Common pitfalls in the quest for healthy eating

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Like in all good films, there’s a hero and villains. The hero: you.

The villains: misinformation, fats in disguise and more. Know the pitfalls so you can succeed.

If you ever see a company or person promoting a quick fix and think to yourself, too good to be true, it probably is. Experts suggest weight loss should be a gradual process as you make lifelong changes to your diet and exercise habits. Look to implement ways of eating and exercising that are: 

  • Attainable – you can do them 
  • Sustainable – you’re able to keep them up 

How much should you be aiming to lose? A loss of 0.5 – 2lbs a week is considered optimum depending on your body mass. Too much too soon and there’s a chance your body yo-yo’s and stores more than before. It’s a marathon not a sprint, gents.

How about one food diets? 

Ever heard of a diet plan claiming if you eat just one food only, like grapefruit, you’ll ‘lose 7 pounds in a week’? Yeah, that’s crap fellas. Not only will the plan be unsustainable, it’ll leave you hungry, bored and in the long term, undernourished. In the short term, you’ll be in a drastically reduced calorie intake causing side effects like dehydration, gas and even abnormal heart rhythms in some cases. Also, those highly restrictive diets increase your chances of overindulging and leaving the plan for dust. 

No meat, no problem? 

Balanced vegetarian and vegan diets have been linked to lower rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Yet, vegetarian/vegan options aren’t necessarily low calorie or low fat. Starchy carbohydrates like pasta can pack in the calories if a meal is centred around them. As can cheese, which is so often the default offering for vegetarians.  

Many processed and junk foods are now vegetarian/vegan friendly which doesn’t necessarily make them healthier, they simply don’t contain animal products. They can still be high in fats, sugars and additives. If the foundations of your diet aren’t right, you can still gain weight and be unhealthy. 

Top tip: avoid highly processed convenience foods. Make vegetables the focus of each meal and compliment them with protein sources like beans, tofu, pulses and nuts and with essential amino acids from foods like brown rice and sweet potato. 

Too much of a good thing? Dark chocolate. Avocados. Blueberries. All so-called ‘superfoods’, and they do have health benefits, but just don’t go overboard.  

Cashew nuts, for instance, are rich in protein and heart-healthy fatty acids. They contain 43.8g fat per 100g making them a great snack in moderation but if that handful of nuts turns into the whole bag, you risk feeling it on your waistline and seeing it on the scales. 

Get to know the energy contained in your favourite superfoods so you don’t hinder your progress.  

  • Olive oil. Benefits: source of monounsaturated fat (good fat) and antioxidants. One tablespoon = 120 cals. 
  • 70%+ dark chocolate. Benefits: iron, magnesium, antioxidants. 50g = 226 cals. 
  • Almonds. Benefits: high in protein, vitamin B & E, copper. 50g = 300cals. 

Red wine contains antioxidants which are linked to lowering risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It’s fine to consume red wine in moderation but you can find antioxidants in other foods like berries, seafood and nuts without the added effects of alcohol. In large quantities, alcohol can raise your risk for heart problems and cancer.

Top tip: get to know the nutritional value of foods you love and make them part of your overall healthy eating plan in a measured way. 

Don’t get stuck on superfoods Many foods are indeed super, containing nutrients that aid your health and wellbeing. You can’t exist on a diet of donuts and takeaways, then munch a few blueberries and expect to thrive. Sorry fellas. Foods work in synergy with each other, it’s the bigger picture that counts. 

Eliminate elimination 
Does it sound like we’re talking in riddles yet? On the back of a superfood obsession, it’s easy to demonise certain foods. There are many foods that offer little nutrition (e.g. sweets) and potential health hazards (e.g. processed meats) that you’d do well to cut back on. There are also some foods that if we eliminate completely could lead us to deficiencies. 

Carbs are a prime example. Refined, highly processed carbs like cakes and pastries are high in calories and fat along with being low in nutrients. Whereas wholegrains like wheat, rye, barley, oats and rice are high in fibre and rich in B vitamins like folic acid, which are essential for your health. 

Fat free?
Popular ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’ options produced by food manufacturers often cause confusion amongst dieters, with many over-consuming because of the reduced fat content.  

We know now that the types of fat we consume are important. There are fats that aid our bodies (poly/monounsaturated) and ones that hinder them (saturated & trans fats).

Top tip: fat is satiating, it helps us feel fuller for longer and in order for our cells to do work properly, we need fat in our diet. Try to choose healthier, plant-based fats remembering that less is more. 

Graze for days
Grazing throughout the day can keep blood sugar levels steady and stop you feeling hungry. It can also mean you don’t keep a track of your intake which can spell excess calories. You might feel unsatisfied if you’re used to the feeling of a big meal in your tummy.

Top tip: If you are more of a grazer, plan small meals every two to three hours, limiting each one to around 200-300 calories. 

Secrets of sustainable success There is nothing more soul destroying than yo-yo dieting: losing weight, putting it on again, repeat. Finding a way of eating and moving that suits your lifestyle is where you’ll find real success.

We can all eat the foods we love. What we want to do is avoid overindulging in a way that obstructs our goals.   

  • Think about what moderation means to you. Look at your habits and decide if moderation means measuring portions or limiting consumption to weekly or monthly etc. 
  • Make small, sustainable changes, like cutting out sugar in tea and parking further away from work. They’ll soon add up. 
  • Make favourite treats part of the menu by using them sparingly alongside nutrient rich ingredients, such as strawberries drizzled with dark chocolate. Delicious. 
  • Increase your movement, from housework to team sports, factor more motion into your day. 
  • Keep an open mind and be kind to yourself. Once you know how to eat better, often weight loss follows.


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