8 Lunch Habits That Are Derailing Your Weight-Loss Efforts

It’s time to give this meal—and your waistline—the respect it deserves.

Lunch is the meal that gets the least love: So many people eat it hunched over their desks or in the car—or feel so overwhelmed that they try to skip it entirely. Not only does that leave you skimping on nutrients, but you risk gaining pounds too, says Brittany Kohn, R.D., a nutritionist in New York City. It’s time to take inventory and see if you’re guilty of any of these this pound-promoting lunchtime moves:

Always hitting the salad counter: Sure, you get healthy greens and low-fat protein. But eventually your taste buds will want you to switch things up—and that too often means ordering lots of add-ins that rack up extra calories (the biggest offenders, says Kohn: croutons, dried fruit, cheese, and crunchy noodles). Go with a salad every other day, and alternate with a sandwich, soup, or other healthy, filling staple.

Waiting to break for lunch until later in the p.m.: Waiting to eat until more than four hours has passed since breakfast means you’ll be ravenous by the time you do pick up something, so you risk overeating. “Even if you don’t think you’re hungry, make time to have lunch before 1 or 2 p.m.,” says Kohn.

Lunching while e-mailing or Web surfing: “Eating while watching TV or catching up on your e-mails is very distracting, making it hard for you to recognize when you’re full,” says Kohn. Avoid spending the afternoon feeling bloated and heavy by shutting off your work computer or other electronic devices while you eat.

Always going out for lunch: While it can be convenient and a fun way to socialize with co-workers, eating out often can lead to long-term weight gain because restaurant food is so often served in large, calorie-heavy portions, says Kohn. Limit yourself to eating out to a few times a week, or be super-mindful of the portion sizes so you can split an entrée with another officemate.

MORE: 20 Satisfying Lunches That Promote Weight Loss

Only consuming pre-packaged lunches: Even sandwiches and salads that look healthy in the takeout section of your local supermarket or deli can be packed with hidden calories. Commit to brown bagging it from home once or twice a week; home-cooked food you prepare yourself is generally healthier and less caloric. Plus, it’s geared for your taste buds, so it’s more satisfying. “Try to prepare double portions of dinner so that you can bring the leftovers for lunch,” suggests Kohn.

MORE: The Easiest Healthy Homemade Lunch Ever

Lunching while standing: If your usual lunch means picking up something at the office cafeteria and then wolfing it down during the walk back and elevator ride up to your desk, you’re setting yourself up for weight gain. “Research has shown that those who eat standing up end up consuming 30 percent more calories than those who take a seat,” says Kohn. We’re all in a rush, but surely you can carve out 15 minutes for a proper sit-down session.

Washing it down with a diet soda: It’s convenient to grab a cold fizzy drink from the office vending machine, but the zero-calorie sweeteners in these drinks end up making you even hungrier because they don’t deliver the calories your system craves, says Kohn. “They also cause bloating and fatigue, exactly the opposite of what you need to get you through a long afternoon,” she says. A better idea: Keep some sparking water or seltzer with lemon in your office fridge.

Skipping lunch entirely: Think you can ride out those hunger pangs and the afternoon energy suck, saving 500 or so calories that would have gone to your midday meal? It’s a terrible idea. Not only does your system need nutritious food every four hours or so to run properly, but skipping an entire meal slows you metabolism so you don’t burn the calories you do take in as efficiently, says Kohn. Come on, even the busiest desk jockeys can spare some time for a food break.

MORE: The Best Lunch Habit for Weight Loss

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