Eating delicious, good food doesn’t have to be hard.
Done correctly, eating well helps us live longer, be healthier, and better appreciate the world around us.
Often times, we start our journey ambitious – too ambitious. With good intention, we sometimes take our new eating habits too far. Avoiding the 7 common diet mistakes below will lead to less frustration and better results.
1. Eating NO carbs.
Low-carb and no-carb diets are quickly moving out of the “fad diet” realm and into mainstream popularity. Scientific research is even beginning to catch on.
Known by many names (Adkins, ketogenic, etc.), these diets are very popular among both bodybuilders and anyone looking to shed body fat for a reason. Going no or very-low carb can be very effective.
However, going low/no-carb is a true test of mental fortitude. These diets are extremely restrictive, and can be very hard to stick to, especially when we’re first starting our transition to eating better foods. Even professional athletes struggle with restrictive diets, and cycle on and off from them depending on the season.
The first few days of a no/low-carb diet are rough – brain fog, headaches, and crankiness are common. Google “low carb flu” if you’ve never heard the term before. You’ve likely heard about similar symptoms from friends who have tried these diets.
A good alternative is to start by identifying and eliminating “bad” carbs in your diet – such as processed foods (nearly anything that comes from a box or from the middle aisles of the grocery store), sugar, white flour, and white starches, while keeping “good” carb sources – sweet potatoes, vegetables, legumes, and yogurt, to name a few.
Try this out:
- Track your average carb intake the week before beginning your new eating habits.
- Instead of lowering your carb intake, switch your carb sources to “good” carbs while keeping your total carbohydrate intake the same.
- Then, over time, you can slowly lower your carb intake, until you find the “sweet spot”, where you’re losing fat while maintaining healthy mood and energy levels.
Transitioning to “good” carb sources will help you avoid the “low carb flu” while shedding body fat.
2. Tracking Every. Single. Calorie.
Calorie-tracking apps have soared in popularity. MyFitnessPal claims over 40 million users. Calorie-tracking is no longer viewed as “weird”, and with food databases expanding every day, it’s never been easier to keep track of what you’re putting into your body.
However, just because we can track everything we put into our body doesn’t mean we should.
Trying to track literally every calorie you consume can be tiresome. Imagine cooking dinner for you and your partner. Candles are lit, wine is poured, Rod Stewart is crooning in the background – and as you begin to fill the plates, your partner leaps forward – “WAIT!! YOU DIDN’T MEASURE OUT THE CORN!”
Tracking your calories is a great habit to form, but don’t let it lead to diet-OCD, and don’t let it control your life. What is the carb and calorie difference between 1 cup and 2 cups of broccoli? Did I eat 8 almonds or 9?WHO CARES?!
3. Trying to eat exclusively organic, grass-fed, non-GMO, etc.
From a science perspective, I’m not touching the “GMO vs. non-GMO” debate with a ten-foot pole.
Eating exclusively organic vegetables, grass-fed meat, and eggs from cage-free chickens, is expensive. It can get so expensive, in fact, that it’s a common deterrent to people interested in eating better foods, as they convince themselves that they cannot afford it and simply give up.
I buy non-organic produce. I buy corn-fed beef and chicken pumped full of antibiotics. It’s what I can afford, and it’s still WAY better than eating the Standard American Diet of processed foods and sugar.
Don’t let money be the reason you consume suboptimal junk food. Eating “normal” produce and meat won’t stop you from shedding body fat.
4. Buying “gluten-free” or “non-GMO” food that isn’t actually healthy.
“Gluten-free” chocolate cake is still chocolate cake. “Gluten-free” carbs are still carbs. You can eat all the “gluten-free” cookies you want, but you’re not going to lose weight simply because the box says “gluten-free”. Unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or have a true gluten sensitivity, you’re just spending more money for food that still makes you fat.
A good rule of thumb for buying food – stick to the outer aisles of the store. This is where the produce and meat are kept. Ignore food that comes in a box as much as possible and you’ll automatically be better off than most.
5. Only focusing on calorie intake and ignoring macronutrients.
A calorie is not a calorie.
Calories come from three main macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (alcohol is the fourth and we’ll exempt it from this discussion).
We cannot treat each calorie equally. Eating 1,000 calories per day, consistently solely of carbohydrates, will lead to weight loss – but there is a minimal chance it will lead to fat loss, which is what we’re actually after. There’s a huge difference in consuming 2,000 calories composed of 65% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 5% proteins versus 2,000 calories consisting of 40% proteins, 30% fats, and 30% carbohydrates. Our bodies digest each of these “types” of calories differently. Each “type” of calorie triggers the release or blocking of different hormones.
Tracking your daily caloric intake is a great habit to establish – but neglecting macronutrient intake will hamper your progress.
6. Making too many changes at once.
Trying to make too many changes at once can be detrimental for several reasons.
Most importantly: the more changes you attempt to make at once, the harder it is to maintain said changes.
Think back to that time you made a health-related New Year’s Resolution. We’ve all done it.
This was the time to GO BIG! We weren’t “just” going to drink more water, or start exercising – we’re drinking 128oz of water daily, AND lifting weights 6 days per week, AND running 3 miles per day, AND doing yoga for 30 minutes every evening, AND eating exclusively Paleo AND not drinking alcohol AND juicing EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING. WE GETTIN’ SHREDDED!
How’d that work out?
Making ONE new habit or lifestyle change at a time significantly increases the likelihood that the change sticks and becomes incorporated into your identity. This is important, because we aren’t looking for “quick fixes” or “instant results in just six weeks!” We are building a better lifestyle. We are in this for the long haul.
7. Not tracking your progress and results.
You know how the saying goes:
“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been”.
When it comes to building healthy habits and designing a better lifestyle, it is essential to know:
- Where you’ve been.
- Where you are.
- Where you plan to be.
One surefire way to make healthy living harder on yourself is to not track your progress. This makes it impossible to know what works and what does NOT work for you.
Let’s say Cousin Vinnie claims he lost 15 pounds in two weeks by eating less than 20g of carbs per day. Great! But does it work for you?
There’s only one way to find out – experiment! Do the following:
- Measure Variable X (weight, body fat percentage, 1-rep bench max, 1-mile running time, whatever) on Day 0.
- On Day 1, begin Habit Change Y (keeping carb intake to under 20g per day, drinking 64oz of water, etc.)
- On Day 14, re-measure Variable X. Compare new Variable X to the measurement on Day 0. Did it getter better, get worse, or stay the same?
We now have solid evidence we can use to determine if Habit Change Y works best for us. We do not have this evidence if we do not track our progress and results.
This post should give you a good understanding of seven common eating well mistakes we make when trying to change our eating habits. In a previous post, we discussed why eating too “healthy” can be detrimental to your goals and cause more harm than good. In my next post, we’ll go over ways to avoid common food mistakes and ensure you get the results you are after.