1. Botching Carb IntakeIn my opinion, this is far atop the list as it pertains both to health and changing the physique of your body. For starters, most people trying to lose weight eat far too many carbs in their diet. There is a vast difference between what perception tells us is ďhealthyĒ, and what reality dictates will actually cause your body to burn fat. Take this diet for example.
- Breakfast Ė Oatmeal w/ bananas, honey and milk
- Lunch Ė Turkey Sandwich on whole wheat, chips
- Post - Work Snack Ė Bread and olive oil
- Dinner Ė Grilled chicken & rice, glass of wine
The above diet would net out to a 55 Ė 65% carbohydrate intake, which in my opinion is far too high. I coach all of my clients to be around 20-30% during the leaning phase depending on your sensitivity to carbs. This generally consists of about one meal with complex carbs following your training and the rest of carbs coming from fruits and vegetables throughout the day and greatly limiting your alcohol intake. (I want to emphasize that this is for leaning phase and not for maintained lifestyle.)
The second half of the botched carb intake that most of us consume the absolute wrong kind of carbohydrates. The modern diet has dangerously made the switch the refined, starchy, sugary, processed carbohydrates over their whole grain counterparts that the world ate exclusively before the 20th century.
Since Americans started keeping track of diet in 1909, annual sugar intake has increased from 13% to 20% in average Americans(1). Further, it is recommended that we get 1/2 c of 100% whole grains every day to help us fight off diabetes and cancer, and reduce the risk of heart disease and other modern ailments that plague us more and more. Itís estimated that just 7% of Americans get this requirement(2)Öseven percent!
Now, THAT is botched.
Solution: 1 meal per day of complex carbs, fruits and vegetables making up the rest of your carbs throughout the day.
2. Going Overboard on a Hypocaloric DietTo lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Thatís probably the first thing you learn in any type of nutrition program and honestly, itís common freaking sense. However, a lot of people make the mistake of drastically reducing their calories while not exercising at all, in hopes that it will quickly burn fat from their body. This might work for short-term results on a scale, but itís a nightmare for long-term healthy and body composition. By sending your body into starvation mode youíre almost shutting off your metabolism completely. So, while youíll eat less your body will ultimately adapt to needing less and youíll completely plateau. Further, you run the risk of burning precious muscle (which is what drives metabolism) and achieving the dreadedÖSkinny Fat Look!
Of the nutritional changes I have to make with most of my clients, the number one mistake I first try and fix is meal skipping, particularly breakfast. ďIím not hungry in the morningÖI donít wake up early enoughÖI donít have timeĒ. Sound familiar? Well, bullshit. Make time, wake up earlier and eat. Upon waking up, your body is starving for calories. It has not been fed in 8-12 hours and it needs calories to restart the engine (metabolism). If you skip breakfast, youíre now looking at up to 15-17 hours without food, bringing your metabolism and fat burning to a grinding halt. Thereís a reason itís been dubbed Ďthe most important meal of the dayí. Donít ignore it.
Solution: Restrict your calories, but donít go overboard. If you are skipping meals then youíre going to far. A good rule of thumb for losing weight is to eat before you feel full. You can also keep a log of what you are eating to ultimately determine the correct amount needed. If youíd like some help in determining what your daily caloric intake should be, just drop a comment below and Iíll provide it to you no problem.
3. Taking Advice From the GovernmentWhile itís sad to say, the government and its organizations have no freaking idea what they are talking about when it comes to nutritional advice. In fact, you could make a serious argument (as Michael Pollan does in In Defense of Food) that the sudden onset of Western diseases like diabetes and heart disease are the governmentís complete responsibility. Back in the 70s, the government basically created a witch hunt to eliminate animal fat from our diet (never mind the fact itís vital to our survival and brain function) with everyone from the Food and Drug Administration to the American Heart Association officially pronouncing fat as Public Enemy Number One. What happened? We started bingeing on refined carbohydrates and processed foods and ever since weíve seen Western Diseases sky-rocket.
You know the dangerous trans fat we hear so much about now? Well thirty years ago, that was actually the food industryís solution to butter ó margarine. Yes, thatís right. Our government actually promoted trans fats as healthy! What am I getting at here? The people who are supposed to be responsible for our food have historically had knee jerk reactions and basically just look out for big money food companies. This is not an X-Files type conspiracy theory, itís fact. Donít make the mistake of thinking that just because the FDA, AHA or US government says something about a particular food that itís the gospel.
Solution: Read more, pay more attention. Use common sense.
4. Making a Buying Decision Based Upon PackagingThis is my personal favorite since itís become exponentially more ridiculous in the 21st century. Terms like Ďwhole grainí, Ďnet carbsí, Ďvitamin c fortifiedí, í100% naturalí have been tossed around more than Heidi Fleiss. What does it mean if you see any of these on a food label?
Absolutely nothing. Letís take, for example the term í100% naturalí. When you think of 100% natural you probably think of a sunny pasture with some American, grizzled looking farmer harvesting crops with his bare hands and passing it off directly to our plates. WellÖ
Yep, that 100% natural 7-Up is just so damn healthy! They were legitimately claiming that the ingredients (including high-fructose corn syrup, a processed food) were í100% naturalí. Guess what happened? The makers of 7-Up had to drop those claims due to the fact they were Ďmiseladingí. Was it the government that made them stop? Nope, it was the lawsuit of a public interest group that scared them into action.
Solution: shop on the outer ring of the supermarket. These are items that will tend to not have to come up with shady packaging claims to trick people into sales. Use your common sense, as well. If itís a soda or box of Lucky Charms, itís probably not healthy, right? Do you really, REALLY think that Lucky Charms would be an acceptable source of whole grains?
5. Assuming You Eat HealthyIíve consulted with probably 75 individuals over the past ten months regarding their diet and I am yet to sit down with someone who says, ďyou know, my diet is just God awful and I need help.Ē People donít like to think they eat unhealthy and itís pretty easy to convince yourself you donít. Because you donít eat cheeseburgers or white bread does not mean you eat heathy. It just means you donít eat like Val Kilmer.
Eating healthy means that you eat small, balanced meals throughout the day that cover just about everything weíve gone over in one through four. It means that you have plenty of vegetables in your diet to go along with the right balance of protein: fat: carbohydrates for a total caloric intake thatís accurate for your body measurements. It means that you prepare most of your meals in your kitchen. It means that you take the time to eat breakfast and fuel your body after you train. It means you donít have the ĎI can eat whatever I want because I am working outí mentality. It means you spend just as much time in the produce section as you do in the meat section, and that you venture in the middle aisles for one or two items. It means you fuel your body with whole foods and that you arenít tricked by mult-million dollar advertising campaigns.
Nutrition is a tricky, tricky thing thatís been made very confusing for the consumer. In 1992 the National Cancer Institute spent $400,000 on an ad campaign to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables. That same year Kelloggs spent $32 million advertising Frosted Flakes alone! (3) Itís no wonder that most people are hard-wired to pick all of the wrong foods.
Honestly, just use your brain. Itís generally right more times than you might think. If you are skeptical of putting something into your cart, thereís probably a good reason for that.
- Eat whole grains, complete proteins & vegetables. In other words, eat whole foods.
- Donít gorge on carbs & refined sugar.
- Donít starve yourself.
- Donít buy calcium fortified Coco Puffs, Diet Coke Plus or any junk foods that hide behind fortifications.
(1) In Defense of Food. Pollan, Michael. p 112. (c) 2008. Penguin Books.
(2) Andrews, Ryan. ďAll About Grains.Ē Precision Nutrition. Summer 2009. Web. 16 Aug. 2010.
(3) Berardi, John. ďPrecision Nutrition Member Zone.Ē Precision Nutrition. 24 May 2002. Web. 16 Aug. 2010.
Written by Dave Thomas
Dave Thomas, CPT, CNC is owner of Performance360, a San Diego based training company. He writes regularly on his blog, which can be reached here.