As I walked past a magazine stand the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the barrage of sensational nutrition-focused headlines that promised weight-loss success. Doesn’t it also seem that everyone – from your news anchor to your hair dresser – has an opinion about how to lose 10 pounds in 10 days, without giving up your favorite foods? Get real.
Just because someone swears by the latest fad or TV testimonial doesn’t mean such a plan is scientifically sound – or even safe – for you. Following the lead of someone who may not be a credible expert could leave you with a quick weight loss and even faster weight gain after.
Although nutrition research is a confusing and ever-evolving field, some basic common sense guidelines stand the test of time. Start by avoiding these eight common diet blunders :
1. You only rely on exercise for weight loss.
So you overindulged at dinner and think your 6 a.m. spin class will help negate it? Sadly, weight loss is not this simple. My clients often overestimate the number of calories a workout burned and then go overboard at their next meal. For exercise to benefit weight loss, consistency is key. Unfortunately, too many people go the “feast or famine” route when it comes to physical activity – swinging from sleeping through their spin classes to signing up for triathlons. Instead, find ways to work activity into your daily routine. For example, go for a walk during a phone call, bike to work or take the stairs up to your office instead of the elevator. Although these small bursts of activity may seem minimal, over time, they join forces to strengthen your body – and your resolve.
2. You follow the fad diets your coworkers are bragging about.
If the person at the desk next to you says she loves her new diet, but doesn’t appear to eat anything other than lettuce leaves, the plan may not be the best example to follow. We all have different metabolisms, food preferences and cooking abilities, which can influence weight-loss success and maintenance. Try seeking out the sage advice of a registered dietitian nutritionist, who should inquire about your medical and diet history, and who can create a customized weight-loss plan that fits your diet into your lifestyle.
3. You have six “mini” meals that aren’t so mini.
Eating six small, balanced “mini” meals throughout the day may promote weight loss, but if the meals aren’t well-planned or are maxi instead of mini, your scale may not go in the desired direction. If you’re trying the mini-meal method to drop a few pounds, be sure you are eating a balanced meal containing 200 to 400 calories of protein, carbohydrates and fat every three to four hours throughout the day. This powerful trifecta of nutrients keeps you feeling satisfied, full of energy and will even help curb hunger throughout the day so you’ll be less likely to reach for food that zaps energy instead of supplying it.
4. You don’t snack.
Eating three square meals a day may be just as effective for weight loss as the mini-meal approach, but if your meals are spaced more than five hours apart, you could benefit by adding a smart snack. Try a late afternoon pick-me-up driven by protein and fiber, such as an apple and almond butter or Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of chopped nuts, to help regulate your blood sugar more effectively and prevent overeating at your next meal.
5. You think all organic foods are healthier.
If a food wears a USDA organic seal on its label, it means it’s made with ingredients that are 95 percent to 100 percent organic, or that have been produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers; haven’t been genetically modified or radiated; and were produced without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. But just because the organic label proudly adorns the front of many food packages doesn’t guarantee it’s good for your health. That bag of organic lollipops, for instance, is just as void of nutritional value as any other bag of candy.
6. You always choose a salad when dining out.
Although veggies and fruit should take up half the precious real estate on your plate, a main dish salad that’s tossed with creamy dressing, crispy noodles, fried chicken and a cup of nuts is likely to derail your dieting efforts, since it may provide more calories than you planned on. If you’re ordering a salad out or preparing one at home, load up your plate with veggies, top it with lean protein, such as grilled fish or chicken, and dilute your dressing with a thick balsamic glaze and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.
7. You equate success only with weight loss.
When you only measure success by the number on the scale, you may set yourself up for failure because your weight naturally fluctuates on a daily basis due to the foods you eat, your exercise habits and even the time of month or day. If you’re weighing whether to weigh yourself, remember the scale is only one measure of success. Decreasing numbers will come if accompanied by a reduction in portion sizes; a balanced, varied diet; and an overall sense of empowerment at the plate.
8. You eliminate entire nutrient groups.
If you’re following a trendy carb-free or fat-free diet, you could pay a price. Whenever you eliminate an entire food group for weight-loss purposes, you are also eliminating a slew of nutrients that are essential for good health. Instead, try to consume the best quality nutrients by ditching white, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries, and including whole grains, such brown rice and quinoa (which are rich in fiber and B vitamins), in your diet. Fats such as avocado and nuts can also help keep you fuller for a longer period of time.