I came across a great little story about William the Conqueror, an 11th century military commander and king that is known for bringing England under Norman reign during this time period, and his unique creation of what is often considered "the first fad diet." Apparently, he faced some weight loss struggles like the best of us, and decided to take matters into his own hands - in the form of a liquid, alcohol-based, diet. Inevitably, practical starvation led to some weight loss, but it had other health consequences. Supposedly, when he got on his horse one day, he didn't have the strength to stay on and fell off - and soon died from complications of the fall.
This little snippet of history is special because it shows us a few things - how human beings have used diets in one way or another to try and resolve some of our physical (and probably mental) challenges, and not always to great success.
To some extent, there was some degree of experimentation required in the early days of dieting, after all - these diets had no real potential to be grounded in the scientific method.
Things are different today, though, and if you do your research you can find a diet that can benefit your health, help you shed pounds, and still be healthy at the end of the day - instead of ready to fall off your proverbial horse!
So, 12 of the biggest mistakes everyone makes when making a diet change:
- Becoming too dependent on "counting calories." In the modern world of dieting, counting calories is synonymous with becoming healthier. While there may be some value to these calorie counts for some, particularly those who feel the need to micromanage their diet, it can get to an extreme that can become discouraging.
Of even more importance is the reality that not all calories are the same. It is definitely true that 150 calories of steak has different nutritional properties than 150 calories of broccoli. With a plant-based diet, most food you will be eating are naturally low in calories, but are very satisfying because they are nutritionally dense. If you are trying to lose weight, a plant-based diet is really a simple, natural solution and you will reduce calorie intake as a direct result.
- Crash dieting. We have all been here. One day we have the sudden urge that we need to lose weight "now," and immediately go to some extreme diet to try and lose weight. While I doubt any of you are trying the alcohol diet mentioned at the start of this article, it's possible you have have fallen victim to other diets - which are often meant as short term solutions - like water fasting for weight loss. These are just not healthy for your system, and while you may see some "results," the lost weight will return quickly once you resume your normal diet routine.
- Not paying attention to the food you are eating. One of the toughest things to keep track of for some people is what kind of food they are eating. Even if your diet is simply going to be restricting calories, the kind of food you eat will have a huge impact on your ability to feel and become healthier. If the average person needs to take in 2,000 calories to maintain their weight, simple logic would say weight loss will happen at 1,500 calories. The problem is - if we just stop here, we are not dictating the kind of calories, and what sort of nutrition we are putting into our bodies.
One simple way for tracking the food you are eating comes in the form of a great app I have used in the past: MyFitnessPal.
- Eating foods that are scientifically shown to have adverse health effects. Your choice of diet is important - just like the choice of each individual food you decide to eat. There are many foods that we have grown accustomed to eating that have been studied by researchers and found to have negative implications on our health. From what I have seen, foods based in the meat and dairy groups have a tendency to be the most unhealthy for us as they increase risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other conditions.
A plant-based diet, when done correctly, has the potential to prevent and even reverse these conditions and others. I am not just saying this, but have experienced it first hand, too.
- Skipping breakfast - or any meal. On the surface, skipping a meal might seem like a simple way to reduce the amount of food you are eating, but it will come at a cost. We require food to feel satisfied and energized. Not eating breakfast causes you to risk your ability to focus and feel "alive." I can't imagine going to a busy day at work without a hearty bowl of oatmeal. If your in a rush, even an apple or banana can make the difference.
A side effect of not eating a meal often means you will just binge later in the day, too!
- Not exercising or making positive lifestyle changes to go with it. I like to think that exercise goes hand-in-hand with a diet change. There are some people who believe that just going to the gym more and not changing their diet will lead to weight loss, but this is not usually the case. It requires a one-two punch of exercise and diet change to see real, tangible results to your health and appearance.
- Not eating some things you really enjoy. I find that dieting is mostly a mental challenge. Sometimes, even a plant-based diet can seem a bit bland, especially if you have not been exposed to a large array of compliant recipes and experimented yourself in the kitchen. Having go to foods that you really enjoy can help make the difference.
Now, I don't mean run to the store and buy a tub of ice cream you can eat every time you feel the need for "enjoyment" - but, I think you can find 1 or 2 things within the boundaries of your diet that you can stock up on for those moments of struggle. I talk about it a lot, but oatmeal has become a real comfort food for me in this way as it is easy to make adjustments to the base taste with natural sweeteners.
- Weighing yourself every single day. Another common attribute of modern dieting is the need to weigh yourself frequently. While there is no doubt that weighing yourself can be a valuable tool for objectively measuring your progress in terms of weight loss or weight gain, doing it every day will not provide any useful data. If you are trying to adjust your weight, try weighing in once a week (or two, three, or four!). It will be more impactful, then, and less impacted by normal bodily functions (like waste buildup).
- Overlooking the value of whole food sources. "Whole foods" are those that fundamentally exist in nature. This is easily compared with artificial and processed foods that make up much of the Standard American Diet. By minimizing the number of additives, excessive salt and sugar, preservatives, etc. you are organically making your diet healthier.
- Not learning how to have a healthy snack. One of the downfalls of many great diets is inconspicuous snacking - and the potential it has for throwing off your entire diet. Replacing your normal snacks with healthy alternatives can help give you energy and not pull your diet off on the side of the road. The simplest snack I know of is taking a bag of baby carrots with me wherever I go (where I feel a snack will be needed). These are great for you and not going to make you fat in the process!
- Cheat days. Some people adhere to a strict diet 6 out of 7 days a week, but then decide it is okay to have a "cheat day" where they can eat just about anything they like. This is really counter intuitive and have the potential to be really damaging to your mental state - which you constantly have to look out for as you negotiate the treacherous waters of a new, healthy diet. I would highly advise against thinking about cheat days, and instead replace this notion with something healthier.
- Not getting enough sleep. Last but not least, a good diet is only as valuable as other lifestyle changes. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are not allowing your body to naturally recover and utilize some of the nutrients passively while you are out of it. This can impact a whole lot of things - from your energy level to your mood. I know for myself, just feeling a bit depressed can cause me to not want to eat healthy (or at all) - so it is something that you need to make sure you are getting for a healthier life.
I think it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyways) - we all make mistakes when trying to make better lifestyle and dieting decisions. It is just the way of life. It is important to be aware of common areas where other people slip up, and do what you can to avoid these pitfalls. If you do happen to fall of the wagon for a day, don't beat yourself up about it, tomorrow is always another day. After all, diet change and reinvigorating your health is not a short-term commitment - you need to be in it for the long haul.
Have you struggle with making changes to your diet or lifestyle? What obstacles have been in your way, and how have you overcome them?