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5 Most Common Diet Mistakes

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

If there is one topic that generates plenty of conflicting arguments and ideas in the health and fitness world it has to be "diet". Low-carb, low-fat, keto, paleo, vegan, one meal a day, eight meals a day, carnivore, raw, whatever! There is simply too much information out there for individuals to make sense of, which often leads to yo-yo dieting and, eventually, giving up altogether.

Sometimes it is wise to take a step back, simplify things and start again. Avoid these 5 common mistakes when you approach a new way of eating:

Mistake #1: Focussing only on calories

Nutrition for overall health, athletic performance, weight loss or aesthetics is far more complex than a simple calorie in vs calorie out paradigm. You should consume a diet of foods high in minerals, vitamins and other beneficial compounds instead of just considering how many calories you're eating.

With that being said, obviously one shouldn't consume too many calories as this can lead to weight gain. It is difficult to lose weight if your body isn't functioning properly which is why dietary intervention is so important when commencing a weight loss programme - notice I didn't say calorie restriction...

Be conscious of your meals. Think about ample protein for growth and repair, adequate carbohydrates for quick release energy and plenty of healthy fats to facilitate vital bodily processes. Ensure these foods contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals, some probiotic and prebiotic fibre and keep your calorie intake suitable for your goals.

Mistake #2: Thinking you have to eat every 2-3 hours

We have all heard the myth that if we do not eat every 2-3 hours our metabolism will grind to a halt and the body will enter “starvation mode” where food is instantly stored as fat. The truth is that the human body is extremely good at adapting to many different situations and we are well prepared to deal with periods of hunger. As long as we consume adequate quantities of nutrients and minerals, we can afford to miss out on a meal or two in a day. In fact, the human body can sometimes perform better without food for an extended period of time.

Going for extended periods of time without food can help to increase insulin sensitivity, decrease inflammation and improve heart health by regulating cholesterol and other blood lipid levels. (1)

Bodybuilders and certain athletes may need to eat every few hours to increase the size of their muscles or their general "bulk" (this size isn’t always lean mass) and/or maintain their weight or recover properly. For the rest of us, going hungry every now and again might be a good idea.


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Mistake #3: "Eating healthy is too expensive!"

HEALTH foods are expensive. HEALTHY foods are not expensive. If you walk into any “health food” shop and look at the prices then, yes, the foods there are pricey. I won't go as far as to say these are “fads” but some of these foods are far less likely to improve human health compared to others. The problem is that many “food-like” substitutes are very cheap - the frozen section is full of nutrient-lacking Frankenstein foods packed with additives and other nasties.

Take the time to explore different sources of food such as local markets and shops and you may find healthy foods are not as expensive as you think. Organ meats, eggs, offal, tinned fish, misshapen vegetables and fruits, grass-fed butter and shellfish are cheap, nutrient-dense foods that can be found with very little effort.

It is also a good idea to stock up on items that do not expire quickly such as nuts, herbs, spices, oils, dark chocolate and supplements, especially when they are reduced (promotionally, not because they are almost out of date!)

Mistake #4: Eating ONLY for flavour

Right, controversial topic time. Ready? Stop eating for flavour. Food is a source of nutrition and you should eat to provide your body with the materials it needs to function optimally. Sometimes, this means eating foods you might not necessarily enjoy the flavour of.

Now, I am not saying you should eat like this all of the time. Food is a source of pleasure and there are many social, religious and emotional influences on our diet so completely removing foods you enjoy from your life is not feasible. In terms of physiological health, however, it is a sacrifice we need to make from time to time.

If you find healthy food bland, it might be the result of your palette being used to highly sweet and/or salty foods (we are genetically predisposed to crave these). This tolerance to highly palatable foods can be reversed by - you guessed it - eating foods you may find less flavourful (2). The upshot of this is that, with time, you will find other foods much tastier, especially when you experiment with new flavours, spices and herbs.

Mistake #5: Not cooking because it is too "time-consuming"

Many raw and cooked meals can be prepared in less than 15 minutes which, when compared to takeaways, is much quicker. Additionally, you remain in complete control of the ingredients and as you improve your cooking skills, meal preparation becomes even faster.

Another great way to save time when cooking is to plan ahead to ensure you have your meals prepared for when you have less time to cook. Furthermore, cook multiple portions which can be consumed at a later date. If you are in a hurry in the morning, eating the leftovers from the day before is a much faster and healthier way to start your day compared to making breakfast.




John Maitland is a personal trainer with over 15 years of experience. He has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEO's, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.

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