This is not an article on just “dieting” per se. It is a set of observations about some of the most obvious mistakes people make on their journey to a leaner, healthier body. And these observations are not only based on my several years of personal experience as a nutrition consultant, but also on solid research conducted in this field.
For an absolute newbie, “dieting” is simply making adjustments in the eating habits of a person with the intention of losing fat, building muscle or both.
So why do people, even those of us who are actively into fitness and possess a good deal of knowledge about nutrition, go wrong in performing one of the human body’s most basic needs – eating? Well, ask yourselves the question and the first answer would probably be “I’m not a dietitian”. Dig a little deeper and you will realize there is more to it – be it a lack of knowledge on the your part, clever marketing by companies that sell junk food in the name of health, or just poor lifestyle choices. This article is about educating you about the errors you could be making while using ‘dieting’ as a method to burn fat or gain muscle.
- Not Tracking your macronutrients
Although there are many contributing factors, weight loss or gain is much about calories in vs calories out, but in a carefully considered way*. You could be eating all the organic, whole grain, nutrient dense food in the world, but still be woefully out of shape. This is because any excess calories from any source will be stored as body fat. And not unless you strictly monitor these excess calories, will your ‘dieting’ or eating healthy made any difference to the way you feel or look.
*To understand the ‘calories in vs calories out’ concept and its applications more comprehensively, take a look at the Fitmag article here: Calories in vs Calories out
- Not getting the right advice
You would not want a wood chopper to be your dentist, right? So stop taking random advice from people. Your buddy at the gym may or may not be right when he says “you need to have 200gms of protein to build muscle” and your mom might have the best of intentions when making “healthy ghee wale Aloo Paranthe,” but following every ‘healthy’ suggestion, no matter how convincing it is, is not going to do too much to reduce your waist line. Solution? Seek professional advice!
And indulge in mum’s love, but go easy on her paranthas, if possible.
- Setting unrealistic expectations
Heard of the saying ‘Rome was not built in a day?’ It applies to dieting and transformation as well.
Pace yourself. There is such a thing called a ‘healthy rate of fat loss.’ No one can wake up 10 kgs lighter after just one day of dieting, or after one session at the gym. Aim for 1-2 lbs of fat loss per week. Ensure that your training and nutrition plan is grounded in scientific principles, not fads and quackery. It has been seen that individuals employing questionable methods of fat loss often end up with loose skin, damaged metabolism, and weight regain. Done right, and paced correctly, the results are sure to follow.
- Cutting calories too aggressively
Although calorie restrictions have several benefits such as longevity and fat loss, excessive restriction of calories may eventually lead to metabolic shutdown, physiological and psychological irregularities. Thus, it is best to go slow and steady -starting out with a modest 200-300 deficit under the guidance of a trained professional might help much better than going into a sudden starvation mode.
- Not getting enough shut-eye
Sleep disorders are closely related to obesity and body composition. Sleep, or rather the lack of it, affects the rate of secretion of Ghrelin and Leptin which are the “feeling hungry” and “feeling full” hormones respectively. After a long night of partying, do not be surprised if you have hunger cravings. As the ghrelin-leptin balance is disturbed, you could be have had more than enough food and still feel ravenously hungry.
So ensure you get adequate sleep. Anything between 7-8 hours is essential for the functioning and health of body and mind.
To read more about the importance of sleep, check out the Fitmag article here: Importance of Sleep
- Taking too many supplements
There can never be too many shortcuts to success and this holds even more true when it comes to your health. Supplements have become commonplace in all kinds of diets, and seem to encourage users to believe that they can cover all nutritional deficiencies, so much so that many dieters run the danger of mistaking them as replacements for regular whole food.
Yes, it is true that certain supplements like whey protein and multivitamins could be considered necessary, and they do have solid science backing their worthiness, but whole food undoubtedly offers more benefits such as higher thermic effect, better taste, and satiety, all of which have a huge impact on your metabolism and will ultimately decide how long your diet can be sustained.
7. Not opting for healthy natural beverages – green tea, black coffee etc.
A balanced diet that includes all food groups is usually considered most essential while embarking on a diet. However, what gets sidetracked (or considered as mere ‘health boosters’) is the benefits of consuming beverages such as green tea and coffee. Research shows that green tea can help improve fat oxidation and insulin sensitivity, while providing the body a good supply of antioxidants. And when was the last time someone did not feel refreshed and more alert after a cup of black coffee? 1-2 cups of either and goodbye lethargy! Add them to your daily diet to take advantage of their goodness.
To know more about the benefits of black coffee, check out the video here:
- Eating more dirty calories in the name of ‘cheat days’ or ‘flexible eating’
Dieting is not just for losing weight. Often during the off season, athletes “bulk up” with the intention of gaining more muscle, and there is a place for ‘flexible dieting’ as well. However, this kind of flexible eating does not translate into indulging yourself in “all-you-can-eat” cheats. Although there are some benefits to metabolism, and you might put on some muscle, people usually end up with more fat in this process. Bear in mind that the athletes who practice flexible eating do so as part of their structured plan towards their fitness goals.
- Not drinking enough water
If you have felt excessively drained after a not-so-very-challenging workout session, or cramped out on a 100m sprint, chances are that you were not properly hydrated. According to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, healthy women should ingest about 11 cups (91 oz.) of water whereas healthy men should around 15 cups (125 oz.) of water a day, from all food and beverages. Appetite control becomes easier and the liver is free to do its usual job of turning stored fat into energy when the kidneys get plenty of water to process waste materials.
Do spend a few minutes reading the Fitmag post on the immense importance of water for a healthy and fit body here: Five Amazing Things Water Does to Your Body
- Not having a support system
Movies glorify the lone wolf, the solitary warrior. In real life, however, it is absolutely essential to have a support system, a group of friends and positive individuals who understand your goals and the reasons behind them, and are going to be there to motivate you when you break down psychologically or even sustain an injury. So get out of the gym for once, and make some good friends, trust me you will need them.
- Eating “Low Fat/Diet” food.
Since fats have always been considered the devil, many manufacturers cleverly use the “low fat/ diet” tag to sell junk food. These foods may be low on fat but are usually overloaded with sugars and artificial flavors. As far as possible, stick to mother nature with minimally processed whole food choices. And do not forget to get educated on the difference between good and bad fats before blindly reaching out for the ‘Low fat’ labels.
- Not Eating Enough Fiber
Quite often you come across this guy or girl who is very lean, but still has a big pot-belly. In fact, you might also have experienced this feeling of belly bloating. This usually happens due to constipation or excessive gastrointestinal bulk. The solution to this simply lies in increasing your fiber intake. Not only does fiber help you feel more “full” by improving appetite control, but also binds to the bile acids, which is actually excess cholesterol and excretes them from the small intestine.
To know more about types and sources of fiber, and its benefits on the body, check out this fun video here:
- Not reading the nutrition profile of food items
The label usually at the back of the container provides information regarding ingredients, macronutrient distribution, and their quantities. Although a lot of companies make big claims about their “healthy” ingredients, giving you a false sense of security, ignoring the actual nutritional information labels could lead to consumption of excessive calories. So make it a habit to read labels and understand the significance of what you put into your body!
Now that you know “how not to diet,” save yourself months of trial and error. Seek professional help if required, and eat your way to good health.
Author Credits – Rupesh Choudhury