10 Common Diet Mistakes: Part 1
Let’s get back to the basics.
One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from fellow fitness and wellness professionals about dieting these days is to “stop dieting.” While I know what they mean, and essentially agree, no one is defining the word itself, which just adds to the confusion, and the word “diet” can mean many different things to people.
So, I want to be clear for the purpose of this blog: everyone is on a diet. According to Google, a diet is simply “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” Yes, it can also be what you’re restricting yourself to, but for today, let’s stick to the first definition.
That said, there is still a lot of confusion as to what that should look like. Our individual needs vary, but there are some general nutrition principles that help all of us achieve greater health through our diet that many people overthink or overlook, and those are what I want to focus on here.
Tip: If you notice that you’re making more than one of these mistakes, try not to get overwhelmed, but instead choose one to improve and make it a habit before choosing another. The goal should always be improvement over perfection.
10 Common Diet Mistakes (1–5)
1. Not Drinking Enough Water
Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Are you getting the general recommendation, a minimum of 3L per day?
Foods containing high levels of water can count towards this, but remember, this is a general recommendation for those of average activity level. If you train regularly, exercise in heat, or are recovering from illness or injury you probably need more than 3L per day.
2. Deceiving Yourself
If you’re tracking your calories, macronutrients, or any other consumption metric and you’re not getting any closer to your goals, there’s a good chance you’re either over-eating and under-reporting, or under-eating and over-reporting.
You could also be ignoring the obvious: You may be making exceptions and justifications for poor food/beverage choices too often.
3. Falling for Marketing
So many foods are sold touting the labels “healthy”, “low-fat”, “fat-free”, “sugar-free”, “natural”, and so on, but remember, if something has to be labeled, there’s a good chance it’s a marketing trick to sell a product. Read all the labels, the serving size, and the ingredients.
For example: “All Natural” – Sugar is “natural”, but it is also the leading cause of a host of health problems (“natural” doesn’t always mean “good for you”).
You’re always better off choosing real, whole-foods over packaged, convenience foods. Ask yourself this question when you’re grocery shopping: Is it God-made, or man-made? If it’s man-made, avoid it. If you don’t know, it’s probably man-made. Not every choice will be possible this way (packaged foods like almond butter or protein/energy bars can be tricky), but that’s when you have to be vigilant about reading the ingredients list.
For example: Almond Butter ingredients should be “almonds”, and “salt” at most! I try to stick to nut butters that list only the nut itself. Nut butter is just ground-up nuts, so that’s all the ingredients should list.
Lastly, be cautious of any highly publicized dietary-products or media-popularized “diets”. Stick to the basics and keep it simple (lots of greens and colorful veggies, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and a variety of healthy fats).
4. Not Enough Protein
Unfortunately, dietary protein has seen a lot of controversy over the years due to a lack of research and a lot of misunderstanding. The good news is, we have a LOT more research now. Enough to know that it’s more than beneficial; it’s vital!
Even with all the information available, most people still don’t get enough protein from their diet, and many times, it’s the one thing that would make all the difference in fat-loss efforts. Read all about protein here.
Protein is one of the key ingredients for a successful long term healthy diet and lifestyle. Not only will it help you recover faster post-injury or post-workout, but it will keep you full between meals, decrease the likelihood of food-binging, and help manage insulin and cravings, among other benefits.
Not getting enough protein can cause an decrease in active muscle tissue (muscle wasting/atrophy) and subsequently a decrease in metabolic rate (digesting protein increases metabolism), and can increase the rate of body-fat storage. That said, protein deficiency is more than an obstacle to fat-loss and recovery. It can be fatal.
Other side effects of protein deficiency (source: livestrong.com):
- frequent infections
- hair breakage and loss
- sexual and reproductive problems
The good news? Many, if not all, of the negatives of protein deficiency can be remedied by simply increasing your intake.
5. Skipping Meals
Skipping meals, whether deliberately or not, is never a great game plan for health or fitness goals. It can result in lethargy and skipped workouts, injury and overtraining due to nutrient or caloric deficiency, and it can cause you to binge and make poor food choices at night simply because you’ve restricted yourself and you’re depleted.
Generally, based on speed of digestion, smaller, more-frequent meals are recommended for steady energy, as well as improved metabolic rate and body composition. But we’re too busy, or lazy, or neglect to plan ahead, and for these reasons or others, this typically results in 1–3 meals a day or less.
The idea may feel counterintuitive, but eating more often, NOT skipping meals, actually increases your metabolic rate (amount of energy expended or calories burned), and maintains muscle (which also keeps your metabolic rate high).
This is an easy mistake to remedy. Keep portable foods like almonds, apples and carrots, protein bars or powder (and shaker) with you. You could even bring a cooler with a few meals with you if you’re going to be gone (or stuck in traffic) for a long time. I wouldn’t make it through a day driving around LA without mine. ;)
If you liked this you might like: 10 Clean Brown-Bag Lunches
CONVERSATION STARTER: Which of these have you (or do you) struggle with?