You are focused and won't let anything get in the way of achieving your goals.
You have a nutrition plan and are ready to take action but will you make these mistakes?
Below are the top 7 reasons I see people fail when it comes to their diet.
Don't make these rookie mistakes and let this be the year you achieve your dream physique.
Mistake #1: Not Knowing How Much You Are Eating
Knowing how much you are eating is the most important factor for dieting success. When I say how much you are eating, I'm talking about calories, not the volume of food. The number of calories you consume will determine the changes you see in your physique (or lack of).
To control our body composition, we must understand the energy balance equation. Energy balance is the sum of calories in vs. calories out.
- Calories In = The calories we consume (and absorb) through our diet.
- Calories Out = The calories we burn through our basal metabolic rate (normal body function), thermic effect of feeding (digestion and processing of nutrients), thermic effect of activity (formal exercise), and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (subconscious movement).
Energy balance dictates body weight change based on the first law of thermodynamics, which states energy cannot be created or destroyed. When you consume more calories (energy) than your body needs, you gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than your body needs, you lose weight.
To know exactly how much you are eating, you need to track your diet. If you don't know how many calories you are consuming, how do you expect to make progress?
Fix: Know Your Numbers
First, determine how many calories you need to maintain your body weight. To do this, you can use a BMR calculator.
If your goal is to lose fat, subtract 250-500 calories per day from the results. This deficit will theoretically result in 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week. If your goal is to build muscle, I would only add 200-400 calories per day to be in a slight surplus. Overfeeding doesn't help you put on muscle quicker and will just put on extra body fat.
Next, track your diet to make sure you consume the right amount of calories for your goal. You can use a nutrition tracking app or old-fashioned pen and paper. If you aren't making fast enough progress, you may have to increase or decrease calories. This is something you need to experiment with.
Mistake #2: Not Eating Enough Protein
If you are a bodybuilder, you likely don't have this problem. It tends to be an issue for those starting out in fitness. They assume an adequate intake but are far from it (at least for physique related goals).
Currently, the RDA for protein is 0.8g/kg/day. This is to prevent deficiency in sedentary individuals and isn't adequate for athletes. Protein intakes above the RDA aren't harmful to healthy people and may have benefits.
- Increases satiety1,2
- Increases thermogenesis (calories to digest, absorb, and process it)1,2
- Help preserve muscle while dieting2
- High-protein diets help build more muscle and strength 3
Increasing protein can lead to body composition changes if your intake is low (even when total calories are the same). This happens because the thermic effect of protein (calories to digest, absorb, and process it) can be four times that carbs and fats.4 When you swap out these macronutrients for protein, you burn more calories overall.
As you can see, there are many benefits to a higher protein intake. Not getting enough could result in sub-par progress.
Fix: Up the Protein
To solve this problem, you need to know how much protein to consume. For athletes, it appears 1.4-2.0 g/kg/day (0.6-0.9 g/lb) is enough to maximize the benefits of protein.5 That isn't to say more is bad, but it probably won't lead to more gains.
It's important your protein comes from high-quality sources. A quality source contains all nine essential amino acids (threonine, valine, tryptophan, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, methionine, histidine). High-quality protein sources tend to come from animal products.
Recommended Protein Sources:
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Low fat pork
- Lean beef
- Eggs and egg whites
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Low-fat dairy products
- Whey protein
Mistake #3: Drastically Changing Your Diet and Habits
A common approach people take when starting a diet is to change everything at once. For example, they go from no diet to a strict meal plan that has them eating out of Tupperware every three hours. They completely overhaul their diet and try to make it perfect. I'm going to let you in on a secret, the perfect diet doesn't exist.
Completely changing your eating habits can be overwhelming. It causes people to fail because they get paralysis by analysis. They examine every aspect of their diet and worry about small details that don't matter (at least at the beginning). When this happens, change becomes a daunting task, and it makes the diet much harder to stick to.
Fix: Make small changes
Change one aspect of your diet at a time. Doing this will have two benefits. First, you can focus all your energy on mastering one habit or variable. Second, you will learn what is causing the changes you see in your body. In a way, it's like performing a study on yourself because you are only changing one variable.
Once you can master one aspect of your diet, move onto the next. You may feel like things are moving too slow, but these small changes add up to a significant change over time. You will end up with a diet and lifestyle that is much more sustainable.
Mistake #4: Focusing Too Much on Food Choices
You are probably wondering how focusing on food choices can be a mistake?
By focusing too much on food choices, you aren't taking into account calories and macronutrients. As we discussed earlier, the composition of your diet has one of the biggest impacts on your physique.
Our bodies don't see specific foods, they see calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. By only focusing on food choices, you can end up eating the wrong amounts for your goals.
People that become hyper-focused on foods can develop an unhealthy relationship with food. It can cause them to label foods as either good or bad, which can be very damaging. A single food can't be labeled as good or bad, it must be examined in the context of the whole diet.
Don't get me wrong, focusing on consuming healthy foods is good but too much of a good thing can be bad.
Fix: Focus on sustainability
Your diet will be more sustainable if you aren't hyper-focused on food choices. Sustainability is one of the most important factors in a diet's success. If you can't stick to the diet, how do you expect it to work?
Be sure to eat an appropriate amount of calories and macronutrients for your goals. Don't stress too much what foods they are coming from. Hit your macronutrient targets (including fiber) with mostly healthy foods, and you will be okay.
Bonus: Quickly calculate your nutrition targets with this macro calculator. It tells you how much protein, fat, carbs, and fiber you should consume based on your goals.
Mistake #5: Not Focusing Enough on Food Choices
Not focusing enough on food choices can be a problem too. If you only worry about calories and macronutrients, you may develop micronutrient deficiencies. Each food contains different vitamins and minerals, and if you consume the same foods over and over, you may have gaps in nutrients.
A popular trend within the fitness industry is IIFYM. If you aren't familiar with IIFYM, it stands for "if it fits your macros." It involves hitting macronutrient targets (based on your goals) with foods you enjoy. It broke the notion that there are magic foods you have to eat to be fit.
IIFYM has been a positive change for the industry, but some have altered its meaning. They use this approach to try and fit a bunch of junk food in their diet, which is not what it was intended for. These people make the mistake of not focusing where their macros come from.
Fix: eat a diverse diet
Be sure to include a variety of foods in your diet, especially fruits and vegetables. A practical strategy to avoid micronutrient deficiencies is by having a fruit or vegetable with each meal.
Aim to hit your macro targets through healthy, nutrient-dense foods most of the time. I would keep "junk" food to around 10-20% of total calories. This is a good middle ground between mistake #4 and #5. It makes the diet more sustainable, yet avoids the chance of micronutrient deficiencies.
Mistake #6: Not Monitoring Your Progress
Not tracking your progress is a huge mistake if your goal is to transform your body. Your diet will likely fail if you don't do it because you won't know if it's working. You need to know if your efforts are working and what better way than to track your body weight, measurements, and appearance in the mirror.
Tracking progress can also provide positive reinforcement. When you see your efforts paying off, it's motivating. This motivation makes it easier to stick to the diet. If you aren’t monitoring your progress on a regular basis, you are making a huge mistake.
Fix: Track Your Progress
Choose a way of tracking your progress. Some people enjoy numbers and are better off tracking body weight and measurements. Others prefer to watch their appearance in the mirror and pictures. The important part is monitoring and being consistent with it.
Pick the method of your choice and use it to determine if your diet is working. If it isn't, you can make changes and watch what happens with your body.
For example, if my goal is fat loss, I weigh myself every day and watch the trend. I compare weekly averages to see if I'm losing 0.5-1.0% each week. If I notice I'm below this range, I will drop my calories to get fat loss rolling again. If I didn't track my progress, I wouldn't know when to make these critical adjustments.
Mistake #7: Not Having an Exit Strategy
Do you have a plan for when the diet is done, and you reach your goal? If not, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you go back to your old habits and way of eating, you will go back to your old body. A fat loss diet can't last forever, and you need a plan for when it's over.
Weight regain is one of the biggest problems when it comes to dieting success. At the end of a diet, our bodies are primed both mentally and physically to gain fat quickly.6 This is our body’s biological response to dieting.
Here's what one study published in The American Journal of Physiology had to say about a successful diet:
"To be successful in the long term, our strategies for preventing weight regain may need to be just as comprehensive, persistent, and redundant, as the biological adaptations they are attempting to counter."6
As you can see, not having a plan for when your diet is over is a huge mistake. Avoid putting on an excessive amount of body fat by planning ahead.
Fix: Plan Ahead
To prevent excessive fat gain, you should slowly and strategically increase calories (from carbs and fats). This is a strategy called "reverse dieting," and it helps get your metabolism back to pre-dieting levels.
Immediately after the diet is over, you should increase calories by roughly 10-15%. This will get you out of a deficit and help you to start feeling normal again. Then, increase calories by 50-150 weekly and watch how your body is responding.
You should be tracking your weight and comparing pictures each week. Continue to add calories until you start consistently gaining weight each week. Most people are able to increase calories significantly without putting on too much body fat.
Your New Body Awaits
These are the top 7 reasons I see people fail when it comes to dieting.
By avoiding these mistakes, you will be much further ahead in your fitness journey.
Just remember, achieving your goal physique will take time, so be patient and work hard.
- The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review.
- A brief review of higher dietary protein diets in weight loss: a focus on athletes.
- Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories.
- The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review.
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise.
- Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain.