If you’re trying to lose weight, honing in on all areas of your diet is important, especially if you’re hoping for an effective and efficient weight-loss journey.
When it comes to lunch, there are many commonly made mistakes that could be slowing down your success, or stalling it altogether. But the good news is, there are simple fixes you can make to remedy the situation.
Here are five common mistakes you might make at your midday meal along with some healthy lunch tips to help you lose weight.
Mistake 1: Skipping Lunch
Forgoing lunch because you’re too busy at work or because you’re trying to lose weight may be doing you more harm than good. When we go too long between meals, our blood sugar levels drop. Our brains run on sugar so this can cause headaches, brain fog and it can make you irritable — hello, hanger.
Plus, you’ll be left feeling ravenous, making it difficult to control your intake at dinner. Skipping meals like lunch can also increase your cravings for unhealthy foods, according to Piedmont Healthcare.
The fix: Honor your hunger, don’t ignore it. If you typically skip lunch because of a crazy work schedule, pack a lunch the night before so you’re not scrambling to find something to eat come noon. If you skip lunch to lose weight, try eating lunch and see how this makes you feel at dinner. You may find it easier to balance your calorie intake by eating throughout the day and avoiding long periods of time without food.
Mistake 2: Eating Lunch While Distracted
Ever had lunch while sitting at your desk feverishly responding to emails or reviewing spreadsheets? Guilty as charged. While you may feel more productive operating this way, multitasking while eating could be impeding your weight-loss efforts.
A May 2019 study in Physiology & Behavior found that when we’re distracted, we eat more. The findings showed that we’re apt to eat 15 percent more calories when we’re reading, working or scrolling through our phone while eating.
The fix: If you tend to eat and scroll through your social feed at lunch or work through the mealtime altogether, you’ll want to nip this in the bud. Sit down without distraction and focus on the delicious foods you’re nourishing your body with. It’s likely you’ll enjoy the meal more and you may end up eating less.
Mistake 3: Failing to Plan Ahead
Similar to what happens when you go to the grocery store hungry, if you leave lunchtime decision-making until, well, lunchtime, your appetite will probably beat out your best intentions. In other words, if you wait until you’re hungry to decide what to eat, it’s likely you’ll choose whatever is easiest (or tastiest) versus what may be the best nutritionally.
A June 2016 study in the Journal of Market Research found that deciding what you’re going to eat in advance, like bringing lunch from home or preordering your lunch from your favorite salad place, can help you consume fewer calories compared to picking your lunch on the fly.
The fix: Pack your lunch after you eat dinner the night before. This way, you’re making decisions based on what will help you meet your weight-loss goals. Another tip is to decide what and where you’re going to order from in the a.m. (and preorder if you can) so that come lunchtime, all you need to do is stick to the plan.
Mistake 4: Overdoing It at Lunch Because You Skipped Breakfast
If you ignore your hunger and skip breakfast to lose weight — whether you’re practicing intermittent fasting or not — you may end up overdoing it at lunch.
Skipping breakfast means many hours may have passed since your last meal and, as Harvard Health Publishing notes, it’s natural for our bodies to want to overeat after a period of fasting. Our appetite hormones and hunger can rage after being deprived of food for so long.
The fix: If you’re hungry at breakfast, you should eat. Not everyone has an appetite first thing in the morning, but if you do, listen to your hunger cues. Your best bet is eating a breakfast with a balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats.
Mistake 5: Eating a Lunch Low in Protein and Fiber
If you’re trying to lose weight, getting adequate fiber and protein in your diet is a smart play. Eating enough protein can help with perceived fullness and certain satiety hormones, according to an April 2015 paper in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It also helps to maintain lean muscle mass, even as our bodies lose weight. Eating enough fiber may also support your weight-loss goals by increasing satiety levels and helping you feel fuller longer, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
The fix: Look for lunch options that offer lean proteins like chicken breast, tofu, beans or fish and pair this with fiber-filled foods like vegetables, whole grains and legumes.