Diet and nutrition can be easy, simple, and healthy. However, the noise from social media, television, food fads, diet trends, and misinformation can impede your success.
But you can eat healthy, or at least make healthy eating easier than most people believe.
Jumpstart healthy weight loss—not a quick fix, but weight loss that actually lasts—by first fixing these common diet and nutrition mistakes.
1. It’s not about counting calories, but making calories count.
Low calorie diets have been shown to prolong lifespan. And studies in peer reviewed journals of science and medicine show that by increasing your amount of micronutrients and phytochemicals through consuming more unprocessed plant foods, you will crave fewer oily and salty snacks, red meat, and refined sugars in sweets and soda.
What does this mean for your diet plan? How do you get started?
Start by filling up your diet with more plants—greens, legumes, mushrooms, onions, seeds—and fewer animal products, like meat or poultry. You can eat less dairy by only consuming it outside the house, or by alternating the weeks you buy certain items at the grocery store.
It’s tough! But it can become easier, with the right support, and the right habits to reinforce your healthy eating.
For example, try eating your greens first. Then eat just a little bit of fish or a smaller amount of chicken than usual, as opposed to piling half a bird on your plate.
When you’re hungrier, greens taste better!
2. Caffeine won’t kill you, but it can wreak havoc on sleep schedules and eating patterns.
A cup or two of coffee per day is actually all right, but only if you’re getting adequate amounts of sleep (7- 8 hours per night) and eating properly.
The problem most Americans have with their java is that they use it to get by on less sleep, and either suppress appetite or inadvertently distort their natural sense of hunger.
Your body naturally knows when it’s hungry, and what kinds and quantities of nutrients it needs. Caffeine is a stimulant that can throw off this sense, and it can lead to withdrawal when you don’t get the amount of caffeine you’ve become accustomed to.
Your body might react through hunger pangs or cravings, which can lead to a downward spiral of consumption of salty, overly sweet, oily, or fat-rich foods. This can cause weight gain, or “yo-yo” patterns of loss and gain as you switch between over-consumption and deprivation.
Think about slightly changing your daily coffee consumption. As you drink throughout the day, take note of how many cups you’re drinking. Then plan to consume one cup less, until you’re at 1-2 cups of coffee per day.
You can easily break this up into one cup in the morning and another in the afternoon—at least until your sleep schedule and diet habits are on track.
3. Protein overload
How much protein does your body really need? What type of protein does it need?
For most people, the need for high protein consumption is a myth. Unless you’re a pro-athlete, working out at especiallyhard levels, or under-nourished in a part of the developing world, you don’t need to consume protein powders and supplements. Your meals also don’t have to be centered around animal products, with steak, chicken, and fish as the “feature” of the meal.
It is enough, and in fact far healthier, to eat and absorb protein from plants. Lower protein consumption has been associated with fewer instances of chronic diseases as well as different types of cancer.
Another myth is that plant proteins are incomplete. This is not true.
Plants contain all of the essential amino acids, and when eaten in appropriate amounts (until you feel “satisfied,” not full), they provide your body with all the protein it requires, in addition to nutrients crucial to metabolism and immune function. These additional nutrients (the phytochemicals, the vitamins, and the minerals) are the nutrients frequently lacking or entirely missing from meat, fish, and poultry.
4. (Surprise Bonus) It’s important to have a diet and exercise plan. But do you distinguish between exercise frequency, intensity, and duration?
No, running up the stairs doesn’t exactly count as exercise.
While it’s true that “every bit counts,” as in all your steps can contribute toward an active versus a sedentary lifestyle, don’t let this idea trick you into taking it too easy or not dedicating whole blocks of time to exercise. Making time for exercise will let you track your exercise time and intensity and your personal progress from week to week. It will also make it far more likely that you actually exercise, because writing it down, having a schedule, and specifying concrete goals really helps you achieve what you’ve set out to do.
In other words, decide on a specific length of time for your run, jog, stationary bike ride, or walk. Start easy at first, then increase the intensity (your pace) and duration (time spent).
Figure out what’s reasonable for your schedule and plan the specific times of day and which days. Two or three days per week is a good number of days to start.
By planning, being specific, and setting up health-reinforcing habits (e.g. earlier bedtime, stocking the fridge with healthy foods to heal your body post-workout), you can rely on this strong structure you’ve set up for yourself. It will be a foundation, a support system, and feel less like an ongoing exercise in willpower. It will become a routine and feel natural, something you feel happy doing.