As a registered dietitian it is my job (and passion!) to help clients meet their health goals. And I know from personal experience just how hard it can sometimes be to meet the goals we set for ourselves. There are some "healthy" things I see my clients doing because they think they’re making the healthier choice, but really they’re just setting themselves up for more challenges, if not failure. And I can’t blame them—there’s so much messaging out there about how to eat (which foods, what time, which amounts) that it can be tough to know what will actually help us. I chose the top five mistakes I see people making and listed them below along with my suggestions of what to do instead.
1. Not eating dessert (or whatever it is you're craving)
Yes, you read that correctly, not eating dessert is actually backfiring on you. Being healthy is about mental health too. And that means having stuff you want to have without feeling stressed, anxious, or guilty. In my experience with clients, the anxiety that comes with not allowing themselves to relax when it comes to their food choices is actually way worse than just eating the thing they want to eat. Being too restrictive and not listening to your cravings will also likely lead to overeating later on. That bingeing will then lead to more stress and anxiety. Let’s take a hard pass on that. Life is already stressful and anxiety-inducing enough—your food shouldn’t be.
Try this: Instead of following strict food rules or straight up depriving yourself, try the “most of the time” rule, which means that most of the time you eat minimally processed and whole foods that are nutritious and satisfying, and then the rest of the time you have the things you really love that might be lower in nutrition but way higher in deliciousness. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to reach your health goals when you aren’t feeling anxious about eating a thing you love. If you’re finding your anxiety over food choices is overwhelming, consider seeking nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian, who can help ease that stress and change your relationship with food.
2. Listening to too much media B.S.
Whether you’re scrolling through your social media feeds or watching your favorite A.M. news show, it seems like every single day there is a new superfood, ingredient, or fad diet (looking at you, keto!) that you need to incorporate to be healthy. Ugh, the media can make eating healthfully so much more complicated, annoying, and confusing than it needs to be! Don’t believe the hype. First of all, there’s no quick fix, magic pill, one-ingredient-wonder that will address all your health and diet needs. If you’re looking to healthify your life or diet, first, silence all the weight loss white noise and questionable health claims.
Try this: When you’re scrolling through all those trending posts and searching those diet hashtags on Instagram, remember that social media isn't real life. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. And if a diet sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, it likely is. Block out the social media mavens and the conflicting morning news reports, and remind yourself that you know better than some stranger what is best for your health and your body. What’s best for me (and what I tell my clients to do) is to eat a variety of veggies, fruits, whole grains and protein, listen to my sweet-tooth and cravings, double down on sleep, and keep the booze in check. This will always get you where you want to be, never go out of style, and never feel like torture.
3. Being so focused on reaching “goals” that you forget to let yourself relax once in a while
As a dietitian, there’s nothing I love to see more than my clients reaching their goals, and feeling empowered, energized, and excited, which I am thrilled to be able to share with them. But the one thing that has been consistent in all my clients’ health successes, is that we don’t use the go-hard-or-go-home attitude towards reaching these goals. That type of hyperfocused mentality usually leads to feeling disconnected from whether or not these changes are meeting your needs, whether they're making you feel good, and how they're impacting your self-confidence, your focus at work, your sleep, and your relationships. Staying connected to how you're feeling can only happen when you're able to relax, loosen the reins, and take a little self-inventory.
Try this: Self-care can be a game changer when it comes to relaxing, taking that step back and creating that space to take stock. Self-care reduces your stress and allows you to be more mindful and relaxed, which then allows you to reflect on the choices you’ve been making and how you feel about them. Taking time for yourself to relax, recharge, and refocus on you may just be the missing link to getting you to where you want to be. And self-care is anything that allows you to focus on yourself in the moment, like reading a good book, doing a face mask, getting a message, taking a yoga class, going for a long walk, meditating, writing in a journal, or anything that allows you to chill out.
4. Overcommitting to meal prep
We all know that preparing your own food really helps to control the sugar and salt (and other stuff) going into your body, so there’s no denying that making your own meals is all around really good for you. But that does not mean you have to make everything yourself. In fact, I strongly suggest that you outsource some of the heavy lifting to make cooking (and eating healthier) much easier on yourself. Being too rigid and intense about meal prep gets old after a while—you may start to get bored with your meals or feel like you're spending a ton of time prepping. Going the semi-homemade route will mean less cook time, less cleaning, less prep, less stress, and still give you all the health benefits you’re looking for. Sautéed pre-noodled zoodles with shredded rotisserie chicken or frozen turkey meatballs and tomato sauce are a weekly semi-homemade meal of mine and all I did was toss the pre-prepared items in a bowl together and heat it up!
Try this: Scan your grocery store for these pre-prepped helpers (and my favorite go-tos that make life a lot easier): pre-noodled zucchini, butternut squash, and carrots, pre-riced cauliflower and broccoli, frozen veggie medleys that steam right in the bag, whole rotisserie chicken, and pre-made cauliflower pizza crust. These buys will free up your time and allow you to meal prep in a less overwhelming way, maybe you just prep your breakfasts for the week with some hardboiled eggs, and overnight oats. Or you focus on just prepping your lunches and use that rotisserie chicken as the protein all week long.
5. Thinking that being healthy is only all about food
No one meal is going to make or break your health goals, not even one whole day or weekend will. Take a deep breath—we’re not striving for 100 percent perfection to reach your goals, and remember that the big picture of health includes so much more than just your food. Your sleep, your energy levels, your stress, your physical activity, all of these things play crucial roles in your health game, so don’t leave them out!
Try this: Instead of focusing solely on your diet, take a minute to check in with yourself and do a little health scan to see other places you can make tweaks: How are you sleeping? Can you get more sleep? How stressed out are you? How are you managing that stress? Are you exercising? Can you find ways to be more active? Personally, I found that when I move my body more and amp up my physical activity all the above falls into place. Exercise helps to reduce stress and boost your mood and energy levels at the same time. Plus, a good sweat helps improve your sleep habits, which in turn reduces stress even more.