Why That Healthy Meal Is Making You Fat

You shun junk food, eat balanced meals, and never miss a spin class. So why are you gaining weight?
Look to your food portions, says a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity.  

Study authors showed 186 people various foods such as cereal, beverages, and coleslaw, labeling them "healthier" or "standard" (although both versions were of equal calories), then asked them to serve themselves an appropriate portion. They found that not only did people assume that "healthy" equaled "less caloric", they served themselves heftier servings of the "healthy" foods, and felt less guilty about how much they ate.

"People tend to overeat foods labeled 'healthy,' or 'organic' because they assume that those foods won't cause weight gain," says David Grotto, RDN, author of The Best Things You Can Eat. "We call that the 'Health Halo', meaning, there are certain categories or types of food that we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat. The problem is, this mind frame leads to consuming larger portions and weight gain."

Keeping portion sizes in check is a tough habit to maintain. From the time we're kids, we're taught to "finish our plates" so we often keep eating even when we're full. What's more, in our 24/7 society, people tend to cram large portions on their plates, subconsciously believing that they have to eat as much as they can in limited time. And lastly, many people don't have a clue as to how much food they should be eating in the first place. Try these tricks for keeping your healthy meal under control.

Make your salad darker: Just because lettuce is green, doesn't mean it's the healthiest choice. When building a salad, opt for the darkest leaves available. The reason: They absorb more light and synthesize more vitamins, according to a study conducted by Zhejiang University in China.

Select smaller plates:
You may feel like you're eating at the kid's table but eating off a tiny plate tricks your mind into thinking you have a significant amount of food, says Grotto. One study conducted at Cornell University found that when kids were given larger bowls, they consumed 16 percent more cereal than those with smaller bowls. At the same time, those who ate more also believed they consumed less than they actually did.

Throw mushrooms in your omelet: Opting for mushrooms instead of sausage in your morning omelet can fill you up without filling you out. Research published in a recent issue of the FASEB Journal found that when overweight men and women substituted white button mushrooms for meat, they effectively maintained their weight.

Drink from tall glasses: You'll drink 19 percent less if you swap short, wide glasses for tall, skinny ones, according to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research. It may have to do with the fact that people's brains tend to zero in on an object's height, so tall glasses seem fuller than they actually are.

Give your fork a rest:
"It's very counter-intuitive but putting your fork down on the table in between bites will force to you eat slower," says Grotto. "Doing so will allow your body to release a hormone called leptin that signals to the brain that you've had enough food."

Eat more fat: "Fat shouldn't be feared because it contains a satiating component," says Grotto. And while it's generally better to opt for unsaturated fats (avocado, nuts) over saturated fats (butter, dairy, steak), Grotto says that sprinkling small amounts of unhealthy fats such as crumbled bacon over a salad or in soup can help fill you up faster so you don't overeat.

And when in doubt about how much to eat, consult this cheat sheet for common serving size terms, according to (formally the American Dietary Association).