Most of us start a new diet for a reason.
It’s not like anyone wants to diet just for fun.
We want to look a certain way, feel better in our bodies, and have more energy.
Dieting we’re told, gives us the ability to take control of our bodies and (finally) start living happier, healthier lives.
And certainly, we know that eating healthy, whole foods can do all of these things and more for us.
Yet, time and time again, we get dieting plain wrong.
Think about your current diet (or a past one):
Does your diet actually make you feel better? Or is it stealing your attention, energy, and joy?
If your diet causes you more stress than happiness or leaves you feeling sluggish instead of energized, you might be making one of these common diet mistakes.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve made all six of them!
1. Going All In
I get it. You’re ready to turn over a healthy new leaf. Giving your new diet 110% is the best way to go, right?
Slow, small changes aren’t sexy, which means they can’t really be sold. So it’s no surprise that most commercial diets look pretty extreme:
- 1,200 calorie diets (where 2 of your meals are shakes)
- NO carbs (or fat. or fruit. or sugar. You get the idea)
- Permission to eat something you enjoy…once each week
These aren’t even the actually extreme diets like HCG or other shady quick-fixes like pills. These are pretty typical diets that you’ll see in a magazine or on Dr. Oz.
But making a dramatic change like this can backfire in a major way.
Not only is this kind of diet not sustainable, but it’s likely to leave you hungry, deprived, and fatigued.
I call this Dieting in Black & White, and it’s full of the usual rhetoric of No Treats, No Exceptions, and No Fun.
Quit trying to be perfect and give yourself permission to be human. Explore the gray area where you’re allowed to eat things you actually enjoy.
2. Searching for the Next Best Thing
In an ideal world, after struggling with and eventually quitting a fad diet, we’d stop and ask ourselves some questions.
Do I really need a strict diet?” “Why didn’t that diet work?” “Did I feel good at any point on this diet?”
After a little soul searching, we just might break the diet cycle and realize that we already have the tools we need to be healthy and happy.
But in the real world, where the abundance of diets, gurus, and trends is truly overwhelming, we hop from one failed diet to the next.
Because even though the March issue is touting Paleo, by September, it’s on to the next hot trend.
And in the diet industry, the Next Best Thing is just a mirage. We keep on chasing an illusion only to find that we now rely on some expert to tell us how to eat and how to live.
If you’re constantly searching for the next solution (you know, the one that will finally make you happy), it might be time to reevaluate your diet mindset. If you don’t stop the cycle, you may find yourself constantly chasing happiness.
3. Frequent Diet Damage Control
I have an (extremely nerdy) inside joke that I like to play. When I mess something up, I yell “Control Z!” and pretend that I can undo my mistake as easily as I can undo a typo by pressing Control-Z on my keyboard.
Turns out it doesn’t work at all for screwing up a recipe or accidentally stepping on a kitty paw.
And it doesn’t work for un-eating that personal large pizza you ordered last night either.
But so many dieters are certain that they can (and should) undo any small slip-up on their diet.
We’re taught that an hour on the treadmill “equals” a can of soda. Or that we should skip dinner because we ate a brownie in the breakroom.
These are the subtle ways in which we punish ourselves by trying to “undo” normal behavior.
And over time, we reinforce the cycle of Diet → FAIL → Punish/Restrict → Repeat.
It’s easier said than done, but the next time you think you’ve totally blown your diet, just acknowledge it and then continue eating normally.
4. Assuming That More is More
Does your current diet come with any (or all) of the following tools?
- Tracking spreadsheet
- Meal plan
- Community forum
- Branded food scale
- Special water bottle
- A printable list of “can’t eats” to put on your fridge
- Shock collar (Zap! You ate a carb!)
With so many tools at our disposal, it’s tempting to use all of them.
As someone who tracked calories for years (Cup of coffee: 5 calories. Boom!), I know how soothing it can be to have this level of control.
We sure feel like we’re accomplishing a lot when we’re tracking, weighing, and researching.
But don’t fall into the trap that more is more. The more we start to rely on these tools, the less we trust our bodies.
If your response to “Am I hungry?” is “Let me check how many calories I have left,” then it might be time to disconnect from the gadgets and reconnect with yourself instead.
21-Day Fixes. 7-Day Detoxes. 5-Day Juice Cleanses. 3-Day Fasts. Phase 1.
These kickstarts are built into nearly every mainstream diet. And they all offer the consumer the same false hope: that there’s a quick miracle ready and waiting for you.
The implication is that if you’re just tough enough to suffer through the radical quick start, then everything is easy on the other side.
It’s usually masking the fact that the entire diet that follows is restrictive and unrealistic as well.
Save yourself some time (and an actual headache) and skip the bogus detox phase of a diet. Your organs already detox and why on earth should you have to “prepare your body” for healthy changes?
If you’re ready to change your eating habits, do so in a way that you can sustain. Want to start adding green smoothies to your diet? That’s great! Add one in each day, but you don’t have to do a water fast to prepare yourself.
6. Dreading Your Meals
If a quick glance at your meal plan fills you with dread, your “healthy” diet has gone horribly wrong.
I know this sounds obvious, but in the Healthy Lifestyle community, I constantly hear complaints like
- “I hate sweet potatoes, but I’m trying to be good, so…”
- “Fish makes me nauseous, but I hear it’s really good…”
- “The thought of choking down another dry chicken breast is depressing, but it’s in my meal plan…”
If you don’t like something, don’t eat it. Anyone who tells you you have to eat something is likely selling you a product that depends on it.
You can be healthy without shakes, without chicken breasts, and without fretting over what you’re “allowed” to eat.
When you force yourself to follow a diet that you despise, burn out and binges are just around the corner.
So…do you have any confessions to make? I already owned up to six counts of Guilty, so don’t be shy.
Just know that if your diet is making you sad, stressed, or anti-social, you absolutely have the power to walk away from it.