Sometimes it’s the little things that can crush your plans to eat healthy and lose weight. The more you know about the food you eat, the better prepared you are to see the hurdles ahead before they block your progress and frustrate you to the point of wanting to give up. Look at it this way – forewarned is forearmed. Arm yourself with as much information as you can about every aspect of your diet and activity plan so you can make the kind of choices that will lead to success. Here are a few common mistakes to watch out for.
Calories can be sneaky
How much do you really know about calories? It turns out most of us have some preconceived ideas about calories that could be getting in the way of our meeting our dietary goals. When it comes to eating healthy, one of the first mistakes people make is not knowing how many calories they need in a day and how many calories are in the foods they eat. If you are keeping a calorie log, make sure you are counting all the calories you are taking in, not just those consumed during meals – that means everything from the latte you have in the morning to the bowl of cereal you have as a late-night snack. And Moms…that also includes any last bites you might “clear” off your picky toddler’s plate.
There are a number of factors that determine how many calories an individual needs per day to maintain a healthy weight or lose a few pounds. These include age, height, current weight, activity level, metabolic health and others. But as a general guideline, an average woman needs to eat about 2000 calories per day to maintain, and 1500 calories to lose one pound of weight per week. An average man needs 2500 calories to maintain, and 2000 to lose one pound of weight per week.
Many people focus so much on counting calories that they forget about paying attention to portion size. Calorie counters only work if you are sticking to the recommended serving size of a particular food. An extra half-cup serving here and an extra tablespoon there can add up. Portion control is essential for maintaining a healthy weight because it can help teach your body when it’s full and when it’s hungry.
You can use a calorie app and measure portions to get an idea of what a sensible portion size of a certain food looks like. While calories are important, ultimately, it is the quality and quantity of what you eat that will have the most impact on whether you are eating a healthy diet.
Sabotage by salad bar
Opting for the salad bar can be a good idea, as long as you are smart about the items and toppings you choose. A scoop of pasta salad here and a pile of cheese there, combined with a generous coating of high-calorie dressings like ranch or blue cheese can defeat the purpose of your healthy lunch or dinner. Your dressing alone can add as much as 500 calories to a salad transforming it into a high-fat meal. Vinaigrette dressing is a better choice.
All carbs are not the enemy
Carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fibers that can be found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products, and they play an important role in how your body functions. Cutting carbs and replacing them with only protein and vegetables is a strategy that often ends badly.
Because carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, in their absence the body will use protein and fat for energy. After a few days blood sugar will be lower and you are likely to end up bingeing on carbs to make up for lost time.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as higher fiber starchy foods, vegetables, fruits and legumes, are also important sources of nutrients, such as calcium, iron and B vitamins. Instead of cutting out carbs altogether, be selective about the carbs you eat and focus on those that have more nutritional value like brown rice, beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and fruit.
All wheat breads are not created equal
Whole wheat bread can be a healthier choice than white bread but it is important to know the caloric and nutritional facts about the bread you select. For example, whole wheat bread and white bread often have the same amount of calories. And, how a particular bread is marketed can be confusing, so to be sure you know what you are getting, you have to be adept at reading the nutritional labels. If sugar, wheat flour or refined white flour are the first three ingredients, what you have is not “whole wheat bread.”
Generally, whole wheat bread will provide more nutrients than white bread, but it is not necessarily a lower-calorie choice. Reading labels carefully can help you make an informed decision.
Overdoing a good thing
It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating the same thing over and over when trying to eat healthily. A lot of people make the mistake of limiting themselves to a few foods they consider safe choices like chicken, broccoli, or sweet potatoes.
In order to meet your nutritional needs and keep from getting bored with the same old choices, you need to eat a wide variety of foods. Limiting the diversity of the food you eat can frustrate your best efforts to stay on track and lead to bingeing.
Splurge or Scourge?
Splurging once a week can help satisfy your cravings and, when done right, can even spike metabolism and help you burn calories more efficiently. But when your cheat day becomes an excuse to pig out on everything in your wake, you can easily negate all of your hard-earned progress. Going overboard can set you back thousands of calories and make you feel sick and bloated for days.
Instead of a cheat day, have a cheat meal each week. You still can have that donut, pizza, or brownie you’ve been craving, but then it’s important to go back to your nutritious, calorie- and fat-conscious plan.
Eating healthy is great, but drinking healthy is key for an overall healthy body. It’s easy to forget the calories in beer, wine, and especially sugar-laden cocktails, but they count just as much as the calories in food. If you like to have a glass of wine before dinner or a beer at the ballgame, be sure to factor that into what else you plan to consume for the day. Besides saving calories, you will be doing your overall health a favor.
The Mayo Clinic’s guideline for alcohol consumption among healthy adults is no more than one drink a day for women of all ages and men over 65 and no more than two drinks a day for men under age 65.