10 Dieting Mistakes That Are Keeping You From Your Goals
Let’s face it. If you are reading this you're probably trying to change your body and/or improve your health through your diet… and most of the things you have tried, haven’t got you the long term results you were hoping for. If it is not you, then you probably know at least a dozen people who fit that description.
With so many dieting resources around us, why is it so hard to stick to that healthy diet that gives us the results we want? The truth is, most diet plans work. Mediterranean, Keto, Paleo, High Carb/Low Fat, Low Carb/High Fat, Intermittent fasting and others all have proven track records of success. So in this article I won’t be addressing specific diets, especially when it comes to gaining or losing weight. Instead, we are going to take a look at some of the most common mistakes in dieting.
For this article I split these 10 common mistakes into 2 main categories: Proper Planning and Fatigue Management. Dieting can make you uncomfortable, but by eliminating some of these major mistakes, it can make it a much more pleasurable and sustainable experience. There are also 2 bonus tips at the end, so keep reading!
Approximate Reading Time - 7-10 minutes
“Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
“An hour of planning can save you hours of doing.” ~ Dale Carnegie
1. NOT PLANNING
So you read your book, or downloaded your template, or got your marching orders through your app or coach. You have everything you need right? It is a great start, but unfortunately you didn’t plan for one big thing: YOU. Each week you are going to face different challenges. An extra shift at work or with the kids, travel, an unexpected business lunch, your dieting kryptonite shows up in the break room, and life stress can put your diet on a major detour.
One of the best things you can do is look ahead at any possible roadblocks and plan for them. Schedule a day and time you are going to look at your upcoming week and make a plan. Yes, put it in your schedule. Having healthy meals available by prepping, delivery service or picking up a better option from the frozen isle at the grocery store can help to save the trip to that fast food joint. If you have to dine out or grab something quick this week: look ahead at the menu and plan your healthiest option. Plan ways that work for you to avoid stress eating and those junky snacks that are sitting around.
Make a plan for the other things that trip up your diet. A little work on the front end of the week will keep you happy with your progress and save you a tone of frustration.
2. HITTING YOUR DIET TOO HARD, TOO EARLY
You're motivated, you have your plan, you’ve set your expectations, you eliminate almost any carb or fat you possibly take, and you add 4 new workouts each week. It is working out great… for 3 weeks. Then after a stressful week and a super hard HITT class, a pizza and a 6 pack find its way into your kitchen. Before you know it, ¾ of the pizza disappeared, “someone” drank all those beers and you're digging out the candy and chips that are hiding in the back of the cupboard.
We all love those quick results “hitting it hard” gives us but the reality is 97% of the people that take this approach can not manage to keep that pace and wind binging and falling off the wagon. Most of the time gaining everything they lost or even worse gaining more! The other 3% that can stick to that plan for a short time? They are the exception, not the standard. People who see the most success tend to lose and gain at a rate of 0.3-1% of their current body weight per week.
A smarter approach is to treat yourself like a child learning to walk. Work on mastering small achievable goals and sustainable body composition change. For a 150lb person that is about 1/2lb - 1.5lbs lost or gained per week. See more in “Not Phasing Your Diet”.
3. EXPECTING “SMOOTH” CONSISTENT RESULTS
Tell me if this sounds familiar: “I ate amazing yesterday, worked out, got great sleep and I’m up a pound on the scale, my pants feel super snug and I feel like a slug.” OR: “WOW I’m down a pound on the scale, I look great in these pants and my energy is through the roof. I can’t believe last night I had my planned pizza and wine and I didn’t even get my 10,000 steps.” Now how many times has this happened in the same week?
Setting up the expectation of smooth and consistent results is setting yourself up for failure. Your body is an amazingly complex machine that responds billions of stresses each day. Heck it can take 3 days just to process and dispose of the food you eat. Instead of getting excited or beating yourself up over day to day progress, look for weekly, monthly or quarterly trends. If you are not making the progress you were expecting, analyze your weak spots and make a plan to overcome!
4. TO RELEASE OR NOT TO RELEASE THE DIET VALVE
This mistake can be a tricky one, so stick with me. Not having sweats and tasty things will decrease your cravings for other sweat and tasty things. So having an overall bland diet can help with long term adherence to a diet.
Having planned dietary releases can also improve long term compliance to your diet. For example: Part of your plan is having two pieces of pizza and a glass of wine on Friday or your weekly plan includes a special dinner out. This is different from an impulse “I’m just going to grab a piece of pizza” or “I forgot lunch with my best friend” decision.
We will talk more about this in the fatigue management section, but take an honest assessment of yourself and plan your program around it. For now: To release or not to release… that is the question for you to answer.
5. OVERTHINKING YOUR SUPPLEMENTS
First a general note: Vitamins, Minerals and other Supplements can help to fill in nutritional gaps to optimize your health. A deficiency in B vitamins that can lead to lower energy and increased fatigue making it harder to stick to your plan. If you are not deficient in B vitamins having more B vitamins will give you expensive urine and an empty wallet. *If you feel like you might have a vitamin mineral deficiency that is holding you back from your goals, I recommend seeing a doctor or Registered Dietitian who is able to take a look at blood work with you and help to create a “food and lifestyle first, supplements and meds when needed” approach.
With “weight loss supplements” an overwhelming amount of research indicates they are a waste of money or can come at a cost to your overall health. Cayenne Pepper, tea extracts, and caffeine can give you a temporary “boost” in your energy and metabolism, but so does getting up and doing 10 squats, push ups or jumping jacks. Other supplements claim to curb cravings and reduce hunger. Outside of caffeine those claims don’t hold much weight when put to clinical trials and can come with their own unique side effects.
If you are taking or have taken a weight loss supplement that you feel gives you special dieting benefits, you didn’t experience side effects and you don’t mind spending the extra money by all means rock and roll. If a placebo garnishes desired results is it really a placebo?
When it comes to weight loss supplements, for all intensive purposes, some black coffee or green tea, some extra movement, and the right mindset will give you the same if not better results at a fraction of the cost.
“I’m tired, boss” ~ John Coffey -The Green Mile
“Fatigue makes fools of us all. It robs us of our skills, our judgement and blinds us to creative solutions” ~ Harvey Mackey
For anyone new, fatigue is built up from lots of things in our lives and is heightened when we are pushing our bodies to levels it hasn't seen in awhile. Dieting also builds fatigue. Signs you have built up diet fatigue can include: the inability to resist cravings, constant feeling of being tired and hungry, loss of enjoyment in the gym or activities you once found joy in, sleep disruption among other things. So let’s look at ways dieting fatigue can end your diet early.
6. RELYING ON ONE PROGRESS MARKER
It is easy to get caught up on the scale. That is just one of many markers that could indicate your progress. It is recommended to track your health and fitness progress at least 3 different ways. This can be as simple as “How do my pants/shirts feel?”, or am I getting stronger in the gym or as complex as a full medical assessment from your doctor.
Your progress in one area might be moving a little slower than you like, but other areas may be improving. Having multiple ways of tracking your progress can keep your focus and energy high and fatigue to a minimum. **A side note on your scale: It weighs the amount of things in your body at that time. Retaining water? Extra weight. Haven’t had a good bowel movement in a while? Extra weight. That time of the month? Extra weight. Had an intense workout? Extra weight. Instead of looking at your one weight on that one day a week, take frequent measurements around the same time, multiple days a week and look at average trends!
7. KEEPING THE SHIP TOO “TIGHT”
I used to think I needed to be 100% healthy 100% of the time. My willpower and grit would last about 4 weeks. Afterwards, I found myself on a week-long binge. With more energy and all those cravings quenched, it was time to get back on track, right where I started.
It turns out this diet and binge cycle that many people do is actually making it harder to achieve long term fat loss that lasts and can be detrimental to your overall mental and physical health.
A perfectly imperfect plan tends to be much more beneficial for long term results. Planning the flexibility for a few squares of chocolate for desert, or a burger and fries that might not seem “healthy” to the outside observer, can help you stick to your overall healthy diet for the long haul. It will also help to reduce the tendency to fall into major binges. A win, win, win.
8. GOING TOO HARD IN THE GYM
Too much pain, will probably cause you to gain! Exercise fatigue can have a huge impact on your overall fatigue. Too many hard workout sessions, high intensity workouts, and huge calorie crushers just doesn’t throw your diet off track. When you are in a calorie deficit, your body has less materials to help you rebuild and recover from that hard workout. This can result in excessive soreness, unnecessary loss of muscle tissue, decreased performance, loss of workout motivation, and even injury.
Generally for every 2-3 “hard” or moderate to high intensity workouts you should have a rest or recovery workout. In this category, everyone is different. A professional athlete's response to exercise fatigue will likely be higher than someone just starting off. This journey is really about trial and error. Take note of signs of fatigue and organize your workout plan around it.
9. METABOLIC ADAPTATIONS
The human body is an amazingly adaptive machine. When in a calorie deficit, your body naturally adapts by decreasing the calories you are expending… and you might not even realize it. Ways that it might show up are decrease in daily activity, your not as expressive, or losing that bounce or “pep” to your step. In extreme cases it can even show up in adjusting your hormones to prioritize the most important things.
Let’s say that you are trying to lose weight and you are in a 500 calorie deficit. You haven’t made any adjustments in your workouts or the amount of steps you have tracked in the day, but the scale just isn’t budging. Without you realizing, you may be avoiding being expressive with your hands, fully enjoying a hilarious lunch with friends, or getting down and playing with your kids. All of these small things can add up.
10. NOT HAVING PHASES TO YOUR DIET
You have completed your fat loss or muscle gain diet, what is next? If you are like most people they don’t know, so they fall back to many of the same habits that got them there in the first place.
Each time you are trying to adjust your body composition you should complete 3 phases. Phase 1 is your calorie cutting for fat loss or calorie surplus for weight/muscle gain. Usually done in 6-16 week periods with continuous small adjustments as you progress and your body adapts. For example: In week 1 a 200lb person may cut 250 calories from their daily maintenance, and by week 12 they are in a 750 calorie daily deficit.
Phase 2 is a transition phase. This usually lasts a few weeks where you are slowly transitioning to your new maintenance calories, a few hundred calories every 3-5 days. This is also known as reverse dieting. Look for your weight to hover within 1-3lbs of your target weight.
Phase 3 is a maintenance phase. In a perfect world your maintenance phase would last 2/3 as long as your cutting or massing phase. The goal here is to not only maintain new eating habits, but also allow your body to adjust to your new “set point”. Most people who can successfully diet fail to plan for their maintenance phase after and that is the main reason most people are caught on the cycle of yoyo dieting.
Phasing your diet will help you attain longer lasting results. It is also a great way to comfortably split up a really big goal. For example: You want to drop 25lbs of fat by next year. Old mindset: You diet down for 30 straight weeks, a task not easily done, and will probably be done ½ ass IF you last the whole 30 weeks. New mindset: You diet down for 12 weeks with the goal of 1lb lost per week. Have an 8 week transition and maintenance phase. Then you enter your next 12 week cutting phase with a clear and focused mind and a bunch of energy. Then another 8 week transition and maintenance. In 40 weeks you have dropped and kept off a solid 24lbs and you feel great!
WRAP IT UP
Dieting can be hard. You don’t have to make it harder on yourself! I hope seeing these 10 common errors helps to bring some clarity to your journey. By identifying flaws in what you have done in the past, you can create a better plan for the future and avoid excessive sabotaging fatigue.
I would be foolish if I didn’t let you know that we offer nutrition and fitness coaching. If you like what you read here and you are ready to take the next step into hiring a professional coach, let us know. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up your consultation.
Bonus Mistake #1: Trading Immediate Gratification for Long Term Satisfaction
Simply put- Don’t trade 1 marshmallow now at the sacrifice of a 2 marshmallows later. Ask yourself does the immediate gratification of having this doughnut now, outweigh the long term satisfaction of achieving my goal. You should find yourself saying “no” most of the time.
Bonus Mistake #2: Not learning from past mistakes
I have failed more times than I have succeeded... especially when it comes to dieting. Each time I fail, I try to learn something new about myself. A new skill or dieting tool is developed, and the next time I diet, I have that tool in my tool box to help me achieve my goal.
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