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Have you set a goal to lose weight but find you are struggling to shift the kilos?  Does it seem that no matter what you do your weight remains unchanged?  If this situation describes you, perhaps you are falling victim to the diet saboteurs.   
Diet saboteurs are the sneaky ways that excess calories creep into your diet.  Even the most well informed and well-meaning dieters can fall victim to the diet saboteurs.  There are many ways that extra calories can enter your diet and being aware of the ways can help you continue towards your weight loss goals.

Who or what are the diet saboteurs?

Diet saboteurs may be situations, things, or sometimes people that encourage over eating or eating the wrong types of foods.  Examples of diet saboteurs include:
  • Large, extra large or super size serves
  • Economy sized packages
  • Buying in bulk
  • Large plates, large bowls and large utensils
  • Buffets
  • Food in plain sight
  • Friends, family or partners who encourage you to eat

As you can see, diet saboteurs come in a variety of forms.  But how do these saboteurs negatively influence your weight loss?

How do diet saboteurs sabotage your diet? 

In order to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you burn in a day. While that may sound easy in theory, it means that you need to eat less of most foods and certainly less junk foods.  But the diet saboteurs have a way of encouraging you to eat more, not less.

Beware of the supersize

Serving sizes at restaurants, take-away shops and in fast food outlets have increased over the past forty years, with some fast food restaurants now offering serving sizes up to five times larger than what was first available (Clemons, R, 2012).  Sizes today range from small to super-size, with larger servings offering deeper discounts in price. While larger servings may be easy on your pocketbook they are not so good for your waistline.  The extra calories provided in larger servings make it very easy to over indulge.  
Studies show that you consume more food when provided with a larger serving size.  A double portion of food leads to consuming nearly 35% more calories (Zlatevska, N. et al 2014).  The reason you eat more when given more?  Rather than using internal cues such as your level of hunger or fullness to determine when you have eaten enough, many use visual cues, like the quantity of food remaining, to signal when to stop eating.  The larger the serving, the more food on the plate and the more food that you are likely to consume.
What can you do?  Choose the smallest size available.  Remember, your eyes are bigger than your stomach.  Even if the small size appears too small to match your appetite, you can always purchase more food later if you are not satisfied.  

Why packaging matters

Are you buying the extra large box of cereal or the economy bag of crisps because it appears to be better value?  While often times the larger packages are better value, they encourage over consumption.  
Package size determines your ‘consumption norm’ or the quantity of food that you consider to be an appropriate serving size (Wansink, B, 2007).  For example, people eat 20-25% more from a larger bag of crisps than from a small bag.  People pour more cereal from a larger box than from a smaller box.  The larger the packaging, the greater the consumption norm and the more food you consider a reasonable serving size.
What can you do?  Purchase food in smaller packaging sizes when possible.  If this is not economical for you, purchase food in large sizes or in bulk but separate smaller serves into containers or plastic baggies.  This will help prevent you from dishing up an extra-large serve from your next value package. 

Why plate size matters

Your choice in dinner plates could be sabotaging your diet.  Dinner plate sizes have increased 36% since 1960 which means that you can reasonably fit 36% more food onto your dinner plate (Clemons, R., 2012).  Research backs this up, showing that people serve 30-50% more food when using larger dinner plates than when using smaller plates (Wansink, B., 2007).  The plate acts as a visual cue to help you determine an appropriate serving size, so a larger plate leads to dishing up larger servings.
What can you do?  Eat your meals from a side plate or a bread and butter plate. This limits the amount of food you, or your loved ones, serve up.

Buffet effect

At a meal, would you prefer to choose from a large selection of foods or have just a few choices?  Would you prefer 32 flavours of ice cream or three?  If you enjoy having a variety of food choices at your meals, this may be secretly sabotaging your diet.  The buffet effect, as it is aptly named, demonstrates that the greater selection of foods available, the more calories you are likely to consume (Wansink, B., 2007).  
What can you do?  Avoid buffets when you can.  When dining at home, offer a few healthy options at meals rather than providing a large spread.  Be aware that more choice leads to more calories so choose your foods wisely.  Provide more choices of vegetables and salads and less choices of other foods. 

The biscuit jar

Do you find yourself craving a biscuit every time you see the biscuit jar?  The more often you see food, the more likely you are to want that food.  Studies show that food in your direct line of sight, such as biscuits in a glass biscuit jar, lead to consuming more of that food (Wansink, B., 2007).
What can you do?  Place the biscuit jar out of sight if you.  If you can’t hide the biscuit jar, instead choose an opaque biscuit jar.  Store unhealthy foods out of sight, on the highest shelf in your cupboard.  Instead, make healthy foods convenient by placing a fruit baskets on the kitchen bench and chopped up veggies on the top shelf in the fridge. 

Peer pressure

Do you have friends that seem to sabotage your best efforts to lose weight?  Do you have mates that like to catch up over beers? Does your family insist on serving you double portions of meat and potato at the Sunday roast?  These relationships, whether intentional or not, may be sabotaging your best efforts to lose weight.  
What can you do?  Try to exert control when you can.  Recommend a restaurant where you know healthy options are on the menu.  Encourage catch ups over a walk outdoors, at a sporting event, or at a local park.  At family functions, insist on smaller portions or feel confident that it is ok to leave food on your plate.  At parties, offer to bring a healthy dish. Share your weight loss goals with friends and family and ask that they help support you.  
When you can’t exert control, be mindful.  Be aware of how much food and how many alcoholic drinks you consume.  Use a plate rather than nibbling food direct from a platter.  This makes it easier to track much food you have eaten.  Fill your plate with salads or vegetables, if available.  Try to use a fresh wine glass every time you fill up so you can track your drinks.  Or alternate water with alcoholic drinks. 
Remember, it is not rude to leave unwanted food on your plate or to say no to seconds.  


Clemons, R., 2012, Increasing Portion Sizes, Choice Magazine, accessed 27 January 2015 from
Wansink, B., 2007, Mindless Eating: Why we Eat More Than we Think, Bantom Dell, New York. 
Zlatevska, N., Dubelaar, C., Holden, S., 2014, Sizing Up the Effect of Portion Size on Consumption: A Meta-Analytic Review, Journal of Marketing: 78(3) pp. 140-154.
Liz Beavis

Author Liz Beavis

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