. The thyroid gland, located in the neck, pumps out hormones that control body metabolism. If the gland's output isn't high enough, a condition known as hypothyroidism, the pounds can pile on - and stay on. If you think thyroid trouble might underlie your weight-loss difficulties, a doctor can test your hormone levels via a simple blood test. If you have a deficiency, effective treatment is available.
Oprah Winfery is just one of many celebrities to suffer from hypothyroidism. She wrote that the condition "slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time. (Most people gain weight. I did! Twenty pounds!)"
Trap: Being Stressed Out
It's hard to lose weight if you're always stressed out. That's because stress triggers the body to release cortisol, an appetite-stimulating stress hormone. Even if you're not feeling especially hungry, stress can cause mindless snacking.
Instead of eating, what can you do when you feel stressed? Go for a walk or take a series of deep, relaxing breaths.
Trap: Not Eating Enough
Some women have trouble losing weight not because they eat too much but because they eat too little.
Sounds unlikely, but Marisa Sherry, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City, says consuming less than 1,200 calories a day puts a woman's body into "starvation mode." The metabolism slows, meaning it takes longer to burn each calorie.
Bumping the daily calorie count up a bit can speed weight loss.