If you’re confused, it’s no wonder. With diets coming in and out of trend (is the cabbage soup diet back again for the gazilienth time?) and nutrition science flipping and flopping over which super food and nutrient you should eat every day, it’s hard to keep it all straight. To help you focus on your nutrition goals and overcome the challenges of all the info, we’ve listed the top 10 diet mistakes and how you can fix them.
1. Not Logging What You Eat
Ask yourself what you ate today. You will remember the healthy salad you had at lunch and the chicken breast and vegetables you had for dinner. For most of us though, if we don’t write it down, we will forget about the frothy Starbucks on the way to work and the donuts that someone brought to the meeting. So if you want to really be accountable and make better nutritional decisions, create a food diary. Also total up the calories so you can see where you can do better with food prep and food choices.
2. Not Snacking
If your goal is to lose weight, eating less makes sense; many diet newbies think then that cutting out snacks is a good idea, but it could halt your metabolism. “Energy depends on a steady flow of fuel,” Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting tells Women’s Health. Avoiding snacking can lead to uneven energy levels, exhaustion and a confused metabolism. A better strategy is to always have healthy snacks on hand, like fruit and nuts.
3. Thinking Gluten-free Equals Healthy
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and foods with wheat ingredients. While some people suffer from Celiac disease or from gluten sensitivity and cannot digest gluten, the protein is perfectly fine for healthy individuals. Just because the packaging of chips, crackers, bread, cereal and other processed foods say “gluten-free,” it doesn’t mean that these are necessarily healthier than their gluten counterparts. Katherine Tallmadge, a dietitian and the author of “Diet Simple,” tells Scientific American: “You can eat a healthy diet without gluten, but you have to be very knowledgeable, and most people aren’t.” She adds that going gluten-free does cut out dessert and other junk foods made with gluten, which will help with weight loss, but “they mistakenly attribute that to their gluten-free decision.” Tallmadge also notes that gluten-free diets can be deficient in nutrients that wheat provides, including fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. Avoid gluten only if you need to.
4. Cutting out a single nutrient.
Don’t eat carbs. Avoid fat. You’ve heard it before. But sometimes this over simplistic strategy means missing out on a balanced diet. And sometimes that means overcompensating with another nutrient. Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, tells New Scientist: “If we have learned anything from the low-fat era, it is surely that it is not as simple as one single nutrient. Are we not in real danger of making the same mistake again by saying it’s all about sugar, and if we cut the sugar it will be fine?” A balanced diet means everything in moderation.
5. Dismissing calories.
Many diets promise that you can eat as much as you want as long as you follow their rules. But calories matter. Calories count. Calories are the measurement of energy food provides. If you eat more calories than your body burns, it will store the extra calories in the body. It’s true that the body uses carbs, protein and fat differently, but if you eat too many calories of any of these macronutrients, it will be stored in the body. Figure out the caloric needs for you with this calorie calculator.
6. Switching to diet pop.
You may be cutting back on calories, but the artificial sweetener could be messing up the signals between your brain and gut. Caroline Cederquist, MD, nutrition and metabolism expert and medical director of BistroMD.com, tells Shape: “Studies show that artificial sugar stimulates the same hormonal and metabolic responses of real sugar.” And that means that your body could start the fat-storage process, thusly slowing your metabolism.
7. Not drinking enough water.
Don’t underestimate what water can do for your body. Not only can it hydrate you, it also keep vital organs working, and keep you regular, too. But for someone looking to lose weight, it can boost the metabolism. A study found that “Drinking 500 ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30 percent. The increase occurred within 10 min and reached a maximum after 30 to 40 min.” The rule of thumb is to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water every day.
8. Not eating eggs for breakfast.
Eggs have had a bad rap. But this complete protein is actually a very good breakfast food, and can be part of a healthy diet. Dr. Tunis Hunt, drtunisjr.com, says that “When it comes to burning fat and creating the energy you need for the day, nothing does it better than the egg. That’s right, the ‘fatty,’ ‘high-cholesterol’ egg is actually very nutritious for you and will help prevent your body from storing fat.” Also: “When your consume high protein and nutritious foods, like eggs, it helps cut off your fat maker messenger insulin.” And it’s a very versatile food and can be eating any time of the day and prepared in a variety of ways.
9. Thinking All Salads Are Healthy
If you’re in a restaurant and order a salad, it might not always be the most nutritious of choices. The calories in salads can add up, especially with toppings like bacon bits, deep-fried croutons, heavy cream dressings, candied nuts, high-fat cheeses, breaded protein, and more. Think about how you can get the most nutrients from your meal, by choosing one with lots of veggies and/or fruit, healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, rich leafy greens like kale and aragula, lean proteins like chicken or fish, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
10. Go For Healthy Processed Foods
You’ll have to use common sense and trust your gut when something seems too good to be true. Cookies are still cookies, even when they’re made with organic chocolate, and chips are still chips when they’re gluten-free. Again, moderation is key. Understand when you’re treating yourself to a cheat food and when you’re eating healthy. Sure, junk foods in the health food section may be a better choice than what you would find in the other aisle. If you end up eating more of a “healthy” processed food than you would the “regular” food though, you’re not doing yourself any favors. You will still have to heed to proper portion sizes and calories.