Are you following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, but still struggling to shift those excess pounds? Claire Chamberlain lists four surprising things that may be holding you back

Checking your phone
Browsing your smartphone or watching TV while you eat might be making you eat more than you realise. ‘It’s easy to fall into the habit of playing with your phone while you eat, sitting in front of the TV with your dinner on your lap, or grabbing a big bag of crisps while you watch your favourite programme,’ says Dr Aria, a behaviour change psychologist, who has spent years researching weight loss maintenance at University College London. ‘Distractions like this divert your attention, so the brain is unable to accurately register the amount of food you’ve consumed. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating, this information is less likely to be stored in your memory bank. And with fewer memories of what you have eaten that day, when you sit down for your next meal, you’re likely to eat significantly more.’

Dr Aria’s claims are backed up by a recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition, which found that playing audio instructions encouraging overweight women to pay attention to their food at lunch, reduced later snack consumption by 30 per cent.

At mealtimes, pop your smartphone out of reach, sit at a table rather than on the sofa in front of the TV, and pay mindful attention to what you’re eating.

Feeling stressed
‘Modern life comes with a whole host of stresses, from managing a home/work balance to keeping the money coming in and running a family home,’ says personal trainer and nutritionist Farah Fonseca, who is also two-times winner of England’s Strongest Woman. ‘We should all experience natural surges and dips of our stress hormones – the most commonly talked about being cortisol and adrenaline. They should naturally be at their highest in the morning and take a steady decline throughout the evening – this dip is what helps us fall asleep. However, the pressures of our busy lifestyles can throw this out of its natural pattern. When our cortisol levels are too high for a prolonged period, it creates an imbalance with not only our blood sugar, but also other circulating hormones, causing an excess of fat storage. Try to take steps to minimise stress levels, which will be good for both your physical and mental health in the long-term.’

Not eating enough fat
Think fat should be avoided? Think again. While saturated and trans fats are bad for both your waistline and heart health, unsaturated fats are a must for optimal weight loss. ‘Healthy sources of fat, like nuts, olive oil and avocados, will help you feel fuller and regulate blood sugar levels, so cravings are reduced,’ explains Rick Hay, “The Superfoodist’ and author of The Anti-Ageing Food & Fitness Plan (£10.99, Clink Street Publishing). ‘When blood sugar is more stable, and insulin highs and crashes are reduced, your body will store less fat and will more efficiently use the fat it has stored.’

Some healthy fats will help you burn more fat. ‘If you consume olive oil, for example, you will have higher levels of the hormone adiponectin, which helps to break down fats in the body,’ says Hay.

Frequent flying
It may sound strange but if you travel abroad frequently, all that jet-lag could be playing havoc with your weight. ‘Research conducted at The Weizmann Institute of Science showed that the disturbance of your sleep patterns (circadian rhythms) caused by jet lag can change the microbiomes in your gut,’ says Laura Warren. ‘Some microbiomes cause you to be heavier, and some lighter. So, two people could eat the same number of calories, yet the difference in their gut microbiomes could be a factor in their overall size.’