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Knowledge is power: You can break habits

Old habits can be hard to break, but they may be breaking your weight-loss efforts. Nobody's perfect. We've all plowed through endless chips at the taqueria or eaten Sara Lee straight from the freezer. What's your secret meltdown?

When we recognize our bad eating habits, we are empowered, says Weight Loss Clinic Dietitian Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD. Then it's easier to break them. "Do something new for 21 days, and you can break the habit."

Her motto: "Slow, steady changes in your lifestyle can free you of diets forever."

Bad habits to watch for:

1. Eating amnesia. Very often, this condition is TV-induced. "Your hand is stuck in the bag, and you don't realize what or how much you're eating," Zelman says. "That big ol' bag of chips can disappear pretty fast."

2. Too few zzzz's. Sleep loss makes you feel hungry even if you are full, because sleep loss affects the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that regulates appetite, studies show. Also, sleep loss increases fat storage in your body.

3. After-dinner treats. "It tends to be mindless eating and usually involves something sweet," says Zelman. "Start a new habit -- have a warm cup of tea, sparkling water, something non-caloric. Most importantly, quit eating anything after dinner."

4. Starvation-mode shopping. Face it, grocery stores and extreme hunger just don't mix. You end up buying the first quick-fix item you see. Slow down. Eat a little something -- something healthy -- before grocery shopping. Suggestion: Get a sandwich on your way to the grocery store -- grilled chicken breast, that is. "Then you won't be so hungry, so tempted," says Zelman. Also, shop with a grocery list and stick to it.

5. Getting grabby. You're at work, in the airport, anywhere, and hunger sets in. Easiest thing is to grab what's convenient -- and too often, junk food wins. Better bets: a homemade sandwich, a few carrots, fresh fruit, a smoothie, or trail mix. Plan ahead. Have healthy snacks at your fingertips.

6. Drinking without thinking. Beer, alcohol, wine, soft drinks -- they all go down easy. But the calories can really add up. "Save your liquid calories for when you really want them," says Zelman.

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