Here's Why You're Gaining Weight On A Healthy Diet

Photo: Rob and Julia Campbell

You might assume that by eating healthy, you’ll automatically drop those extra pounds or won’t ever gain weight. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. It can be frustrating because you may feel like you’re doing everything right but not seeing the results you want and expect.

One major problem—that I see my patients struggle with all the time—is that so many healthy eating programs out there minimize the role of calories in food and fail to help you learn balance. They rarely address the healthier habits that need to accompany healthier food choices. Both aspects are important and work synergistically to not only help you lose weight and feel healthier but to also help you stick with it long-term. Below are four common ways you can gain weight while still eating healthy, plus some great tips to avoid it:

1. Too many calories.

It’s easy to overeat indulgent foods and snack foods since they have an addictive quality; they’re comforting and taste so good that it’s difficult to limit yourself. These foods are calorie-dense, so you’d have to eat a lot before actually feeling full—adding hundreds of calories to your day without realizing it.

Most healthier, lighter foods don’t have this effect and are easier to control. But if you’ve struggled with unhealthy food habits, like overeating and eating when you’re not hungry, choosing healthier foods is only half the battle. When you start eating healthier, you may still experience strong urges to eat despite your best efforts. It’s common to replace junk foods with nuts, nut butters, granola, grain crackers, and healthier dessert options (I'm looking at you, vegan ice cream). Although these foods can still be healthy, they’re calorie dense and can sabotage your weight management efforts.

There are many reasons for overeating, but a common one is stress. Stress makes you crave comfort food and feel less satisfied after indulging. Stress eating is often used to take your mind off what’s stressing you out rather than dealing with it. Instead, find nonfood ways to de-stress and focus on what you really need in these moments. It could be catching up with a friend who makes you laugh, taking a warm bath, getting outside and taking a walk, listening to music, or reading. Mindful eating goes a long way, too; portion what you eat, go slowly, and avoid multitasking while eating.

2. Fats, protein, and carb imbalance.

Photo: Caroline Attwood

Healthy eaters now fully embrace the great nutrition and satisfying nature of fatty foods once avoided in low-fat, low-calorie diets. And including nuts, avocados, coconut, and even animal fats can be a great way to feel satiated. Unfortunately, fats pose a challenge when your goal is not just healthy eating but also weight management. Having too many fats—even healthy ones—at every single meal can slow your weight-loss progress. The best approach is to find the right balance between fats, protein, and carbohydrates because when meals aren’t well-balanced, it becomes much easier to fill up on high-calorie, lower-volume foods. Fats will make you feel satisfied, so instead of loading up on them with abandon, use them wisely to accompany foods that have fewer calories like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and lean proteins. This way, you'll feel satisfied from both the volume of the lower-calorie foods and the satiating nature of the healthy fats.

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3. Not enough vegetables.

The key to healthy eating, and achieving and maintaining a weight you’re happy with, is a balance between high-calorie and low-calorie foods. Therefore, it’s important to have an abundance of vegetables. But if you eat mostly low-calorie foods, like salad every day, you’ll probably feel unsatisfied and either give up altogether or find yourself overindulging. The best way to feel full each time you eat—while also staying on track—is to make vegetables at least half the volume of your plate. The fiber and water content will fill you up while other more satiating components like fat, carbohydrates, and protein will help you feel satisfied.

4. Too much processed food.

Packaged and prepared foods—even healthy or organic ones—aren’t typically well-balanced. They’re usually calorie-dense and easy to overeat. Common examples are protein bars, trail mix, granola, pre-made hummus, breads, and baked goods. It’s best to make your own whenever possible because that way, you can control not only the quality of ingredients but the proportions. I suggest limiting processed and indulgent foods to four or six times per week; this way you don’t have to eliminate them altogether. You can treat yourself so you avoid feeling deprived, but choose primarily nutrient-dense, filling, and lower-calorie foods to make up the majority of your diet.

Eating healthy can help you lose weight, maintain your ideal weight, and improve your overall health and well-being. But to be successful with it long-term, balance is just as important. Balance is the trick to consistently eating healthy without depriving yourself of the foods you love. This guide will help you learn how to balance your meals and snacks so you can eat healthy, lose weight, and feel satisfied without going crazy over calories.

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