Losing weight not only involves scheduling time for physical activity, but it also requires making smart food (and beverage) choices. However, “the problem is the vast number of trends and misinformation out there can make it difficult to navigate and find out what’s true and helpful,” says Nicholas Kelly, a registered dietitian based in Cleveland, Ohio.
To help you reach your goals, registered dietitians weigh in on five common mistakes to avoid:
FOLLOWING FAD DIETS
Trendy diets that promise fast weight loss can seem exciting. In most cases, however, these diets eliminate entire food groups, which isn’t sustainable, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU and author of “The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.”
“Even if you lose weight initially, you set yourself up for failure later,” she says. “When you’re super restricted with what you can eat, it becomes really challenging to eat out and have a social life.”
The fix: Instead of leaning into a buzzy diet, Pincus suggests opting for foods that are closest to their whole form or how they are found in nature. This means fresh produce, whole grains and high-quality proteins.
OVERDOING IT WITH SALADS
Salads can be a nutritious choice when filled with non-starchy veggies and lean protein. However, going overboard on toppings like croutons, cheese, crunchy noodles, candied nuts and dressing can easily add up, creating a super high-calorie meal.
The fix: “Opt for lots of veggies, grilled chicken or fish and one add-in like cheese, avocado or nuts,” suggests Harris-Pincus. “Get the dressing on the side and try the fork-dip method (when you dip your fork in the dressing prior to each bite) to get flavor without a ton of extra calories.”
WAITING TOO LONG BETWEEN MEALS
You might eat breakfast at 7 a.m. and then be busy working out, commuting to the office and answering emails. Before you know it, it’s 3 p.m. and you’re ravenous thinking about what’s for lunch. But waiting too long between meals can result in poor portion control and low-quality food choices, says Gabrielle Mancella, an RD with Orlando Health. “Ignoring hunger cues and experiencing blood sugar plummets after waiting too long between meals risks derailing weight-loss efforts,” she says.
The fix: Instead of waiting hours to eat, Mancella recommends reaching for something at least once every 4 hours, whether that’s a full meal or just a snack. “Keeping healthy portion control in mind will help you avoid the temptation of processed convenience foods.”
Even though it might sound counterintuitive, honoring your cravings is key, says Rachel Fine, RD and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, a nutrition counseling firm in New York City. “The more you restrict your favorite foods, the more inclined you’ll be to overdo it in the future,” she says.
The fix: “Giving yourself permission to occasionally indulge in dessert or another food you might deem off-limits is the first step to a healthier relationship with food.” Following the 80/20 rule, where you follow a healthy diet 80% of the time and allow for indulgent foods the remaining 20% of the time can be helpful for long-term weight loss.
HAVING “CHEAT DAYS”
You should never feel so restricted by the type of diet you’re on that you need a day to overdo it, says Kelly. Cheat days often equate to consuming calorie-dense meals that make you feel overly full or bloated and promote anxiety or guilt.
The fix: Don’t beat yourself up if you get off track and try to be mindful when eating so you can actually enjoy your food. “There is nothing to cheat on when talking about eating, there are simply healthy choices and less healthy ones,” notes Kelly. “The goal is to make more healthy choices than not.”