As you may know, getting a handle on your nutrition is extremely important for weight loss, improving energy, and enhancing overall health. It is one of the most challenging things to change, as we have developed eating habits over a lifetime without any need for change. And it doesn’t make it easier that food plays a vital role in almost aspect of life. Work functions, social gatherings, vacations, special holidays, etc. all revolve around food in one way or another.
Far too many people “major in the minors” when it comes to reaching their health and fitness goals. They focus on small, insignificant details that will really have no bearing on their progress or results down the road. The key is to focus on “majoring in the majors”. Focus on changing 1 or 2 things that will be create the biggest impact on your progress and results. This is why putting much of your focus on changing your nutrition and eating habits is imperative.
But to start, we need to know what to habits we actually need to change, especially the major things that hold us back.
Here are 6 Nutrition Mistakes We All Make
1. Underestimating how much we actually eat
We all have a tendency to overdo it on calories, and think our portion sizes are smaller than they actually are. It doesn’t take long for the calories to pile up, especially with processed foods, going to restaurants, going out for lunch everyday, or are hanging out at a friend’s BBQ.
For most people, eating 10-12x their bodyweight in calories is a good starting point, especially for weight loss goals.
Here are 3 things you need to do to properly track how much you eat:
Start journaling everything you eat and drink, in a single day, for the next 7 days, including exact portion sizes. You will be surprised how much food awareness you gain by doing this simple exercise. Whenever we have clients do this, they find it quite revealing and very valuable in teaching them what they need to change.
Once you have a snapshot of your food intake, take 3 of the days logged, and plug in all of the information from your journal to a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal. This will give you a good ballpark number of calories you are eating each day.
Taking a photos of everything you eat is valuable as it provides a visual tool that can really hit home. Remember, a picture is worth 1000 words! Photos are only as valuable as your knowledge around proper portion sizes and calories, and if you know what to look for.
So it may be appropriate to send these photos to a trainer, nutritionist, or friend/family who has a background in this area.
Once you have completed these steps, start making the necessary adjustments to calories and portions sizes. And anytime you get off track, and progress slows, go back to these three exercises.
Remember what doesn’t get measured, can’t get managed.
2. Your nutrition isn’t like brushing your teeth
I once had a consultation with a client, and they said “Making all of these nutrition changes is like brushing your teeth isn’t it? It has to become part of who you are every single day doesn’t it”? I could not have said it better myself. It you want to make real, permanent, and lasting change, then yes, nutrition has to be like brushing your teeth. You have to treat it like a daily practice, and something you can’t “take time off” from when you feel like it, or when life gets hectic/busy. Sure, planned time off from your regular eating schedule is fine for things like vacation, but it’s best not to make “time off” from your nutrition a regular habit.
Consistency is everything with creating change and making the progress you want. And this only happens by treating your eating habits as something your “must” work on, on daily basis (like brushing your teeth), rather than something you “should” do.
3. Drinking your calories
This is one of the worse ways to ingest your calories. We can easily drink 1000-2000 calories a day from beverages. Alcohol, pop, juice, chocolate milk, etc. are loaded with excess calories and do not trigger feelings of satiation and fullness like solid foods do. When you drink your calories you aren’t having to chew, break down and digest food. You end up getting little vitamins and minerals, and not absorbing any fibre, all of which contribute to feeling full and satisfied.
Stick with low calorie beverages like water, coffee, and tea. Get 99% of your daily calories from solid foods, and save the high calorie beverages for special occasions.
4. Giving in to cravings
Most of the time, cravings for certain foods are mental and not something our body actually needs. Sure there are rare exception when cravings are physical and signaling not enough calories, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, or going too long without eating. But cravings for physical reasons are vastly different than the regular “mental” cravings we all get.
Feeling ravenous and that you could eat everything in sight is one indication of a physical based craving, and your body indicating you are missing something. But for most people, especially those with extra body fat, this won’t be the case. Your cravings are “in your head”.
So, how do you overcome cravings? Here are a few tips:
Wait. It takes anywhere from 30-40 minutes after eating for the hypothalamus in your brain to receive the signal that you have eaten and that you are full. Wait 30-40 minutes after eating your meal, and you will realize that you actually aren’t hungry like you thought. Furthermore, this “craving” feeling will go away.
Drink water. Feelings of hunger or craving foods may be mistaken for thirst and lack of hydration. Your body has a difficult time distinguishing between thirst and hunger, so ensuring adequate hydration can alleviate this feeling.
Reframe it mentally. Overcoming cravings almost always comes to “reframing the craving mentally”. Sometimes the “chatter” going on in your head can be the only challenge in overcoming this. Our mind is great at convincing us that we “really need” the food we are craving, which leads to eating calories we don’t need.
So stop, become conscious, and walk through these statements anytime you are getting cravings:
“Do I honestly need the food I’m craving?”
“What is the truth about the craving I have, is it even real or just made up? “
“This craving will soon pass, just wait and be patient”.
In conjunction with these 3 statements, consider occupying your mind with other things when cravings set in. Go for a walk, read, spend time with your spouse/family, etc.
5. Under eating calories
Unlike #1, sometimes we go the opposite way and restrict our calories too much. Under eating leads to a sluggish metabolism, lowered thyroid activity, low energy, decrease in exercise intensity, and increased risk of over eating down the road with rebound weight gain.
Make sure you are eating enough calories and reference the exercises we recommended in # 1. DO NOT go on any eating plans or diets you cannot sustain for the rest of your life.
For women, the ideal starting calories for weight loss are 10 x bodyweight, and for men approximately 12 x bodyweight. Remember, these are starting points and not exact recommendations. There will be a bit of tracking, assessment, and some trial and error on your end to find that right number. Start with these recommendations, then assess and track as you go. If you are making the changes you want, stick with it. If you aren’t, then you may need to lower calories. This is providing that your eating is spot on, and you are exercising at least 5 hours a week.
6. Focusing JUST on Calories, and not on QUALITY of calories
Another mistake we can make is thinking calories are the be all and end all to proper nutrition. This leads justifying poor food choices. The classic line goes “as long as I’m staying within my daily calories, then I can have my daily chocolate bar, right”? This kind of thinking can be detrimental, and lead to further reliance and addiction to unhealthy foods, and increased calorie intake down the road.
While the number of calories is important, the quality of calories is even more important. High quality calories provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, energy, and feelings of fullness and satiation. Clean, high quality calories are less likely to “light up” the reward centers of the brain by enhancing serotonin and dopamine production. These neurotransmitters are responsible for the feelings of pleasure we get from various activities. Likewise, processed foods laden with sugar, salt, sweetener, and fats light up these rewards centers, strengthen cravings, and increase the “need” for these foods. Over time, this can create food addictions as a worst case scenario.
So while you think your daily chocolate bar is fine as long as you stick within your calories, this only perpetuates the craving and need for sugar. Sticking with your allocated number of calories and 1 daily chocolate bar will be hard to sustain, as activity from your rewards centers will increases and your brain will crave more and more of “pleasure feelings”. The need for more and more stimulus (chocolate) to produce these neurotransmitters will happen, as 1 chocolate will not be enough as your body builds a tolerance to the stimulus.
So what’s the moral of the story? Focus on quality of calories, as opposed to just the number of calories. Stick with unprocessed, quality, and clean foods. Make some room in your plan for some favourite foods, and treat meals, but don’t make it a regular habit.
These are the 6 Nutrition Mistakes We All Make. We hope you have enjoyed them, and have some new tools and new awareness to start making positive changes.