Have you ever wondered why it can be difficult to reach your health or weight goals? Are you inclined to binge eat and then feel guilty about it later? You’re not alone. Binge eating disorder affects about 2.8 million Americans, but it’s not just overindulging in those obviously-bad-for-us foods that trip us up.
Even if we stay away from sugary candies, over-salted chips, and saturated junk food, some seemingly healthy choices can sabotage our success. We asked Dr. Nancy for her top tips on how to avoid these easy-to-make mistakes so you can reach your health goals.
8 Surprising Diet Mistakes You May Be Making Daily
1. “No sugar added” coffee drinks
Many people start their day with a cup of coffee. The coffee is fine in itself, but the issue lies in those ready-made coffee drinks and creamers that are full of sugar. The phrase “no added sugar” often tricks people into thinking it’s totally sugar-free, but this is rarely true. In most cases, it will still contain a ton of naturally occurring sugar in the other ingredients included, which can be a lot if it includes whole milk or cream. Switch to a cappuccino or Americano to skip the sugar and decrease your dairy intake.
2. Drinking Fruit Juices
Unless you’ve physically squeezed it from an orange or pineapple yourself, fruit juice is almost always pure sugar without any fiber, fat, or protein. Not only does this not help you get full, but it may also stimulate your hunger. Avoid drinking fruit juice unless it’s freshly squeezed (with pulp!) or switch to a healthy smoothie.
3. Avoid Premade Smoothies
While we’re on the topic of smoothies, the same often goes for smoothies from your local smoothie bar. Make sure you know all the ingredients that go into your favorite smoothie. Smoothie bars and cafes often bulk up their drinks with syrups which don’t provide much, if any nutrition. Decreasing the amount of fruit and swapping juice for some plant-based milk will make it a healthier option. Alternatively, increase the water and vegetables you use in your smoothies. Rich fruits will often cover up the taste of your veggies.
4. Don’t Allow Yourself to Snack for the Sake of It
Many of us snack for reasons other than hunger, whether it’s boredom, stress, or depression. While it’s not always necessary to track every calorie you consume, it is healthy to be mindful of what you are eating, asking yourself whether you’re truly eating because you’re hungry. If you tend to snack whenever you encounter negative emotions like anxiety, anger, or sadness, start making a note of why you decided to eat and what you ate. Simply increasing your awareness around why you’re eating can help you curb unhealthy emotional eating habits.
5. Slow Down When You Eat
It takes about 20 minutes for your gut to send the message to your brain that you are full. Eating too quickly will usually result in overeating as you won’t realize you’re full until you’ve eaten more than enough. No one likes that so-full-I-can-barely-move feeling, and the worse that will happen if you stop eating when you’re not full is you’ll get hungry and need to eat a little more shortly after your meal.
6. Try to Stick to a Routine
Waiting too long to eat or fasting for too long can lead you to overeat. Your body’s hunger hormones, including cortisol, will spike if your blood sugar gets too low. This will make your hunger feel more intense, making it harder to make healthy food choices when it’s time to eat.
Severe dietary restriction almost always increases the chances you’ll “give up” and eat in excess – and make the wrong food choices when you do. It’s far healthier to allow yourself a little of what you enjoy, rather than denying yourself food that brings you joy, only to go overboard after a few weeks or days. Moderation and gradual weight loss are always healthier and more sustainable than crash diets.
7. Get Breakfast Right
A typical breakfast of a bowl of cereal and a coffee is typically a high-sugar and high-caffeine affair – not a good way to start the day! Many high-sugar breakfast foods like cereal, granola bars, and ready-made coffees usually cause a blood sugar and cortisol spike, resulting in more hunger and sugar cravings throughout the day. Instead of choosing something quick and sugar-heavy, opt for a high-protein breakfast that will keep you full and maintain healthy insulin levels throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to wait until you’re actually hungry to eat, either!
8. Eating Processed Foods
Processed food is high in preservatives and difficult to digest, which can make it hard for the body to absorb nutrients. Rather than grabbing something convenient like a grocery store deli sandwich or a frozen meal, why not make your own? You’d be surprised by how many artificial ingredients you can avoid simply by using the ingredients in your pantry and fridge. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid eating food that has been through a factory.
Eating healthily every day may seem daunting, but all it takes is a little preparation. Prepare a smoothie for your morning breakfast, brew a coffee in your French press or even get creative and make your own omelet. When it comes to snacking, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy some strawberries instead of gummy candies or a handful of nuts instead of potato chips.
These little swaps don’t have to feel drastic or restrictive, but they can make a huge difference to the way you feel at the end of each day. It all starts with one step: being aware of how you eat and treating your body with the respect it deserves.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.