Struggling to live healthier, clean up your eating and lose weight? Here’s the good news: it’s not your fault. So many misconceptions and false advertisements are thrown at us on a consistent basis that it’s hard to know what’s correct. Far too often, I make the same mistakes as my clients. Here are the most common mistakes I see on a daily basis and how to fix them.
1. Skipping Breakfast
The notion of “calories in calories out” makes us believe that if we skip a meal, we’ll reduce calories and lose weight. This is probably the worst thing you can do. When you skip breakfast, your metabolism slows down, and over time your body begins to store food to protect itself. You’re also more likely to overeat later in the day, as your body seeks the calories it was lacking. It seems surprising, but undereating (rather than overeating) is typically what I see that leads to weight gain.
Correction: The key to healthy eating (and losing weight) is to fuel your body, starting with a balanced breakfast.
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2. Going Too Long Between Meals
This is similar to the first mistake. When you go too long between meals, you’re likely to make an unhealthy choice or overeat at your next meal. Again undereating typically leads to weight gain.
Correction: Eating healthy snacks can help you keep your energy levels up and lose weight.
3. Ordering Restaurant Salads
It’s definitely possible to eat healthy when you eat out. I like to order lean protein and vegetables, sometimes in a salad. But don’t assume that salad is always your best choice. Restaurant salads are often loaded with fried items, buttery croutons, bacon, cheese and creamy dressings. (Read these Restaurant Eating Guidelines.)
Correction: Look at the menu ahead of time and decide before you go. Order first so you are not tempted to change your mind. Feel free to customize. And nix the high-fat toppings, or ask for dressing on the side.
4. Drinking Your Calories
What’s the easiest way to clean up your diet? Cut back on sodas, sweet teas and juice. Yes, even 100% fruit juice contains sugar, sometimes nearly as much as soda. Beware of flavored, sweetened coffees. They can add up the calories without your even realizing it. (See How to Stick to Your Diet at Starbucks.)
Correction: Even though fruit juice has vitamins, I recommend getting the nutrients from whole fruit instead. It will also provide you with some fiber and keep you feeling full longer.
5. Cutting out Sweets
Under no circumstances should you cut out desserts, sweets, or other foods you love because you think they are unhealthy. It’s important to enjoy what you are eating, or what’s the point? (See Eat What You Love: 3 Simple Guidelines for Healthy Trade-Offs.)
Correction: Consume these foods in sensible ways and small portions. The more you eat them, the less likely you are to crave them and overindulge. One of my favorite snacks is homemade trail mix with chocolate chips and nuts. I get a sweet fix balanced with protein and healthy fats.
6. Being Unprepared
As with anything, planning ahead, having snacks and meals ready, is part of achieving your nutrition goals. We all have great intentions—until we get busy. The more prepared you are for your busy week, the more likely you are to stay on track.
Correction: Grocery shop on weekends and do the time-consuming things like chopping up produce. You can even create some meals to freeze and have on hand. Always carry snacks in case you’re caught somewhere and get hungry.
7. Eating When You’re Not Hungry
If you’re going through your day starving, you are doing something wrong. Pay close attention to your hunger cues, and fuel your body when it asks for fuel.
Correction: Rank your hunger pangs on a scale of 1 to 5 and assess your mood before eating. Are you bored, stressed, upset or happy? Are you truly hungry or just not feeling yourself? The more you can do this, the more intuitive you will be with your eating.
8. Doing It Alone
We all have areas of our lives where we can use some help. When taking on a major change, seek support from family, friends, or health professionals. Let them know how they can best support you and in what ways.
Correction: My number one piece of advice is to meet with a registered dietitian to get a personalized plan that fits your lifestyle.