16 of the Most Common Diet Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Get Fit
“Diets don’t work.” It’s a blanket statement that’s used to dismiss trendy fad diets (and rightfully so), but it’s not particularly helpful if you want to improve your eating habits in a healthy way.
Yes, losing weight can be challenging — it’s certainly more complicated than simply eating less and moving more. But with a basic understanding of what can potentially go wrong, it’s entirely possible to avoid common dieting pitfalls and create a healthy relationship with food.
Here are 16 common diet mistakes, and tips on how to avoid making them.
1. Adopting a Diet Mentality
Telling yourself that you’re going on a diet can actually work against your long-term health and weight-loss goals, says certified nutritionist Paul Claybrook, because the idea suggests a temporary solution.
“Going on a diet with the expectation that once you lose the weight, you’re done, is a recipe for failure,” he says.
Instead, he recommends focusing on lifestyle changes that you can sustain over time.
2. Negative Motivation
Another mental trap? Attempting to self-motivate with negative thoughts, says Mick Cassell, a therapist specializing in body image and founder of ThinkWell-LiveWell.
Rather than focusing on the foods you can’t have, Cassell suggests that you reframe your thinking about what you can have: Thinking “I get to have this well-balanced meal” instead of “I can’t have ice cream” promotes empowerment over deprivation.
3. Dieting Alone
We know the power of having a workout buddy, but research also suggests that having access to a community of people who understand and support your health goals may help you keep your diet on track: In one study conducted at the Pennsylvania State University, successful dieters reported that having at least one friend to hold them accountable felt crucial to maintaining their weight loss.
4. Not Eating Enough
It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to eat in order to lose weight, says Josh Muskin, CrossFit L2 Trainer — he often sees diets go south when people skip meals in order to create a calorie deficit.
“If your body doesn’t know when its fuel is coming, it starts to panic and create backup storage,” he says. “That backup storage comes in the form of body fat, and it’s your body’s way of reserving something to use to burn energy if you go long periods of time without eating.”
He recommends focusing on real, whole foods and always eating within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
5. Downing Portions That Are Way Too Big
If you know what six ounces of beef actually looks like, you’re ahead of the game.
“Most people grossly underestimate their portions,” says Erin Wathen, certified life and weight-loss coach, food addiction counselor, and author of Why Can’t I Stick to My Diet?
“Whenever I have a client who has plateaued, I always get them to start weighing and measuring everything,” she explains.
6. Drinking Your Calories
Dieters often obsess over what’s on their plate — while ignoring what’s in their cup.
Avoiding soft drinks is a no-brainer, but seemingly healthy fruit juice — including those freshly squeezed concoctions from the juice bar — can also greatly increase your caloric and sugar intake without satisfying your hunger.
Other diet-derailing culprits include alcoholic drinks and coffee concoctions that are loaded up with creams and sweeteners (and sprinkles, and drizzles).
7. Hitting the Sauce
Like beverages, condiments and sauces can hijack an otherwise healthy meal, Wathen says.
“Salad dressings and ketchup almost always have hidden sugar,” she adds. Plus, we have a tendency to use more than the suggested serving size.
8. Eliminating Fat
Don’t fall for grocery-store marketing — a fat-free diet doesn’t mean a fat-free you.
“Not incorporating enough good fat into our diet can equal body fat, despite popular belief,” says Rachel Fiske, certified personal trainer, nutrition consultant and board advisor to Smart Healthy Living.
She recommends moderate amounts of healthy fats like olive oil, ground flax seed, organic nuts, avocados, grass-fed butter, ghee, and coconut.
9. Cutting Carbs
Thanks to processed snack foods, carbohydrates get a bad rap. But this macronutrient, found in grains, fruit, and vegetables, is vital to basic human function.
“When cutting carbohydrates, over time you tend to have less energy, and you can experience brain fog and a slowed metabolism,” says Emily Cornelius, registered and licensed dietitian. “This happens because our brain’s primary and preferred fuel source is glucose [which comes from carbohydrates].”
Cornelius recommends eating fiber-rich carbs, which are believed to expand in the stomach, absorb fat, and create a feeling of fullness. Her go-tos include broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, legumes, quinoa, blackberries, and raspberries.
10. Enjoying Too Many BLTs (Bites, Licks, and Tastes)
That half-cookie from the office kitchen, that handful of candy at the reception desk, your coworker’s leftover chicken nuggets — these small amounts of food can add up over the course of a day.
“Be mindful of not looking at your day as being open to food every waking moment,” Wathen advises. “Just because food is offered or available, it doesn’t mean we have to eat it.”
11. Intermittent Fasting Done Poorly
Restricting eating to a designated time of day may help dieters reduce their intake — many intermittent fasters follow the 16/8 rule — but only if they make healthy choices during their eating hours.
“Just doing fasting will not promote weight loss if your overall caloric intake and food quality have not changed,” Wathen says.
In other words, gorging on fast food and pizza during a span of 12 or 16 hours is still…gorging on fast food and pizza.
12. Skipping the Gym
Incorporating cardio and strength training may help maximize your results over just dieting alone.
13. Shortchanging Sleep
Research suggests that consistently getting less sleep than the recommended seven to nine hours may hinder weight-loss efforts.
Brian Kiselstein, certified personal trainer and creator of thinkhealthyfitness.com, agrees that proper rest is critical.
“Having unbalanced hormones can lead to low energy levels and increase cravings towards unhealthy foods,” he says.
Too much vigorous exercise can also mess with your results, says Fiske.
If you’re under a lot of stress — job-related, a family or personal situation, financial stress — Fiske suggests you might want to take a day for some restorative yoga rather than an intense HIIT session that could leave you utterly exhausted.
15. Turning to Social Media for Dieting Advice
Remember that anyone can create an Instagram account, and there are plenty of internet celebrities who claim to be health and fitness experts but don’t actually have any formal training or education.
On top of that, social media influencers are often paid to endorse those supplements, teas, and other products they’re holding up in that good lighting.
The bottom line: use Instagram for entertainment, but when it comes to advice on nutrition and fitness, seek out a certified professional.
16. An All-Or-Nothing Attitude
The most effective diet is the one that you can actually stick to.
“Each person’s life looks very different, so you have to ask yourself what are the action steps that you can successfully take,” says Amy Chow, registered dietitian and founder of BC Dietitians Directory.
Know this: There will be hiccups along the way.
“Do not try to overcompensate when your diet didn’t go as planned,” Chow says. “That means no skipping meals or making up for it the next day.” Instead, she says you should let go of any missteps and use the next meal as an opportunity to make the smartest choice possible.