Some eating habits may seem healthy, but they could be making you fat. Are you making any of these common diet mistakes?
Establishing healthy eating habits isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sure, the principles seem pretty straightforward: eat plenty of veggies, keep your proteins lean and your grains whole. But when it comes to putting those habits into practice, some of these healthy-sounding habits can turn into big diet mistakes if you’re not careful.
When you think you’re doing everything right but the scale says otherwise, it could be a diet mistake or two that’s making you gain weight. Here are five healthy-sounding habits that, if they’re not done right, could be big diet mistakes.
Picking up breakfast at the local coffee shop is a morning ritual for lots of people, and many people have given up their usual morning pastry with their coffee in favor of oatmeal. They figure some oatmeal is a low-calorie way to work more whole grains into their day. It could be, but choosing coffeehouse oatmeal could also turn out to be one of your first big diet mistakes of the day.
If you cooked up some steel-cut oats or rolled oats at home, you would get a good dose of whole grains for only about 150 calories in a one-cup (200g) serving. Even if you added a dash of honey and some chopped fresh fruit, you’d still be eating only about 250 calories. But many oatmeal offerings at coffee stores have so many add-ins that the calories can be nearly twice that.
By the time they dump in brown sugar, granola, sugar-coated nuts, jam and banana chips, you’re looking at 500 calories for that same one-cup serving size. That’s about what you’d get if you ate a hamburger and a medium soda* for breakfast. Your best bet is to check all the oatmeal offerings and select one with the least added fat and sugar. And pair it with a piece of fresh fruit that you carry with you from home.
Say the word “salad” and the first word that comes to most people’s minds is “healthy.” There certainly are healthy salads you can choose for lunch—like one made with a mixture of colorful vegetables, topped with some lean protein and a dab of vinaigrette dressing. For those who are watching their weight, having a salad for lunch is often their first choice but it’s not always the best one. If you’re one of those people who always has “just a salad” for lunch, here are a few things to consider.
One of the biggest problems with restaurant salads is that they’re often overloaded with fat. It isn’t just from the dressing—although that’s a big offender at ~75 calories a tablespoon. My tip: always order dressing on the side so you can control how much you eat. You also need to pay attention to how the protein in your salad is prepared, because it’s not always low in fat. Grilled chicken on your salad is fine, but if the chicken comes in the form of “crispy chicken strips” (translation: fried chicken), you’d be wise to steer clear.
You also need to watch the fatty add-ins like cheese, bacon and other high-fat meats. Fried tortilla strips or noodles, sour cream and oily croutons can also cause the calorie count to skyrocket.
A healthy-sounding spinach salad with grilled shrimp might be okay if it’s made simply with fresh spinach leaves, maybe some other vegetables and topped with grilled shrimp. Even with a couple tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing tossed in**, you’re probably looking at less than 500 calories. One popular restaurant chain offers a healthy-sounding, entrée-sized grilled shrimp and spinach salad that has 1000 calories and 44 grams of fat (about what you’d get if you ate four candy bars for lunch). That’s because the fresh spinach and grilled shrimp is tossed with nuts, bacon and a hot bacon dressing.
Turning fruits and vegetables into fresh juices sounds like it should be a healthy habit. Many people turn to juicing as a way of incorporating more fruits and veggies into their diet. But the juicing habit could be one of the big diet mistakes, and there are a couple of reasons why.
Take vegetable juices and ‘green’ drinks, for example. They look fresh and healthy and sound as if they’d be a convenient way to get more greens. But most of these drinks aren’t simply vegetable juice. If they were, they probably wouldn’t be all that tasty. So, to make them taste good many of these popular drinks have fruit juices added, which can boost the calories considerably. I’ve seen bottled green juices with more than 350 calories in 16oz (500mL). To get that many calories from fresh whole veggies, you’d need to eat, for example, 11 cups (750g) of raw kale.
If you’re juicing only fruits, the calories add up even faster. That’s because most juicers separate the juice from the pulp, which means you’re tossing out the filling fiber and drinking just the juice. This doesn’t fill you up nearly as much as the whole fruit would. A whole medium-sized orange only has about 60 calories, but it takes 4 oranges to make a 12oz (360mL) glass of juice. You probably wouldn’t eat 4 oranges in a sitting, but it’s not hard to suck down 240 calories’ worth of juice.
To get more vegetables and fruit into your diet, you are a lot better off sticking with the whole foods rather than the juice.
The popularity of gluten-free diets has brought a lot of gluten-free products to the marketplace. Many people who aren’t gluten intolerant have switched to a gluten-free diet in the belief that it will lead to weight loss. But that could be a big diet mistake.
Years ago—when gluten-free products weren’t as widely available as they are today—a gluten-free diet looked a lot different than it does today. Back then, those shunning gluten had to give up bread, pasta, cakes, pies, cookies, pretzels and crackers. The primary source of gluten in the diet is wheat and anything made from it. People would get more of their carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables instead, which isn’t a bad strategy for weight loss. But with so many people clamoring for gluten-free products in the last few years, it’s now fairly easy to find gluten-free cereals, brownies, cakes, cookies and snack foods.
The diet mistake that’s often made here is that many assume that simply cutting out gluten, and not paying attention to calories, will lead to weight loss. If you decide to go this route, be sure to read your labels carefully. As you search the words “gluten-free” on the label, don’t forget to look at the calorie count. In many cases, the starchy wheat is simply replaced by refined starches from rice, corn or potato, which may not save you any calories. And some gluten-free products have a lot of added fat and sugar—often used to improve flavor or texture, so the calories can be very high.
For a better strategy,replace your gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt) with other healthy, gluten-free whole grains like quinoa or millet.
Many people overestimate how many calories they burn during a bout of exercise and then ‘make up’ for it by overeating afterwards. If you don’t estimate your calorie expenditure accurately, it could be easy to convince yourself that you’ve burned off so many calories that you couldn’t possibly overeat the rest of the day.
Part of the problem is that you may not be exercising as hard or as long as you think you are, which means you probably haven’t burned off nearly as many calories as you think you have. So, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you really keep close tabs on how much exercise you’re actually getting. Once you see how much exercise it takes to burn off even a small snack (you’d have to bike for 20 minutes to burn off the calories in two small cookies), this is one of the diet mistakes you’re not likely to make again.
*4 ounce (120g) hamburger and 20 ounce (600mL) soda
** 4 ounces (120g) grilled shrimp, 4 cups (120g) baby spinach leaves, 2 Tablespoons olive oil vinaigrette dressing