You’ve tried multiple diets in the past and nothing ever seems to work. Perhaps you manage to stick to a rigid diet for a few days, but you crack before the week is out. Maybe you get into good habits, but somehow let them slide again. You know to avoid some of the common dieting mistakes—you eat breakfast every day, you drink plenty of water—but something still seems to be wrong.
If you read Glen’s post on How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle and thought, “I wish I had the problem of trying to put on weight,” this post is for you.
Here are seven dieting mistakes that you might not realize you’re making … could one of these be the key to why your attempts to lose weight aren’t succeeding?
1. Eating Too Little
Many people don’t realize that eating too little will prevent you from successfully losing weight. The human body is good at adjusting to difficult conditions (it’s how we survived in the past when food was scarce). If you eat very little on a consistent basis, your body will become super-efficient in clinging onto its remaining stores of fat. It’ll also start to eat up your muscles for energy—the last thing you want, as muscle is what gives your body strength and definition.
Nutritionists recommend that you eat at least 1,000 calories per day (men will need more). You also need more than this if you’re exercising. Don’t try to crash-diet by severely cutting calories: you’ll struggle to lose weight, and your body will pile the weight back on when you do stop dieting.
2. Having a Monotonous Diet
Many dieters fall into the trap of working out a few “good” (nutritious, easy-to-prepare, low calorie) meals, and rotating between them on a daily or weekly basis. Diet plans often encourage this monotonous behavior.
The problem is, most of us get pretty bored with eating the same thing day-in-day-out. If your brown-bagged lunch is exactly the same as it was for the last four days, you’re going to be much more tempted to ignore it in favor of popping to the nearest fast food joint.
3. Misjudging Portion Sizes
Like most of the world, you probably shake your morning cereal straight into your bowl. It’s a bowlful—it’s the right size for a portion, right? Try weighing out your cereal next time you eat breakfast, using the recommended portion size on the packet as a guideline. You might find that your regular serving is easily twice as big.
Get used to weighing everything: few of us can accurately judge weights by eye. Using smaller dinner plates and smaller cereal bowls also helps you keep portion sizes down, and the wonderful Crabby McSlacker has this tip about cereal: Do you put fruit on your cereal? If so, put the fruit in first, then sprinkle cereal on top. Magically, it takes much less cereal to feel like a “full” bowl when the fruit sits underneath rather than on top! (Portion Control, Pizza and Peanut Butter, Cranky Fitness)
4. Making Exercise a Chore
If I say the word “exercise,” what comes to mind? Chances are you associate exercise with something that you feel you “should” do (like spring-cleaning the house, or visiting those relatives who you secretly wish would disown you).
Whilst seeing exercise as a chore can make you feel a lovely virtuous, slightly self-righteous glow when you do make it to the gym, it’s unlikely to help you to stick to being active in the longer term. Look for forms of activity that you enjoy and look forward to. Anything which gets your body moving and your heart rate up counts: walking, gardening, swimming, skating, rowing, etc.
5. Impulse Eating
This is one of my biggest mistakes and it’s a tricky one to guard against: eating on impulse. Maybe one of your colleagues has brought in a gorgeous birthday cake, or your kids have made cupcakes. Perhaps you’re making a coffee and your hand reaches for the cookie jar without you really noticing.
When you find yourself reaching for food that you’ve not planned to eat, stop. Are you hungry, or just eating because it’s there? Don’t ban yourself from having foods, but do make yourself stop and think about it. I find that telling myself, “I’ll have a cookie (etc) in twenty minutes” works well: often, I’ve decided I don’t really want it after all once twenty minutes is up. And if I do decide to go ahead and indulge, I’ll take the time to really savor and enjoy it!
6. Worrying About Waste
Have you ever eaten something because you, “didn’t want it to be wasted?” Whether it’s finishing up the kids’ leftovers, licking out your bowl of cookie dough or snaffling those few limp remaining sandwiches at a work buffet, that unneeded food is just as wasted as extra pounds on your body as it would be if it ended up in the garbage.
Save leftovers for the next day, where possible, or use them for compost. In the long run, isn’t it more of a waste to stay unhealthy and overweight (and suffer potentially expensive health care, or pay for pricy diet food) than to chuck away half an uneaten bag of chips?
7. Being Too Strict
One final mistake that some dieters make is to try too hard. Maybe they ban a lot of foods, or get obsessive over counting every last calorie. This is a sure-fire way to end up going completely off the rails when something unexpected happens: a conference with buffet meals, for instance, or suddenly “cracking” and going on a cookie-binge.
Cut yourself some slack. Don’t see dieting as an all-or-nothing effort. You definitely don’t have to be “perfect” (however you define that) to improve your health, lose weight, and get more energy.