By Dave Smith
On a scale of 1-10, how healthy is your diet?
Don't answer right away. Take a minute to think about it. Are you a healthy eater?
This is an important question because providing your body with the right nutrition could mean the difference between losing weight that's seemed impossible to lose, avoiding sickness, gaining natural energy, having unthinkable mental clarity, feeling younger, or…
Watching the pounds creep on, succumbing to illness and disease, fighting chronic fatigue and energy crashes, and looking in the mirror at a person much older than you really are.
If you are looking to revitalize your health and change the way your body looks and feels, it’s time to take a closer look at your own healthy diet.
Most People Have a Broken Diet
I’m going to be blunt: Most people have no clue what it really means to eat a healthy diet. But, it’s not their fault. There’s a multi-billion dollar health and fitness industry that relies on selling novel food ideas and diet trends, and it’s filled your head with contradictions, misinformation, and bold-faced lies.
Just take a look at the magazine rack next time you’re in the grocery store and pay special attention to the headlines. Here are 3 that I spotted…
- “Breakthrough Fat-Torching Diet”
- "New Workout For A Bikini Body By Summer”
- "6 Superfoods You MUST Start Eating Today”
Catchy headlines like these are hard to ignore, especially for those who really do want to live a healthier life. Seeking helpful information is an important step, but being able to sift through the garbage to find the truth almost takes a PhD in food science these days!
A lot of people I speak with are stuck with a broken diet (and therefore a broken body) for 3 main reasons:
- Information Overload - They are overwhelmed by the amount of information available to them and therefore don’t start to make any changes.
- Misguided Choices - They are following a diet or eating guidelines that are leading them down a wrong path, one that will never work.
- Eating Inconsistency - They jump from one diet suggestion to the next, never committing to a plan that will actually get them results.
17 Healthy Eating Mistakes You Must Avoid
I want to help you become an informed consumer (and eater) so that you can avoid the diet pitfalls we just discussed. Carefully review the following 17 healthy eating mistakes so that you can spot BS diet claims and only follow advice that will help your body thrive.
How many of these mistakes are you making?
1. Skipping Breakfast
There are many reasons why breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, but one crucial reason is often overlooked: What you feed your body in the morning will dictate what food cravings you face (or don’t face) later in the day.
If you are a victim of afternoon or evening food cravings, there’s a high likelihood that your body missed out on morning nutrients.
2. Eating Too Much
Consuming way too many calories is one of the main reasons why a third of adults in North America are overweight. This isn't news...
However, the problem persists partly because most people don’t know how much food is actually too much. People just eat until they are full (or stuffed).
With a relatively healthy diet and a typical sedentary lifestyle, an average man aged 21-40 needs no more than 2,400 calories per day, while a woman of the same age needs no more than 2,000 calories per day.
Do you know what calories look like in the form of food on your plate or in your bowl? These images below depict 100-calorie (or less) food portions. Does any of this surprise you?
3. Eating Too Little
I know, I know. I just said that people eat too many calories. That's true, but some people go to the opposite extreme and eat an overly restricted diet. Don’t fall for those black-and-white claims that tell you to eat 500 calories less per day to magically burn fat. Your body isn't a math equation.
If you eat too little, your body switches to its "preservation" mode, meaning it will try to conserve energy as much as possible. Your metabolism will tank, your lean mass will drop, and your body fat will stay the same (or even increase!).
4. Missing Your Macros
One of the main problems with the standard North American diet is the imbalance of macronutrients. We eat way too many carbs, often because the cheapest, most convenient foods are purely carbohydrate-based.
I'll make you a bet: Go into your kitchen, open your pantry, and pull out the first 10 items you see. Check the nutrition labels and I suspect you'll see a trend...lots and lots of carbs!
While macronutrient percentage recommendations can vary from person to person, there is no denying that most people are severely deficient in healthy sources of protein and fat. A carb-heavy diet creates food cravings, energy crashes, and binge eating.
5. Relying on Vitamins and Supplements
Just this week I heard a commercial for a new vitamin formulation that provides "100% of all your vitamins" in one tablet per day. Do you believe it?
Maybe you know that supplements aren't a replacement for real, nutritious food, but do you ever catch yourself thinking, "I know I haven't eaten very well today, but at least I had my vitamins!"? Let's wake up.
Some vitamins, and many other micronutrients, cannot be adequately absorbed from a pill format, nor are the dosages found in pills nearly equivalent to the whole food variety (no matter what the commercials or packaging say).
Kids' vitamins are moistened and left exposed to air. Only one brand (middle) showed signs of containing live enzymes (i.e. by growing mold). The others sat for days with no change.
In addition, the preparation of many whole foods makes a wide range of nutrients available to us, many of which we would never get in a traditional vitamin supplement. For example, cooking tomatoes releases lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer and heart disease. If you're skipping out on real foods in favour of synthetics, there's no way to access benefits like this.
6. Eating 6 Small Meals Per Day
You’ve probably heard that eating 6 (or more!) small meals per day keeps your metabolism running, burns fat, keeps you feeling full, and on, and on...
Truth be told, I was once a believer in this healthy eating mistake.
Recent research has shown that eating smaller, more frequent meals does work for some people, but it can actually make others gain weight because they have a more difficult time accounting for the total calories consumed in a day.
7. Eating the Exact Same Meals Over and Over Again
When it comes to healthy eating, food variety is important.
I'll be the first one to tell you to make grocery shopping and food prep as easy as possible. If you had to learn to cook a new meal every single day, I suspect many of us would throw in the towel and head to the nearest drive-through.
Too much of the same food (even "healthy" food) can cause digestive problems, food intolerances, and nutrient deficiencies.
But, eating a variety of foods does two very important things: First, it ensures that your nutrient requirements are being met (so you can wave goodbye to vitamin supplements). Second, variety helps reduce the chance of developing harmful food intolerances that can destroy your digestion (e.g. develop leaky gut) and lead to instant fat storage.
8. Eliminating “Bad” Foods
Eliminating "bad" foods from your diet sounds like a good plan, but what makes a food "bad" in the first place? Is bread bad? What about fat? Diary's certainly bad, right?
My point is this: Many people focus on what they are NOT eating. They desperately eliminate sugars, salt, gluten, or some other devilish food substance, but don’t take into account what they ARE eating. Your body is a function of what you do eat, not what you avoid.
9. Eating Too Fast
Imagine watching a bank robbery unfold. The bank guard is sitting right there in his chair, but he is fixated on reading his newspaper, not the criminals who are making away with fistfuls of cash. Finally, twenty minutes later he picks up his radio and calls for backup.
What's going on?
This is exactly what your stomach does when you scarf down your food. Your "hunger hormone" (i.e. ghrelin) and the stretch receptors in your stomach are slow to send an alert to your brain when you're full. If you eat fast enough, you can be just like those bank robbers...except you've "gotten away with" eating too many calories, while they've made away with a fortune in cash.
10. Drinking Your Calories
Whether you're drinking Coke, OJ, double-double coffees, or green smoothies loaded with fruit and fruit juices, you're likely killing your healthy diet. Drinking your calories is a sure-fire way to underestimate how many total calories you consume each day, and we've already learned that many of us do that with solid foods already!
11. Eating In Your Car
Did you know that 20% of meals eaten by adults take place in the car? Are you contributing to this statistic?
It's likely not surprising that eating in your car is far from ideal for a couple of reasons: First, if you're eating in your car, there's a higher likelihood that you've picked up a to-go meal from a fast food restaurant, which is never a healthy option.
Second, eating while driving is the opposite of mindful eating. You're focused on the road, not your food, and studies show that when we’re distracted, we’re more likely to overeat.
12. Eating While Standing
You've likely noticed a trend here. Any meal that doesn't involve sitting down and mindfully eating your food is problematic. This is certainly true for eating while standing.
If you eat while standing, you're more likely to graze on unhealthy snack foods, and you're far less likely to be able to account for the total amount of food you've consumed.
In fact, Canadian researchers studied two group: One that stood over a kitchen counter while eating, and one group that sat down for their meals. The "standers" ate 30% more calories than the "sitters" - Need I say more?
13. Not Eating Before Exercise
Contrary to popular belief, there is no indisputable evidence showing that exercise on an empty stomach makes your body burn more fat as fuel. In fact, research shows that the exact opposite may happen.
You likely don't need a full meal before you exercise, but exercising on an empty stomach robs you of the energy you need to perform your best.
Plus, exercising on a completely empty stomach deprives your body of the energy it needs to perform at 100%. Sure, you maybe be able to complete your workout, but was it your best workout?
14. Not Eating After Exercise
It may seem like a logical idea...
Go to the gym, burn a bunch of calories, then skip your next meal to shed even more fat. Unfortunately, this strategy, whether it's done intentionally or because you're "too busy" to eat post-workout, will actually prevent your body from seeing the physical improvements you're looking for.
Traditional research has shown that you have what's known as an "anabolic window" after each workout. This is the time period during which your muscles crave food, particularly protein and carbohydrates. The duration of this "window" is up for debate, but it is clear that refuelling after exercise is crucial.
15. Eating Until You Are Full
This common advice relies far too heavily on a subjective measurement. What does "feeling full" actually feel like?
Are you full after dinner, or is there room for a cookie?
People usually confuse the state of being "full" with that of having overeaten. If you wait for physical cues from your body that you don't need more food, there's a good chance that you've already eaten plenty more food than you actually need.
16. Eating Alone
A 2006 study showed that 58% of North American adults regularly eat alone. Is this one of the main reasons why we overeat and are facing such an obesity epidemic? It seems likely.
Cultures in which social eating is the norm are less overweight than cultures where social eating is less common. This makes sense - When you eat your meals socially, you tend to pause for discussion. This slows down your eating, which, as we've learned already, will automatically decrease the quantity of food you eat.
Also, when eating alone, you’re more likely to turn on the TV, surf the internet, or read a magazine to keep you company. All of these distractors will cause you to take in more calories.
17. Eating Your “Fruits and Vegetables”
You’ve probably heard this a thousand time: "Eat your fruits and vegetables and you’ll be healthy."
Unfortunately, a diet full of apples and oranges is nowhere near as healthy as one packed full of veggies. I'm not bashing fruit - It can be great (in the right quantities), but fruit is higher in sugar, higher on the glycemic index, and, in general, contains fewer essential nutrients than veggies.
17 Healthy Eating Action Steps To Combat The 17 Eating Mistakes
After reading through those 17 healthy eating mistakes, you might not be feeling so great about the eating choices you've been making. Please know that...
My goal is not to make you feel guilty for falling into these traps. I don't want to compel you to completely overhaul your diet. Instead, I would like to motivate you to think about your relationship with food, and then take one small action step that will improve that relationship.
What's your action step going to be?
Here are some examples that you might choose from depending on which of the 17 mistakes you've been struggling with (or you can come up with you own action step):
- Drink a big glass of water and eat something for breakfast every day.
- Eat a breakfast that includes some form of protein.
- Journal everything you eat and drink for 4 days to see if you're over or under-eating.
- Eat a vegetable at every meal.
- Try one new vegetable each week for the next 4 weeks.
- Sit down while you eat each meal.
- Commit to taking 20 minutes to eat each meal.
- Eat at least one meal per day with other people.
- Find a healthy and portable snack that you can eat right after your workouts.
- Chew each bite of food 10 times.
- For every fruit you eat, eat one vegetable.
- For one week, journal how you feel before and after each meal.
- Learn how to prepare one new healthy meal each week this month.
- Experiment by eating small portions of different foods before you exercise. See which gives you the best energy during your workout.
- Eat with no distractions (i.e. TV, computer, phone, etc.) so that you are mindful of what and how much you're actually eating.
- Create a dinner meal plan for this week.
- Commit to not buying any sweetened drinks this month.