Top 3 terrible eating habits

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (, which is reprinted here. This week, Rachel Ernzen weighs in on bad habits.

Information about the relationship between food and health abounds in newspapers, magazines, books, TV and Internet. Foods have become more readily available and portion sizes have grown, but we lead more sedentary daily lives. Many Americans are unaware of the calorie content of foods and beverages, as well as how many calories they need each day.

The following habits are conversation starters, using the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to help dispel myths:

Skipping meals

When meals are skipped, blood sugar can be affected. Waiting more than four to five hours between meals can lead to low blood sugar, feelings of fatigue or food cravings, which may lead to overeating.

Whether you eat three meals daily, five to six small meals throughout the day or something in between, keeping in touch with your hunger can help prevent eating excess calories. Try the food plan calculator at to determine your estimated calorie needs.

These low-calorie (under 200 calories), nutrient-packed yet simple snacks can help curb hunger or provide a bridge to the next meal when you're on the go:

•1 cup tomato soup with five whole-grain crackers.

• Grab-and-go salad: 2 cups mixed greens, 1/2 cup mandarin oranges, 1 tablespoon sliced almonds and 2 tablespoons reduced-fat dressing.

•6 ounces fat-free yogurt with 1/2 cup berries.

•1 sliced banana with 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter.

•1 packet of plain oatmeal made with skim milk.

Distracted eating

It is easy to overeat when your attention is focused on something else. Remember that beverages count, with most liquids other than water providing calories. Before you eat, check in with your hunger. Aim to eat when you are truly hungry but not so ravenous that you eat without control.

Consider the following to avoid distracted eating and overeating:

•Take at least 20 minutes to eat.

•Limit TV time, and don't eat while watching TV.

•Cut calories by drinking water or unsweetened beverages.

•Exchange large bags of snack foods for their single-serving counterparts, or pre-portion snack foods and put the remainder out of sight.

Portion distortion

When eating at restaurants, it's easy to see that portion sizes have gotten larger in the last few years. Research shows that people unintentionally consume more calories when faced with larger portions, leading to eating more calories than your body needs. Over time, excess calories can lead to weight gain.

Here are some tips to help you control of the amount of food that ends up on your plate:

•When dining out, split an entree with a friend or ask for a take-home box and wrap up half of your meal as soon as it's brought to the table.

•Do your homework: Most restaurants provide nutritional information on the Internet, so be proactive and review this information to help you choose wisely.

•When dining at home, try serving food on individual plates instead of keeping serving dishes on the table.

♥Store tempting foods like cookies, chips or ice cream out of immediate sight (on a high shelf or at the back of the freezer). Better yet, replace these foods with more healthful items like fresh fruit, low-fat Greek-style yogurt cups or high-fiber snack bars.

To learn more about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, or how to improve your daily physical activity, go to

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