In the wake of the pandemic—a time when 39-48% of Americans confronted weight gain, increased stress, and undesirable changes in food choice1,2—many seek to improve health outcomes through nutritional changes. According to the 2022 Food & Health Survey, 52% of Americans follow a specific diet or eating pattern3 – a distinct uptick from 39%. Of these individuals, 35% adopt diets to prevent future disease, while 34% adopt diets to lose weight.3 While it is no secret that nutritional changes can lead to weight loss and reduced health risk, popular dieting behaviors often do more harm than good. In this month’s Fueling Facts, our registered dietitians uncover the three most common mistakes people make when changing their diet.
1) MAKING DRASTIC CHANGES
The most common mistake people make when changing their diet is taking an approach that is too extreme. People often try to eliminate entire food groups, follow strict or unyielding food rules, and tackle numerous changes at once.
The diet industry promotes “innovative” solutions that promise quick results by encouraging restrictive and major changes. Consumers are inundated with messaging about diets, such as Keto and Whole 30, cleanses, and “detoxes” that promise dramatic results. The problem with these diets is twofold.
First, drastic changes in diet often lead to nutrient imbalance. This imbalance often stems from eliminating vital nutrients and general under-fueling, which may pose health risks for some individuals. (Remember: it is essential to consult your SHIFT registered dietitian if considering a new diet.)
The second issue with drastic dietary changes is that they are difficult to maintain. While weight loss and improved results are achievable from some of these diets in the short-term, extreme nutritional changes are too restrictive to be a central part of a long-term lifestyle and rarely lead to long-term results. Restrictions and limitations often complicate restaurant choices, eating at social events, finding on-the-go snacks, and other situations where there is limited control over food access and preparation.
As such, it is not surprising that restrictive diets fail to last. A study from 2018 assessed seven popular diets in the United States, including Keto, Weight Watchers, Atkins, Low-Fat, Paleo, Low-Carb, and South Beach – results showed average compliance with any of these diets was less than six weeks.4 SHIFT’s registered dietitians recommend a moderate, realistic, and habit-focused strategy as a more effective, long-term approach for improved health and weight loss.
2) IGNORING CONVENIENT OPTIONS
The second common mistake when implementing nutritional change is ignoring convenient options (i.e., quick, pre-packaged foods) during busy times (due to the common misconception that healthy eating only involves home-prepared meals and snacks.) When these options are ignored or deemed “not allowed” as a part of a diet, making healthy choices on the go can be challenging for many. Some may wait to eat until their next meal, while others may satisfy their hunger with “whatever is around,” which is typically a less balanced option from a restaurant or convenience store. Skipping meals, on the other hand, often leads to individuals eating larger portions and eating more quickly at their next meal due to increased hunger. Fortunately, however, healthy food choices are more accessible than ever. In situations where individuals are outside of controlled environments (e.g., work trips, family vacations), quick fuel options can provide incredible benefits. Here are a few ways to incorporate easily accessible options into your diet:
- For a Busy Weeknight, try a quick meal of Rotisserie chicken, frozen, steamable vegetables, and microwave rice pouches (e.g., Uncle Ben’s®).
- For a Meal When Traveling, try a Starbucks® Protein Box or a Farmer’s Fridge® salad.
- For an On-the-Go Snack, try Think® beef jerky with an apple, a Barebells® protein bar, or a Chobani® drinkable Greek yogurt.
3) FORGETTING SATISFACTION
Forgetting that feeling satisfied is an important part of fueling is the third common mistake people make with their diet. While including balanced, nutritious ingredients is vital to a healthful diet, enjoying the meals you consume is equally important. Research identifies food enjoyment as a primary driver of food choice.5 Therefore, preparing and choosing tasty meals is necessary for any sustainable nutritional change. How can you make nutritious meals satisfying? Two primary factors improve food satisfaction: 1) the method of preparation and 2) the addition of “indulgent foods.”
First, the method of preparation, including how food is cooked and seasoned, plays an important role in enhancing the flavor and texture of food without necessarily affecting nutritional composition. Cooking methods alter factors such as heat, water content, and enzymatic reactions, which in turn affect textures and flavors. For example, brussels sprouts are soft when boiled, lending a less-than-appetizing texture to most. However, when roasted or air-fried, brussels sprouts become crispy and more palatable. (Tip: season brussels sprouts with salt, garlic, and balsamic vinegar and cook them in an air-fryer for a flavorful side dish). If new to cooking or seasoning, seek out a balanced recipe online or ask your SHIFT Registered Dietitian for direction.
Second, incorporating moderate amounts of “indulgent foods” is essential to a sustainable, satisfying diet. Many diets have rules that do not permit the consumption of some of our favorite foods. These restrictions can be harmful because they contribute to a negative relationship with food and discourage long-term, gradual change. Instead, allow yourself to incorporate a balance of nutritious and indulgent foods, for example:
- Enjoy a few potato chips with a turkey burger and carrots.
- Opt for a small piece of birthday cake after a balanced meal.
- Have a handful of M&Ms with almonds for an afternoon snack.
These balanced choices satisfy cravings while maintaining consistency in your eating pattern. By adjusting the seasoning and cooking method of food to match your preferences and by incorporating moderate portions of indulgent foods, you can increase your likelihood of choosing a balanced meal. Prioritizing satisfaction helps pave the way for sustainable nutritional change.
WHAT DO WE RECOMMEND?
The common mistakes discussed above tell you what to avoid when making dietary changes and provide helpful tips for fueling. SHIFT’s registered dietitians provide a framework to use when making changes to your fueling routine. Below, we include four essential components of a healthy diet.*
- Sufficiency refers to an eating pattern that provides enough fuel to live, perform, recover, and heal.
- Variety refers to the inclusion of a wide array of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Variety ensures nutrient adequacy and promotes recovery, gut health, metabolism, and other health benefits.6
- Balance refers to the relative proportions of food groups. It also refers to the ratio of healthful foods to indulgent foods. Allowing all foods – even indulgent ones – while prioritizing healthful foods most of the time is key to a healthy, sustainable diet.
- Sustainability refers to a diet that can be maintained long-term. If not sustainable, diets can increase the risk of diet cycling (i.e., “yo-yo dieting”), which can have adverse health effects.
*Specific recommendations will vary based on individual needs, goals, and lifestyles.
If you have questions about establishing a healthy eating pattern and avoiding the most common dieting mistakes, reach out to your SHIFT registered dietitian for a more individualized approach.
In Real Health,
Rachel Klomstad & Lauren Munson
SHIFT Registered Dietitians
- Khubchandani J, Price JH, Sharma S, Wiblishauser MJ, Webb FJ. COVID-19 pandemic and weight gain in American adults: A nationwide population-based study. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2022;16(1):102392. doi:10.1016/j.dsx.2022.102392
- Pegg Frates E. Did we really gain weight during the pandemic? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/did-we-really-gain-weight-during-the-pandemic-202110052606. Published October 5, 2021. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- Pike A. 2022 food and health survey spotlight: Eating patterns. Food Insight. https://foodinsight.org/2022-food-and-health-survey-results-a-focus-on-eating-patterns/#:~:text=In%202022%2C%2052%25%20of%20Food,calorie%2Dcounting%20(13%25). Published October 17, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- Towers S, Cole S, Iboi E, et al. How long do people stick to a diet resolution? A digital epidemiological estimation of weight loss diet persistence. Public Health Nutrition. 2020;23(18):3257-3268. doi:10.1017/S1368980020001597
- Liem DG, Russell CG. The Influence of Taste Liking on the Consumption of Nutrient Rich and Nutrient Poor Foods. Front Nutr. 2019;6:174. Published 2019 Nov 15. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00174
- Sommer F, Bäckhed F. The gut microbiota–masters of host development and physiology. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2013;11(4):227-238. doi:10.1038/nrmicro2974