Are all fats bad? Are all carbs worse? And is it possible to consume too much protein? With so much conflicting nutrition information out there, it’s easy for people to fall into unhealthy eating habits without even realizing it. Especially when it comes to losing weight, when you might tend to make the same (avoidable) mistakes that are unknowingly sabotaging your efforts.
Fortunately, these diet blunders are easy to overcome if you know better. And that’s where we come in, as we’re here to help you out! Read on to learn from these common diet mistakes everyone else is making, so you can vow to never be one of those people. To help you stay on track with your goals, be sure to stock up on any of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
When the first US dietary guidelines were released in 1980, fat was deemed as something you should avoid. It was a sentiment that drove the diet industry for the next 20 years, even as obesity rates continued to climb. It turns out, fat was probably never the problem to begin with (studies point to sugar being a bigger trigger to obesity than dietary fat), and some healthy fats could actually help you lose weight. (Hello, avocadoes!)
Unfortunately, some people still believe this outdated advice. Fat is an important macronutrient that will help you feel full, give you much-needed nutrients, and could even lower bad cholesterol. Stick to healthy monounsaturated fats, like the ones found in olive oil, almonds, peanut butter, and avocados.
Carbs have been demonized as the culprit behind weight gain, with low-carb diets being all the rage. While it’s true that refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white pasta, and white bread can spike blood sugar and lead to weight gain, complex carbohydrates can actually help you lose weight.
Jim White, RD, ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness says when people cut their carbs down too low, it can really sabotage their weight-loss efforts.
“[Cutting carbs] really affects their energy levels, and they end up craving more carbs,” he says. “Also, they don’t have a lot of energy for working out, so a lot of times they’ll skip out on their workout.” Plus, complex carbs have fiber which will keep you full and give you lasting energy.
Protein is an essential macronutrient for weight loss. It helps build lean muscle, which burns calories at rest and can help you lose weight. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
“People just think that protein is the holy grail when it comes to macronutrients,” White says. “Eating too much protein, people don’t realize, it still has calories and it can still get contributed to body fat if overeaten.”
If you’re a regular exerciser, White says to aim for no more than 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of body weight. People who overdo it with the protein powders and servings of meat can find themselves packing on the pounds, not shedding them.
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Many popular fad diets require people to cut out entire food groups, such as dairy, grains, or meat. The problem with these plans is they are too restrictive and can cause people to get bored or lose motivation, and even give in to unhealthy cravings. Plus, eliminating major food groups can lead to some nutrient deficiencies, such as not enough fiber, protein, or calcium. Unless you have an actual food allergy, be wary of meal plans that require you to ditch important food groups.
Some people assume if cutting calories leads to weight loss, then a drastic calorie deficit must mean faster results. Not exactly. A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who went on a severe low-calorie diet didn’t lose weight in the long-term, thanks to excess production of the stress hormone cortisol. When your body releases too much cortisol, it signals the body to store fat, especially in your abdomen. And that’s not all.
“When you’re not eating enough calories, your metabolism can slow down, you don’t have enough energy for workouts, and you’re more likely to binge eat,” White says, “We recommend nothing under a 1,200 calorie diet, especially for women.” Plus, restrictive diets aren’t plausible in the long run; when you’re always hungry and feeling deprived, you’re more likely to binge on unhealthy comfort food.
A regular exercise regimen is an essential part of any weight-loss program, but it doesn’t give you license to binge on whatever you want after you finish. Sure, working out torches calories, but people often dramatically overestimate just how much they burned (fitness trackers and cardio equipment calorie counters tend to be wildly inaccurate). People who reward themselves after a sweat sesh can overdo it, even with seemingly “healthy” post-workout snacks like protein shakes. If you must refuel, stick to these post-workout snacks from fitness experts.
Be wary of foods labeled “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” or “gluten-free;” just because they are marketed as diet-friendly, they could actually be bad for your waistline. Most of these foods are highly processed and contain questionable ingredients like vegetable oils, aspartame, and corn syrup. It’s best to stick to food that doesn’t come in a package in the first place (natural, whole foods), or if you must, choose something with minimal ingredients.
Counting calories can be an effective way to lose weight, but not all calories are created equal. A study published in JAMA found that people who ate a high-fat diet lost more weight than those who ate the same calories but on a low-fat diet, which points to not all calories being the same. And it doesn’t take a dietitian to know that someone who eats 1,500 calories of chips, cupcakes, and soda isn’t going to lose weight compared to someone who eats those same 1,500 calories in lean meat, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you’re calorie counting, definitely leave a little room for some food you enjoy, but don’t think your body is going to process every calorie the same.
Even for people who do pile their plates with healthy calories, they could be unknowingly sabotaging themselves. Foods that have a health halo can especially lead to weight gain. Even though there are a lot of really delicious foods that are good for you such as avocados, hummus, peanut butter, and bananas, these are still calorie-dense and can cause weight gain if you’re not too careful. Enjoy these foods, but be sure to stick to a serving size.
Watching every morsel of food that goes in your mouth is one thing, but what about what you’re sipping on? Even seemingly healthy beverages can be the source of unwanted calories. Cold-press juices can be serious calorie and sugar bombs. Yes, even the green ones; a lot of times, they’re made with high-sugar fruits such as bananas and pineapple, so the calories can creep up fast. Also, each splash of creamer and packet of sugar in your coffee adds up. To stay on track, it’s best to sip on water and unsweetened green tea. And be sure to avoid any of the unhealthiest drinks on the planet while you’re at it!