It’s January 4th—which means your newsfeed has gone from an overload of annoying holiday engagement photos to an overload of annoying resolution posts.
Everyone and their mother is acting like they just discovered the grocery store has a produce aisle. Between your best friend swearing off bread, your cousin’s Dry January declaration, and your mom’s post enlightening us on how much sugar is actually lurking in that cheesecake flavored yogurt, you’re considering a social media cleanse for the entire month (just kidding, you need to stalk your ex’s new fiancé).
If your gut reaction is to scoff at how stupid everyone is as you wash down holiday leftovers with a glass of wine—you’re right. Kind of.
Cleaning up your diet, loading up on nutritious foods, and yes, cutting back on alcohol (as much as we hate to admit it) is a smart move to improving your health, boosting mood and energy, and fitting into your jeans again.
But far too many people turn a good intention into a diet faux pas. Keep yourself from irritating everyone on your news feed, and actually hindering your weight loss goals, by avoiding these nutrition mistakes.
Banning carbs. Okay, backing off the mac and cheese and ending the bagel binge may be a step in the right direction. Designating brown rice and whole-wheat bread as the devil’s food? Not so much. “Giving up whole food groups to shed pounds often backfires. Although this may seem to promote rapid weight loss, most of the initial weight loss comes from water loss, not actual fat loss,” said Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. “In addition, restricting whole food groups causes a decrease in healthy nutrients like B vitamins, folate, and fiber, and the deprivation and boredom that can develop from following a restricted meal plan can lead you to feel frustrated, give up and overindulge or even binge.” A better goal is to replace refined carbs (like simple sugars and white flour—bye doughnuts) with whole grains. “A diet rich in whole grains has even been associated with smaller waistlines, so adding them in will actually help your weight-loss efforts instead of hinder them!” said Palinski-Wade.
Focusing on fitness, and ignoring your diet. We all have that friend who brags about their WOD while scarfing down a burger and fries. But going hardcore with your fitness routine, and using it as an excuse to ignore your diet, will backfire—fast. “Exercise is essential for long-term health and for weight maintenance, but in order to lose weight, cleaning up your food intake is a must,” said Palinski-Wade. “Think of it this way, you may exercise for an hour and burn 600 calories, but in under 10 minutes, you can consume the same amount of calories. If you don’t monitor your food intake, you may be eating back all of the excess calories that you burned during exercise (especially since exercise can boost appetite). I always tell my clients 80 percent of what you will lose comes from diet.”
Completely overhauling your diet. The other extreme won’t get you very far either. “Strive for progress, not perfection. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they try and make every single change all at once in order to be ‘perfectly’ healthy,” said Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, culinary nutritionist and mindful living proponent. “This is an unrealistic goal and a setup for failure. It’s best to take on small changes one at a time.” Once one change becomes habit (i.e. you nix the sugar from your coffee), then move on to implementing another change (perhaps swapping that soda for a water?). “When we accomplish small goals we see success, which breeds an attitude for continued success,” added Begun.
Restricting calories. Made it through the day running on nothing but a smoothie? Nice job. If slowing down your metabolism and having yourself labeled the hangry bitch at work were part of your resolutions this year. “Cutting down drastically on calories to drop weight quickly may sound like a great idea, but it can backfire,” said Palinski-Wade. “The strategy may appear to work in the short term, but extreme hunger and feeling deprived often leads to unhealthy binge eating that causes weight regain—many times causing you to gain back more than you lost.” If you’re modifying your diet to lose the holiday-cookie weight, a better tactic is to focus on high volume, low calorie foods. “Make a goal to fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal. By doing this, you gradually decrease your calorie intake while still feeling satisfied,” said Palinski-Wade. “The goal is to lose weight and keep it off; how quickly you get there doesn’t matter; it’s if you can keep it off long term that’s important.”
Jumping on the (enter extreme diet here) bandwagon. Paleo, vegan, gluten-free … all trendy diets that do have some redeeming qualities. But pledging your allegiance to Veganuary without doing your research has the potential to do more harm than good. “The warning I always tell people is that everyone is different and everyone has a dietary pattern that works best for them,” said Begun. “Just because a paleo lifestyle works for your friend doesn’t mean it’s what will work for you.” Diet plans should be chosen carefully based on your individual needs. “Any dietary plan that restricts food categories should be done in conjunction with a healthcare provider and be well researched ahead of time so that you can tailor a plan that ensures your individual health needs are being met,” said Begun.