Diets are terrible. Almost starving yourself to lose weight, yet seeing minimal results in the mirror is disheartening for anyone.
But, here’s the thing: maybe you’ve been dieting all wrong.
This article will look at some common diet mistakes people make, why they make them, and some diet tricks to lose weight that really work.
Here are 15 nutrition pitfalls to avoid.
1Don’t Fear Healthy Fat From Real Food
The mainstream media have demonized fat for far too long.
Many people replaced fat in their diet with carbohydrate from foods such as bread, rice, pasta, and juice.
These foods break down into glucose in the blood, and this stimulates insulin release. Insulin is known as the fat storage hormone and encourages the body to store fat.
So instead of limiting fat, you may want to try limiting carbohydrate instead.
The lower you keep your carb intake, the more weight you can expect to lose. A frequent target is below 100g carbohydrate per day or less than 50g if you want to see results quickly.
- A meta-analysis of low-carb versus low-fat trials found that the low-carb diet had greater improvements in weight loss and CVD risk (1).
- A meta-analysis of 53 randomized controlled trials found that low-carb beats low-fat for weight loss. The study authors commented that: “Health and nutrition guidelines should cease recommending low-fat diets for weight loss given the clear absence of efficacy” (2)
Of course, some fat is bad for you and best avoided.
The key is to eat naturally occurring fat from foods like olive oil, avocados, dairy, fish, meat, and nuts.
The avoid list: margarine, vegetable oils, and any fat manufactured in a factory.
2Avoid Industrially Manufactured Fat
You should avoid trans fat and margarine.
Vegetable oils are still clinging on to their “heart healthy” reputation, but more and more people are waking up to the harm that these oils do.
A nutrition pitfall many people fall into is believing margarine spreads are better for you than butter.
Here are a few reasons why you should stay away from them:
- A 2015 study found that soybean oil was more obesogenic than fructose, a simple sugar. The results of the study also indicated that soybean oil was damaging to our metabolic health (3).
- Vegetable oils are full of omega-6, and negatively impact the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Higher weight gain, inflammation, and chronic disease risk are the result (4).
- In a recent study investigating the impacts of a diet high in vegetable oil, the participants all had lower cholesterol levels – but significantly higher rates of mortality from heart disease (5).
Most processed foods contain these fats.
3Sugar Promotes Obesity and Disease: Cut it Out
Sugar may be sweet, but it’s not so sweet for your health.
The white stuff rapidly raises blood glucose levels, stresses your liver and causes damage throughout your body.
And for many people, it’s addictive too.
Seriously: those innocent “cravings” might be an addiction. The Sugar-Free Revolution website sums it up perfectly in this article.
Some recent studies revealed just how damaging sugar is for health.
- The authors of a 2015 study found links between sugar consumption and heart disease risk factors, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and inflammation. They labeled fructose as “a weapon of mass destruction” (6).
- The inflammatory pathways of sugar in western diets increase the risk for cancer (7).
- In a review study, the weight of evidence from over 30 individual studies suggested that added sugar is associated with weight gain and obesity (8).
Want to lose weight and get healthy? Priority: ditch the sugar.
4Go Easy on the Carbs
As mentioned earlier, carbohydrate intake drives blood glucose and insulin levels, resulting in weight gain (2).
If you know you are currently eating too many carbs; then you should consider making some dietary changes.
The first step would be to replace refined carbohydrates such as bread, white rice, and sugar.
Take baby steps; instead of eating a donut, have a handful of nuts.
Replace milk chocolate with dark chocolate (more antioxidants and healthy fat, less sugar)
Instead of bread, try making some guacamole and adding it to your meal.
5Optimize Nutrient Density
Choosing healthy food options is all about selecting foods that maximize nutrient-density and minimize empty calories.
An example of this is half an avocado versus a slice of white bread.
They have a similar calorie count, but the avocado is packed with healthy fats and beneficial minerals.
A recent study found that the micronutrient profile of a diet is much more important than the caloric content concerning stimulation of hunger (9).
A fantastic resource that reviews the nutrient density of different foods is available at Optimising Nutrition.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering; my favorite nutrient-dense foods are avocado, beef, nuts and dark chocolate.
Eating this kind of food keep you fuller for longer, more satisfied, and tends to result in natural weight loss.
6Don’t Drink Liquid Calories
Sugar-sweetened beverages are related to all sorts of health problems.
Weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease – you name it, and there’s a link.
When we drink pure sugars, they are digested almost instantly. The result is sky-high blood glucose levels, raised insulin, and weight gain.
Just a small daily intake of soda is associated with:
- An increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease, after all other lifestyle factors are accounted for (10).
- 26% higher chance of developing diabetes (11).
- For each 12oz can of soda consumed daily, there was a 60% greater chance of obesity at follow-up in children (12).
There you have it: sugar is linked to weight gain, obesity, and disease.
If you are still drinking it, there’s only one piece of advice – stop!
7Limit Your Fruit Intake
The idea seems strange, doesn’t it? We’ve been taught our whole life that fruit is amazingly healthy for our body.
And I’m not saying it isn’t, but we should be careful not to overdo it.
Compared to vegetables, fruit isn’t so nutritionally impressive. It has fewer micronutrients and more fructose – which as we discussed earlier, can help drive weight gain.
I’m not saying never eat apples or anything ridiculous like that. But what I am saying is if you’re eating several portions of high-sugar fruit every day, then it makes weight loss incredibly difficult.
When choosing fruit, I prefer to go for fruits lower in sugar and high in nutrients. A few of my favorites include:
A recent study also found that focusing on fruits high in beneficial flavonoids (such as berries) is associated with less weight gain (13).
It looks like I’m on the right track!
A serving of heavy cream poured over fresh berries is one of my favorite ways to eat fruit.
Eating fat with veggies and fruit is always a great idea since it increases absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
8An Avocado a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Maybe you’ve heard this saying about an apple.
I prefer to eat an avocado due to the incredible range of nutrients it offers.
Just one avocado provides:
- 17g fiber
- 88% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C.
- 40% of the recommended daily value of vitamin E – something many people are deficient in.
- Significant amounts of micronutrients – especially potassium, magnesium, and copper (14)
An avocado a day keeps the doctor (and the belly fat) away.
9Beware of Low-Fat Products
The unscientific fearmongering over dietary fat created an entire industry of low-fat food products.
Choosing these foods is one of the greatest nutrition pitfalls people make. These products tend to be full of refined carbohydrate, sugars, and chemical sweeteners.
Low in fat but low in nutrients too.
An excellent example of this is low-fat dairy.
Many people drink low-fat milk believing it to be the healthy choice, but what the science says is completely different.
A large study involving 26,930 individuals and a follow-up period of 14 years found that full-fat dairy decreased diabetes risk. Furthermore, those who ate full-fat dairy in general had a 20% decreased risk. Those who consumed low-fat dairy? No reduced risk (18).
Furthermore, two recent studies found the very same conclusion: higher dairy fats in the blood relate to lower incidence of diabetes (19).
Additionally, diets higher in dairy fat may help you maintain weight.
Just in case you need another reason: whole milk is on another level with its wonderful, creamy taste.
10The Dangers of Packaged Food
Real food comes from farms, from the land, or maybe from the sea.
No food is grown in a factory, though – it is created there. Read the back of some food labels and the ingredients panel sounds like a science experiment.
Huge companies make these foods, and their primary goal is profit, and unfortunately, that comes at the expense of your health.
When you buy packaged foods from the supermarket, there’s a chance you’re eating trans fats, and it’s almost sure that you’re eating added sugar.
In fact, 68% of all packaged food contains added sugars (20).
Ultra-processed foods promote weight gain, obesity, and disease; avoiding it is the first step to a healthier life and better body.
11Listen to Your Body
No one diet is suited to every person.
So no matter what kind of diet you’re attempting, if your body isn’t responding to it then listen to what your body is telling you.
We all have different food preferences. And food that’s perfect for one person may cause digestive issues in another.
To stress just how biologically unique we are, a study coming out of Israel in late 2015 suggested that if 800 people all have the same meal, each person would have a very different blood-sugar response (21).
Do you always feel bad after eating a particular “healthy” food? Then it’s most likely not healthy for you.
12Eat Fatty Fish For Omega-3
It’s well known that modern humans eat way too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 (4).
I cannot stress just how important it is to get omega-3 as a regular part of your diet.
Alaskan salmon, North Atlantic mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and fresh trout are all great choices.
These fish have some of the highest omega-3 contents, and the least amount of mercury (22).
You may ask, what about fish oil?
Personally, I prefer to get nutrients from food rather than supplements, and I’m a little wary about fish oil. Several recent studies have shown fish oil on store shelves to be highly oxidized (23, 24).
If you do want to supplement with fish oil, research the product you buy. There’s a big difference between cheap brands and the reputable ones.
13The Dangers of High Heat Cooking
It’s not just what you eat, but also how you cook.
Cooking foods at high temperatures can have several adverse effects on your food. The proteins become denatured, vitamin and mineral contents plummet, and worse still – carcinogens can be created through the chemical reactions that occur.
When cooked at high heat, meat produces probable carcinogens called heterocyclic amines – the formation of which depends on cooking temperature and technique (25).
If you’re eating food cooked at extreme heats every day, then you might want to consider implementing different cooking styles like braising, steaming, boiling, stewing and baking.
If it’s only once in a while, just forget it and enjoy your food.
14Toxic Cookware is Damaging to Health
As we just saw, it’s not just what you eat but also how you cook.
And what you cook it in.
If you don’t already have one, get yourself a cast-iron pot or pan – they’re great and one of the safest forms of cookware you can use.
Not sure what they are? Then just listen to Lily Nichols, a real-food Research Dietitian who brilliantly explains.
I advise staying well away from Teflon cookware. Sure, it’s non-stick and convenient (until the non-stick coating comes off) but it comes with health dangers.
A recent study found that even tiny doses of the Teflon chemical are more of a threat to public health than previously thought. A report on the research went on to say that federal guidelines on safe levels of the chemical are “hundreds or thousands of times too weak” (26).
I’d also recommend avoiding Aluminium cookware, which has similar health concerns.
15Listen to Experts – but Decide For Yourself
The last nutrition pitfall that many people fall into is listening to experts or food bloggers.
There is nothing wrong with this of course; getting free information from someone with knowledge on the issue is great. BUT… you shouldn’t blindly trust someone just because they have an education or experience in the area.
One of the essential things about nutrition is to research for yourself – to truly understand what promotes or damages health.
Don’t blindly trust nutrition authorities or bloggers (including myself) – if you like something you read, look into it and then verify the information for yourself.
Use the information as a tool and see if it works for you.