Whatever your motivation for starting a new diet is, the last thing you want to do is fall victim to easily-avoidable mistakes.
When it comes to dieting, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
Some of it is marketing. Some of it is bad advice delivered with good intent.
However, at the end of the day, we’re all in this to get results.
So, let’s shed some light on the top 10 most common diet mistakes and ways you can avoid making them.
1. Ignoring the Blatantly Obvious
Men tend to look for obscure missing components in their diet and supplementation rather than taking a step back to analyze what the real issues behind the problem might be. Many of you would rather Google the latest "fat loss" diet than face up to the reality that your eating habits absolutely suck.
You deny the possibility that it might be the 12 cold boys you throw back every Friday night after work at happy hour. There's no way it can be the 4 frozen pizzas you ate throughout the week.
You read somewhere that snacking is good for you, so you graze on "healthy" salted nuts and fat-free pretzels all day. That's not the problem, you think. It has to be the fact that you aren't taking any fat burners, right?
You already know what your vices are. Stop acting like they don't matter. It amazes me how much men know about what they should be doing with regards to their diet, but simply won't do it. You need to stop being so damn lazy. Sometimes, we just need a kick in the pants to wake us up and get things on track.
Solution: Get real with yourself. Tracking your food is the best way to solve this problem. You can't manage what you don't measure. This will give you insight as to what you're really eating versus what you think you're eating.
2. Eating Fake "Health" Food
You've been swindled.
The chief aim of big brands in the supermarkets is to sell you on foods that appear to be healthy. The reason? It's now trendy to be healthy. When something is considered trendy, people spend money on it.
More often times than not these foods are jam-packed with sugar. But they'll never tell you that. They've gotten so clever that they'll even wrap up these little sugar treats in healthy, earthy and natural packaging.
Walk down the grocery store aisle and see for yourself. Everything is labeled as natural, organic, gluten-free, fat-free, heart-healthy and high fiber. These foods are typically low in nutrients and provide an insubstantial nutritional value.
At best, they will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. You think you are buying a healthier version of a candy bar and replacing it with a Fiber One bar. Guess what? All these foods can still make you fat and wreak havoc on your diet and body.
Solution: Eat real food. If you’re fixated on getting nutrients by buying Fiber One bars and Kashi cookies, here is a news flash for you: You can get all of your nutrients without the processed junk and at a fraction of the price with real food. Skip the "fake" health food sections and dial in your diet with food that doesn't have 27 ingredients in it.
3. Fixated on Losing Weight
When a man says he wants to lose weight, what he's really saying is that he wants to lose fat. No man wants to be frail, skinny and weak. But with a "weight loss" mindset that's where you're headed.
Muscle is what makes your body look solid, chiseled and athletic. The problem is that when you have a "weight loss" mindset, the scale doesn't tell you how much weight is fat and how much is muscle. Therefore, when you drop a few pounds you may consider it good news.
But not all weight loss is good. This is the reason many men get frustrated. They drop some weight, yet don't look any better. In some cases, they may look worse. This is because as you drop fat, you're also losing a disproportionate amount of muscle mass as well. Being skinny shouldn't be the goal. Not being fat is your goal.
Solution: When you're on a mission to shed body fat and preserve, or possibly gain muscle mass, you're inevitably training hard. Because of this, you'll need more protein than a sedentary person. As a baseline suggestion, each day take in one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
4. Not Eating Enough
Severely restricting total calorie intake to induce fat loss is a common practice. This is a well-known issue for women, but men also do this.
It's generally a well-known concept that if you just eat less you'll lose weight. But remember, we're not necessarily after weight loss. Heck, with some simple water manipulation and carbohydrate restriction techniques I could help you lose 10-12 pounds in a few days. But once you add water and carbs back into your daily nutrition, you'll gain it right back. While reducing overall intake is on the right track, the two most common problems I see with this approach are:
- Slashing intake too severely
- Not eating enough of the right macronutrients
When a man says he wants to lose weight, what he's really saying is that he wants to lose fat. No man wants to be frail, skinny and weak.
A good general rule is to start by reducing your intake by about 200 calories per day. This will allow enough of a calorie deficit to induce fat loss, while providing enough energy for physical activity and preservation of lean muscle mass.
This is, of course, assuming that you were already eating enough to maintain normal body weight to begin with. This level is known as your TDEE.
Secondly, when we are trying to improve body composition we are also focusing on adding some lean muscle mass to your frame. As mentioned above, to do this sufficient protein intake must be met. One gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is the baseline range for building lean muscle mass.
Solution: Don't eat like a bird. If you do you'll look like one. One gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and about 20-25% of calories from fat is a good place to start. The rest of your intake should be from carbs.
5. Too Much Diet Soda
Look, having a few cans a week (a few means like 2-3 cans, not 14-15) probably won't hurt you if that's what floats your boat. But when you can't get through the day without slamming a few back, that's a red flag. There is about the same amount of caffeine in a can of diet soda as in a shot of espresso. The buzz will leave you bouncing off the wall. The crash will leave you wanting to curl up in the fetal position for a nap.
Caffeine intake has a diminishing return on your system. It will sooner or later catch up, forging a dependency on diet soda for energy. This will cause you to drink more just to achieve the same buzz. Drinking too much diet soda may cause sleep disruption as well, and inadequate sleep is known to negatively impact hormones like cortisol which induce fat gain, particularly around the waist.
Drinking diet soda also puts you at risk of suffering from the “The Big Mac and Diet Coke phenomenon.” People start drinking diet soda, and mentally it sets off a trigger. They feel they can eat whatever they want because they are saving calories on the diet soda.
Tons of people are practicing a high-fat, high sugar diet while also drinking diet sodas. Additionally, many start drinking diet soda with the onset of weight gain in hopes that it will help. However, if the lifestyle behavior that caused the weight gain doesn't change, opting for diet soda will be of little help. It’s not the actual consumption of diet soda that makes you fat, it’s the typical associated behavior that comes along with those who make diet sodas a regular part of their diet.
Solution: Honestly, toughen up and stop drinking so much of the crap. If you've got a serious problem, limit it to one per day. Otherwise, opt for better caffeine sources like organic coffee or green tea.
Keep in mind that caffeine has a potent half-life. Meaning, if you have 200mg of caffeine at 12 noon, 100mg linger in your system on average for about 6-8 hours depending on your sensitivity.
6. The Weekend "Rage"
For men, alcohol can plummet testosterone levels up to 23%. Additionally, after 2 drinks your body's ability to burn fat decreases by about 75%. Your body becomes less efficient at burning carbs and fat for energy, thus increasing the likelihood of the calories you consume being stored as fat.
I'm not here to parent you. However, if you're serious about getting your physique on point, I can assure you that the weekend binges of Red Bull vodkas or Jack and Cokes followed by a 2am Del Taco run won't cut it.
Solution: Make a decision. Continue to let the wheels fall off during the weekend and get "crazy", or set some parameters around your life that will assist you in achieving your goal. You choose.
7. Skimp on the Veggies
This is a way more prominent issue with men than it is with women. It's often seen as feminine to eat salads, veggies and green smoothies. It's time to put that dogma to an end.
The leanest people in the world (bodybuilders, physique, and figure athletes) understand that a diet high in fibrous vegetables plays a critical role in attaining a lean body. Even if you aren't planning on stepping on stage, this principle applies to you.
These types of veggies pack tons of fiber which slows down the digestion of food and keeps you feeling full longer. This is key when you're on a calorie deficit. Moreover, what's often overlooked is that the consumption of veggies helps manage inflammation.
When you are training hard, you are negatively affected by acidosis—a condition in which your body’s pH becomes excessively acidic (caused by both the stress of training which is inevitable, and by the foods you eat which you can control). By incorporating large amounts of veggies into your diet, you’ll also be nourishing your body with alkalizing foods that aid recovery time, energy levels, and that will help your body stay away from extreme acidosis by establishing and balancing healthy pH levels in your body.
Solution: Make it a goal to have one green smoothie a day and also to order or make veggies with every meal.
8. Fear of Carbs
Here's the deal. Carbs are essential for you to live. If you completely cut all of your carbs, or run on a really low carb diet for too long, you'll lose your mind (subjectively).
It seems as though a whole industry has been birthed from the “low-carb” craze, but not enough education about carbohydrates is being taught. The result? Carbohydrates are being demonized and labeled as the bad guy that causes you to get fat. This isn’t entirely true.
Whole foods like rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, potatoes and oats have been around for thousands of years. They have been the sustenance for many people groups. In fact, an interesting perspective to consider: ask why the 1.73 billion Asians who live on predominantly rice and veggies aren't struggling with obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes like the West is?
In rural areas of Japan, China, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia we see people with very few of the diet-related diseases we deal with. They eat mostly carbs. In rural parts of Mexico, corn, beans and squash (all of which are carbs) make up the bulk of their diets. These people also have low diet-related diseases. People in Papua, New Guinea, get most of their nutrients from sweet potatoes.
So, if these rural areas don’t struggle with the diet-related diseases that we do, and they live on carbs, why do we fear them in the West so much? It’s the Western SAD (standard American diet) that is loaded with refined sugar and packed with unhealthy fattening carbs that is the problem.
The type of carbs that the rural areas mentioned above thrive on are mostly whole, unprocessed carbs. They have little to no sugar, and digest at a much slower rate than the Oreos and French fries we chow down on in the West.
The take away is this. Carbs are great for you. Refined carbs loaded with sugar and/or are fried are the ones making you fat.
Solution: Don't eliminate carbs, just de-emphasize them. And, know which carbs you should eat and which ones you should avoid.
9. Not Enough Water
About 75% of people are dehydrated. Yet 85% of our brain, 80% of our blood and 70% of our lean muscle is made of water. As basic as this is, it's painfully overlooked.
Water is essential for basic functioning and good health. Without these two, a shredded physique is impossible.
Nutrition consultant and author Chris Aceto explains:
"The consensus in the bodybuilding community is that high water storage within muscles acts as an anabolic factor. This allows the muscles to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, which directly impacts muscle growth."
Just like plants, our muscles need water to grow.
Solution: At a minimum, drink half of your body weight in ounces of water a day.
10. Following Someone Else's Formula
Bio-individuality cannot be ignored. Everyone is different.
Coaches, trainers and mentors have certain systems or programs that they advocate, typically because they've seen some quantifiable previous success. However, this doesn't mean it works for everyone.
Generalization is good, but individualization is better. Some nutrition laws are universal: They apply to everyone. But at some point, after the fundamentals are have been covered, you'll need to develop your own formula that works for you and your body.
Simplicity, guidelines and flexibility should be the foundation of your diet.
Solution: When it comes to nutrition and diet, "Accept what is useful, reject what is useless" - Bruce Lee