If there is one thing that I know about, it’s dieting (ok, and maybe writing).
Most of my life was spent in an unfortunately tumultuous relationship with food. While for many, “intuitive eating” came naturally – stopping when they were full, eating when they were hungry – I actually had to teach myself to listen in and take notice of my body’s signals much later on. Because my mind and former desire to reach “perfection” overpowered any biological signs my body was sending me, I opted for diet after diet, exercise plan after exercise plan and while they all definitely worked (in the beginning), the long-term maintenance really was not there or even possible.
Of course you can live off 1000 calories and hop on the elliptical for 45 minutes a day and expect to lose weight, but that is not maintainable and can only lead to fatigue and malnutrition if done for prolonged periods of time.
Taking on fad diets have been shown not only to be ineffective – where people partaking in them have regained the weight they previously lost – but have proven to be detrimental, where many have regained weight and then some.
Going on a fad diet at all is the mistake made in this example, but you may be making the following mistakes that are slightly more nuanced. These mistakes may not only mean long term potential weight gain instead of loss, but may also mess with your head! Watch out for these mistakes and correct them for a happy body and happy mind.
1. You are on a “diet”. Period.
Yep, this is the first mistake you’re making. Points, calories, macros… I have a real problem with it all. Of course, if you really don’t know about portion sizes and need a starting point, this may be a great option, but otherwise, I would suggest eating good ingredients (fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and healthy overt fats) in modest portions with a reasonable protein:carbs:fats ratio. Have 3 square meals and a snack. If you’re trying to following a “diet”, I promise that it may not catch up with you tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year, but it will. You will fall off the “diet” and feel like you have failed, when really it was the diet that was failing you all along.
2. You have a “goal weight”.
If your doctor has recommended a goal weight to you for health reasons, that’s a different story, but if you are obsessed with a certain number like “105” or “110” because that’s how much a certain celebrity weighs (or whatever reason), then it really won’t end well. Take into consideration your body type, how much muscle you have and how you feel, first and foremost! A more accurate way to tell if you are on a healthier path would be through body fat measurements, BMI or how your clothes feel!
3. You believe that workout quantity is greater than quality.
I had a period of time where I ran 6 miles a day every day, and then I went through a phase where I did about 2 hours of weight lifting virtually every day. I clearly thought that quantity was much better than quality and I was wrong, because overtraining that much and being so repetitive with my workouts only wore my body down instead of energized me or made me feel healthy. However, because I wasn’t giving myself a rest, I was never bettering myself – instead plateauing fairly early on.
Let me tell you this: I still workout 6 days a week (rest is important, too!) but my max is 60-90 minutes in the gym and I change up my workout. Some days I will lift for 60 minutes, other days I will do 60 minutes of yoga followed by 30 minutes of running, and yet on other days I will go on just a long run. The workouts vary, but I don’t get obsessive or compulsively feel the need to workout until I wear down. Being consistent with your workouts will do your body so much better (even if they’re short) then working out like crazy and then ditching the gym for days or even weeks at a time.
4. You’re doing it for purely the physical benefits.
If you’re only working out to look a certain way, then your efforts will not last. This is a direct sign that you workout and try to eat healthy as a punishment for not being “good enough” which reinforces negative thoughts in your mind. Negative thoughts? Negative life. Negative outcome.
Workout and eat well because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself. Find other reasons to love hitting the gym. It took me a while, but I found that working out had a soothing effect on my mind, going to my yoga studio gives me a sense of camaraderie with other regulars, and (I’m sorry, but…) the really attractive guys at my gym are certainly worth hauling my butt over there for! Could there be greater motivation? Whatever moves you!
5. You think it gives you a free pass on the weekends.
There’s no greater incentive to do something than a reward and while this is all well and good, it sometimes gets taken too far. Yes, you should certainly treat yourself to bits of dark chocolate throughout the week and go out with your friends on the weekend, maybe a slice of pie, but if you think “Oh, to hell with it!” from Friday-Sunday, you are doing yourself and all your efforts a disservice. Having dessert won’t undo a week’s worth of effort, but binging regularly (whether it be on food, alcohol etc.) is an unhealthy pattern and will negatively impact your waist line and mental state – no matter how many bowls of kale you ate this week.
6. You do not balance your fitness life with your personal life.
Once you get excited about fitness, many tend to get really excited. Really. Excited. Actually, it reaches a point where it’s all-consuming. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to wait to get out of work to pump some iron, but if you’re constantly forgoing important life events, social gatherings and other responsibilities because you need to “mind your diet” or “burn some fat”, you are on the fast track to burnout. Also, think about it this way: How happy will you really feel when you’re finally at your “goal” if your personal life has suffered? You can be as thin or as ripped as you want, but if you are not happy on a deeper level, then it was all for naught.
7. You are obsessive about eating.
Counting calories, timing meals, tracking macros, whatever whatever whatever. Do that for some time if it will help you sleep at night, but know that nothing lasts forever and no one can actually eat this way for the rest of your life. If going over your daily allotted calories is giving you a nervous breakdown, then there are bigger problems you need to think about and deal with.
8. You think that what works for someone else will (of course) work for you.
I might get backlash for this, but as a vegan I always tell people, “It may not be for you!”, and it’s the truth. Everyone is built differently because they have grown up differently, gotten used to different foods, and have totally different lines of ancestry that ate totally differently. Just because I do well on a vegan diet, does not mean that it will be the pinnacle of health for you. Just because someone did the Paleo diet, doesn’t mean it will make you feel your best. You have to experiment. It’s all about trial & error.
9. You don’t think of health & wellness as a lifestyle.
It’s always surprising to me when people are dumbfounded by why they don’t feel like a million bucks even though they go to the gym and hang out on the elliptical everyday and eat a salad three times a week. Being healthy is not something you can half-ass to expect full results. You don’t need to be militaristic with your regimen, but it should be put into consideration at least 80% of the time. If you’re going out to dinner with your friends, lighten up at least one part of your meal, or maybe take smaller portions. Instead of spending every weekend drinking, go out a couple times a month and do more fun activities like bike riding, reading, picnicking or hiking on the weekends. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
10. You feel the need to be perfect.
Perfection is a myth and doesn’t exist. That is all. There will be days where you eat totally healthy foods all day long, go for a run and dry brush before your shower and there will be some days where all you want is a bacon, egg and cheese bagel for breakfast and to watch TV marathons. Have that bacon, egg and cheese and then go for a walk outside. You may not even want to lounge around all day after experiencing all the outdoors has to offer.
11. One small sidestep sets you off.
Let’s say you have that bacon, egg and cheese and then you think “Aw well, then forget about the rest of today. I might as well eat this carton of cookies. This is where many go terribly wrong. A bad meal is not a “bad” day and should not lead to “bad” weeks. Waiting until Monday to get back on track will only send you farther back. Indulge reasonably but know to get right back in line. Remember how good you feel when you eat well and move your body and this will no longer be a problem.
12. You don’t take bodily cues.
Listen to your body. It’s harder than you think, but the best piece of advice I can give you. If you’re hungry, eat. Thirsty? Drink. Are you super tired? Rest. Don’t feel like drinking tonight? Don’t. Your body knows you better than you know yourself and this is the truth without a doubt. By trying to overwrite what your body is telling you is putting you in a constant push-pull state and totally out of balance with your mind.
13. You don’t vary your diet or workout regimen.
Similar to what I said earlier, if your diet or workouts get too repetitive you will get bored. You will get bored and give up, because nobody really enjoys doing/eating/seeing the exact same thing everyday. Perhaps you want to opt for meatless Mondays, maybe the next day you want to go out for a steak dinner! It’s also possible that you lift weights 3 days a week, run twice, and do restorative yoga once (or any variation on this) and feel like you’re improving in all areas. This kind of variety will breathe “life” into your regimen.
14. You think it’s “you”.
You are not doing yourself any justice if you constantly beat down on yourself after every hiccup. Love yourself enough to respect yourself. Everyone trips and sometimes falls, but it doesn’t make you any less of a human.
15. You don’t educate yourself.
Don’t walk into a lifestyle or plan just because so-and-so said so! Research it to find out if it’s really shown positive benefits, reaction and could potentially fit into your lifestyle. Of course a lot of this is trial and error, but the greatest thing you can do is read. For example, when I first went vegan, I knew nothing besides that I thought it would “help me lose weight”. Naturally, I just ate salads and fruit all the time, but I felt super run-down. I wanted to make it work properly, so I read up and found out about all the nutrients I was potentially missing out on. Once I tweaked my intake, it was certainly not always super easy, but I felt better in the long-run and have been able to maintain ever since.
16.You don’t check with your doctor.
Go to the doctor, people! Get your check ups, blood tests, etc. to make sure everything really is running smoothly for you. You can feel like you’re doing everything you can, but if you’re not seeing improvements, there may be an underlying problem you really should check up on.
For more Head & Heart advice, check out our articles here.
What are some of the worst diet mistakes in your book?