6 big mistakes you’re making with your nutrition (and how to correct them)
Mention the word nutrition and it’ll provoke a broad range of feelings across a broad spectrum of people. But whichever way you slice it, what we eat and drink is at the centre of our health outcomes.
Whether it be maintaining a healthy weight, balancing energy levels or providing our body with the nutrients it needs to thrive, there is no doubt that if we don’t get our nutrition right, then we open ourselves up to a whole host of negative outcomes - and leave many positive ones on the table.
When I’m working with my clients we almost always start with nutrition. It is such a powerful, commonly abused and often misunderstood tool. Taking control of it can yield staggering results. In this article I’m going to outline 6 of the biggest nutrition mistakes I see as a health coach, and how to correct each and every one.
1. Not eating the food you love
Food is something to be enjoyed. Let me state that at the outset. I love my food and aside from simply being a fuel for my body, it is something to be enjoyed and often shared with others.
I’m not exactly sure, then, why a new belief has taken hold. The belief that to eat in a way that optimises our health, means minimising our enjoyment. For the avoidance of any doubt, that is complete bullshit.
Eating to optimise our health means that we must eat the foods we enjoy. Why? Because otherwise how long do you think you can keep it up? And how long do you think the benefits of eating well are likely to last, if you stick it out for only a matter of weeks?
You’ll notice a recurring theme in my articles and content, and that is that everything we do regarding our health must be sustainable. As boring as that sounds, if you ignore it, I can guarantee that you'll fail.
So, mistake number one is not eating the foods you enjoy. The fix is to make sure that any nutrition plan that you build for yourself includes the foods that you love. And notice I said you. Stop borrowing diets from other people. Stop latching on to fads or milkshake diets that rhyme with Sherbalife. Stick to the fundamentals, and eat the foods you love.
And if you need some direction on what those fundamentals are, then send me a message and I’ll help you out.
2. Not knowing how much food you’re eating
So we learnt from mistake number one that food is to be enjoyed.
Somewhere along the way, this belief got contorted. It instead became, I enjoy my food so I can eat whatever the hell I want.
I guess showing restraint towards something you love is difficult. So people make pretty good excuses to convince themselves they don’t need to.
The problem is, you do need to. Food is a fuel, and if you want more energy, confidence, focus, productivity, longevity or any of the other numerous benefits of good nutrition, then you need to treat it as such.
So how do we balance our love of food, and the enjoyment we derive from it, with the positive health benefits that come from managing the quantity that we’re eating?
Well in short, we need to measure it.
I can almost hear the collective groan, as everyone braces themselves for a lecture on calorie counting. Relax, this isn’t about to be one. I’m not going to talk to you about the calories in an apple vs. a cookie vs. a donut or any other arbitrary comparison. Instead I’ll leave you with this: “What gets measured, gets managed”.
If you don’t know how much you’re eating, then you’re more than likely eating too much or too little to achieve your goals - whatever they may be.
If, however, you do work out how much you’re eating, all of a sudden you can eat the foods you enjoy and optimise your health. Now, how does that sound? Pretty good, right?
So fix number 2 is to start measuring how much you’re eating. Once you’ve got a good idea what’s going on, you can do away with MyFitnessPal and simply rely on your good judgement going forward.
3. Demonising food groups for no good reason
When I say the word carbohydrate, does it make you think of a powerful fuel that energises and supports your body? Or does it make you think that you might balloon to the size of a house for merely considering pasta for lunch?
Probably the latter, given the relentless onslaught on carbs from various corners of the fitness world.
And this is mistake number 3. Demonising entire food groups for no good reason. Ultimately, this stems from a lack of understanding of what each food group actually does. We are inundated with marketing about how “Fred lost 30lbs in 4 days because he cut out pasta and potatoes”. That’s all very well for Fred. But does cutting out or severely minimising a food group work for your goals? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but you must understand why you’re doing something as drastic as removing all carbohydrates from your diet, for example.
If you’re looking for balanced energy levels, and a flexible nutrition approach, that not only supports a healthy weight but also your daily movement and training, then I would strongly argue that you should be including carbohydrates in your diet.
I’ve used carbs as an example here, but there was a time when fats too were vilified. The main takeaway from this mistake is that you need to adapt your food choices to your personal goals, and also realise that most extreme changes in diet that are advertised have a hidden agenda, that’s not actually very well hidden - they usually want you to spend money on something.
So here’s the fix. Sit down and think about your own goals. Does the food you are eating match those goals? If so carry on, if not, make some adjustments. Just know that eating a potato isn’t going to turn you into Mr Blobby in the context of a balanced diet.
4. Eating too much processed food
Would you like less energy, less nutrients and higher body fat? If you just answered yes then you should proceed directly to the processed food aisle.
If you answered no, then read on.
Processed food is, rather obviously, food that has been processed from its original form.
If you regularly eat processed foods then you’re more than likely overeating calories, undereating various nutrients and suffering from wild swings in energy levels.
Notice I said regularly. I’m not some sort of fun police. If you want some Ben & Jerry’s with a good film. Be my guest.
But generally speaking you should stick to whole or minimally processed food sources. These tend to be lower in calories, rich in nutrients and lead to more stable energy levels throughout the day.
Let’s take a quick example. A 150g bag of Kettle Chips vs. homemade piri-piri chicken, rice and coleslaw. The crisps have about 750kcal, use refined carbohydrates and are cooked in a lot of oil. The whole meal of home-made piri-piri chicken thighs on the other hand provides just over 600kcal, a balanced carbohydrate source (brown rice), tons of other nutrients including over 40g of protein and it tastes bloody delicious (if you want the recipe, send me a message).
As you can see from that short example, the fix for mistake number 4 is to focus, as much as you possibly can, on whole (or minimally processed) food sources. The closer to the source the better. The food will have more nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibre), lead to a more balanced release of energy, and have a lower calorie load for healthy weight maintenance.
What’s not to love?
5. Not planning ahead
Meal planning. It conjures up images of little plastic boxes full of dry chicken, broccoli and rice. Not exactly inspirational stuff.
But don’t worry I’m not about to tell you to clean out Amazon’s supply of Tupperware. I’m simply talking about knowing what you are going to eat at your next meal.
The single best hour you can spend on your nutrition each week is to sit down and draw up a plan of what you’re going to eat in the week ahead.
How many times have you found yourself getting to the evening, absolutely starving, and realising you don’t know what you’re having for dinner? So what do you do? You go for the most convenient option, which will almost always be the worst nutritional choice.
If you’d spent that hour planning ahead, you’d already have something planned with the ingredients ready to go. Or even better, it might already be prepared. I used to do this all the time when I was working in banking. There was just no way I could properly manage my food whilst working 60 hour weeks, and getting to the gym as often as I wanted to. Planning ahead allowed me to achieve my health goals, and get my work done.
Most people will dismiss this point, and for that reason most people struggle with their diet. Don’t be most people. Commit the time to plan the week ahead, and it will be one of the most valuable hours you spend on anything this week. And if you really don’t have time, then use money to buy you time - pay a meal prep service instead.
Knowing what you’re going to eat at each meal will change the game for your health and fitness. You wouldn’t take on a project at work without a plan would you? So why is your nutrition any different? Optimising what you eat is one of the most valuable projects you’ll ever work on. Treat it that way.
6. Short-term thinking
To explain why this is a mistake, let’s look at the definition of the word diet: “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” (Oxford Dictionary). That is the traditional, and most accurate definition for the purposes of good nutrition. Only in more recent times has a diet come to mean: “A ridiculous, often embarrassingly ludicrous scheme of eating that someone desperately clings to for a short period of time” (my own dictionary).
Of course, I exaggerate (only slightly). But I’m sure you can see that the traditional definition of a diet leads to a long-term approach, focusing on lifestyle change. Whereas the more modern interpretation of the word, the one that is so pervasive in the mainstream media, suggests that it is short-term in nature. That is not a good thing.
Whilst I agree that in some cases a specific ‘diet’ period can be useful, and even required in the case of a medical need, for most people this isn’t the case. If you’re looking to reach and maintain a healthy weight, balance your energy, fuel your training etc. then you need a lifestyle change that is reflected in the food you eat, not a ‘diet’.
So the fix for our final mistake is to take a long-term view, and quite frankly this could fix a whole host of other issues people come to me with regarding their health. There is practically no instance where taking a long-term approach isn’t beneficial. So when it comes to your nutrition you are not ‘going on a diet’, you’re instead completely changing your lifestyle. It’s as simple as that.
Over to you
So there you have it, the 6 big nutrition mistakes and how to correct them. Maybe you resonate with some of them. Maybe you resonate with all of them. And if you don’t resonate with any, congratulations you’re a master already.
If you’re looking for more energy, focus, confidence and longevity, you’d be hard pressed to find a better investment than in your own health, and nutrition is a huge part of that. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on where you might be going wrong, and how you can course correct.
And if you do find yourself nodding along to some of the mistakes above, and you’d like some more personalised help fixing them, just send me a message and I’ll do my best to help you out.