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The Top 5 Mistakes When Starting a New Diet

food choices
with all the diet choices it's easy to start on the wrong path

You've made the decision to kickstart a new diet. Whether you're eager to shed a few pounds, improve your health, or boost your energy levels, embarking on a new diet can be both exciting and overwhelming. However, before you dive headfirst into your diet journey, it's essential to be aware of some common pitfalls that many people encounter. Let's explore the top 5 mistakes to avoid when starting a new diet. There's also a little bonus at the end.

As a Personal Trainer to over 100 clients and many more with class attendance, there are many mistakes with dieting that have come up from clients' pasts and a few more that develop during the early phases of training. This is my take, from experience, on what seems to be the 5 most common hurdles with dieting.

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1. Meal Timing Diet Mistake

Food as a clock
When you eat or not has little overall impact

One of the most common mistakes individuals make when starting a new diet is ignoring the importance of meal timing. Skipping meals or eating at irregular times can wreak havoc on your adherence to better choices and make it challenging to maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day.

When you miss a meal and later feel ravenous, how often do you then take the time to prepare a nutritionally balanced meal, or do you dive into whatever is most convenient and likely very calorie-dense for its size? These convenient foods are often unbalanced, meaning you're satisfied quickly, but it's not long before the hunger temptations return as your body calls out for the nutrition sources it's lacking. For example, a packet of crisps is really convenient, tastes good, and fills a hunger hole but lacks vitamins and proteins which your body will still crave, and the faster-acting carbohydrates will quickly be used up as fuel, leaving you hungry again relatively soon, thus prodding your conscience to consume further calories.

On the flip side of the coin, too many people treat intermittent fasting like it's the key to everything. In calorie-equated studies, intermittent fasting hasn't shown to be any better at weight loss or fat loss when the calories consumed are the same, except for the time of day eaten. The takeaway here is that both methods, eating less throughout the day or using a feeding window, are equally effective, so whichever system you can adhere to for the long haul is best. Remember, consistency is key when it comes to meal timing. Try to establish a routine that works for your schedule and stick to it.

2. Sudden Diet Changes

Stairs carved into a cliff face
You can take one step to the bottom of the cliff or take multipe steps, one will hurt more than the other

Going cold turkey can work for most lifestyle changes, but it tends not to be the case. Most of us would like the results of our diet changes to be permanent. Sudden changes in diet usually result in sudden regressions and binge eating. Sometimes, even bringing on the attitude that when the drastic diet fails, all is lost and you go completely the opposite way to overeating as you feel it's not worth the hardship.

We need to give our body and lifestyle a chance to adjust. A dramatic change in calories often ends up with your hormones not being able to keep pace, hence the surge of overwhelming urges. It's not your willpower that's failing, it's your hormones playing catch-up. As with lifestyle, discovering new foods, recipes, and sources takes time. Forcing yourself to eat foods you don't like will realistically either cause a terrible relationship with food or put an end to your endeavor.

Try changing one aspect at a time. A good example is picking one meal to crack down on first. After you have a few options, move onto the next one. This could look like swapping one takeaway meal a week for a home-cooked version. It could be tracking the calories of one meal a day. It could also start as adding a protein source to a meal that doesn't already include it. These are easy changes and allow you to adapt, ready for the next step to success.

3. Over-Reliance on Supplements

In our quest for quick results, many of us fall into the trap of relying too heavily on supplements. While supplements can be beneficial when used appropriately, they should not be a substitute for a balanced diet. From a health perspective, you should focus on getting essential nutrients from whole foods whenever possible and use supplements only to complement your diet when necessary. This is because with whole foods, the nutrient you target also comes along with many other beneficial and complementary nutrients.

From a weight loss and gain perspective, unless you become deficient in vitamins and minerals, which you won't if you eat a balanced diet, the effect of said vitamins and minerals is so minimal you won't notice them. If your calorie consumption is off, then no amount of multivitamins is going to compensate. As can be clearly seen in the Nutrition Hierarchy of Importance.

The nutrition hierarchy puts micronutrients at the top of the pyramid. Again, no fat loss tablet or hormone booster tea is going to override an inappropriate caloric intake. No testosterone booster will give you more muscle if you're not eating enough of the building blocks from macronutrients. Likewise, no supplement will work unless you're taking them consistently over a longer period of time. We are talking about the daily dose for 3 months or more.

UK advertising law prevents a manufacturer from making false claims about their product. Something to watch out for is when a vitamin or supplement says it can "help" you with XYZ. By law, there is some truth to each claim. Though by how much it helps is often left out for good reason. What makes the good products stand out is when they include a magnitude. Another cheeky one is "help to support," which is a way of saying that the product doesn't directly affect the outcome but instead aids another part of your body to bring about the outcome. Thus, as is being repeated, if the thing it's trying to support isn't functioning (usually from calories and macronutrients), the supplement is an expensive waste for minimal optimization.

Some of the only supplements to make any noticeable difference are caffeine, creatine and protein, when taken at the correct time, consumed consistently and taken at the correct dose respectively. All of which brings about an additional cost to your pocket which is for you to decide if that makes good value.

4. Getting Too Detailed

There is a lot of information out there, and it's easy to get overwhelmed or bogged down in the belief that what you're doing is incorrect, which then leads you to trying to entertain every aspect and detail of dieting. This commonly leads to burnout or seeing so many variables that you give up before starting.

For example, eating more vegetables has been proven time and time again to be beneficial. There is little need to worry about whether those vegetable sources should be organic or not. There is dispute as to whether organic produce is even more beneficial to you, let alone the environment, and if they are, the difference is tiny.

Another example is getting wrapped up in the Glycemic Index (GI) or, as more people know it, the amount of blood sugar spike you get from a food item. Unless you have a medical reason to do so, concerning yourself with blood sugar spikes and predicting them with the GI index is futile. Every food will elevate your blood sugar; it's a natural process, and the GI index only accounts for food in isolation, not when eaten as part of a meal, so it is largely unrealistic for most people. To top it off, variance in blood sugar doesn't automatically correlate to body weight fluctuations.

When starting a new diet, it's common to get caught up in the minutiae of calorie counting, macronutrient ratios, and food restrictions. While tracking your food intake can be helpful, obsessing over every morsel you eat can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Remember, balance is key. Listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues, and don't stress over every single calorie and where it comes from. Our Nutrition Hierarchy Guide is helpful to see that getting your calories into a ballpark figure and keeping it consistent will have far bigger benefits for far less effort than having to balance all the variables of the equation.

5. Black-and-White Attitude

person fighting a burger
All food has a nutrition value

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a new diet is adopting a black-and-white attitude towards food. Labeling foods as "good" or "bad" can create feelings of guilt and shame around eating, ultimately leading to an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead of restrictive thinking, focus on moderation and flexibility. Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite treats in moderation without feeling guilty.

Likewise, as human nature, we want what we can't have. People with naturally curly hair generally want straight hair and vice versa. It's in our instinct to want the taboo, to be a little devious. Thus, making certain foods naughty only enhances that deep dark desire. Plus, when those desires come through, they often burst. Rather than a little nibble of 'bad' food, the "in for a penny, in for a pound" attitude leads to gorging on the 'bad' stuff. You feel guilt and shame for having done so, making you quit altogether or repressing the feelings to build up for a bigger outburst next time. The cycle continues.

Let's look at this from another perspective with a spectrum of diets: Veganism (not moral vegans) and Ketogenic diets. Both indeed have evidence to support their dietary theories. How can opposite ends of the spectrum both be beneficial? One says meat is the cause of all health problems, while the other claims meat solves all the problems. How can one blame carbohydrates for obesity, yet the other is primarily derived from carbohydrates (vegetables count as carbs)? Both alienate a single food group, both also have health concerns, both have avid subscribers who are malnourished, and both have avid subscribers who are obese.

For a lot of people undertaking the Nutrition Coaching with Armoured Muscle, they are often surprised that they can eat anything, yes, ANYTHING, so long as it fits within the calorie goal. That way, you can have the benefits of all food groups and ingredients, keep your temptations satisfied, and ultimately stick to a consistent and manageable, healthy routine.

Bonus: Call it something less temporary

Nowadays, the word "diet" is more commonly used to describe a temporary period of food restriction. It would help to view your food as nutrition. That way, we approach changes in a long-term sense because, above all else, keeping up with consistency is the most important. A psychological shift of mindset will help you in the long run. That's why with all our PT clients, we don't ask them how their 'diet' is going; we ask how their 'nutrition' is coming along.

Diet - "the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats"

In conclusion, embarking on a new diet can be a transformative experience, but it's essential to navigate it mindfully to avoid common pitfalls. By being mindful of meal timing, prioritising nutrient-dense foods, using supplements wisely, avoiding excessive details, and embracing a flexible mindset, you can set yourself up for success on your diet journey. Remember, it's not about perfection but progress towards a healthier you!

So, as you dive into your new diet adventure, remember to approach it with an open mind, a balanced attitude, and a commitment to your well-being. Happy eating!

Strength - Resilience - Consistency

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