HealthAgenda

Nutrition

How to fix 7 common diet mistakes

Diet advice can be confusing and even conflicting. We asked 2 dietitians about the most common diet mistakes they see and their advice for staying on track.

Karen Burge 
March 2019

Despite good intentions, and everything we know, it’s almost impossible to have a perfect diet.

Here, dietitians Melanie McGrice and Felicity Curtain, both Dietitians Association of Australia spokespeople, share the most common diet mistakes they see.

1. Skipping meals

Missing a meal might seem like a shortcut to managing your kilojoule intake but McGrice says you’ll be more tempted to reach for high-energy foods later.

Tip: Planning your meals is important. If you’ve prepared a healthy meal you’re more likely to eat it.

2. Overdoing ‘special occasion’ eating

A work farewell, dinner meetings, birthdays, Easter, anniversaries… there’s always something on the calendar luring you to a treat meal.

“If you add up the many occasion and celebratory meals you consume, you might be surprised at how frequently treat foods are popping up,” says McGrice.

Tip: You don’t need to pass on the social occasion, but you might be able to plan ahead to avoid temptation. For example, if you’re at a restaurant, you could order an entrée instead of a main meal or skip dessert. If you’re at a friend’s house, try to serve yourself so you can choose healthier dishes like salad and vegetables, suggests Eat for Health.

3. Dismissing liquid calories

Alcohol, store-bought smoothies and juices can all count as treat foods.

“Many people think of juice as healthy because it’s made from fruit, but if you think about how many oranges it takes to squeeze a glass of orange juice, you’d realise you would never sit down and eat that many in one go,” McGrice says.

Smoothies and juices contain high amounts of sugar, while losing some of the benefits of whole fruit such as fibre.

If you’re trying to lose weight, remember that drinks can add to your daily kilojoule intake.

To put liquid kilojoules into perspective, the average adult consumes about 8700kj a day and what we drink can weigh in heavily. A 200ml glass of lemonade soft drink contains 354kj, and a medium-sized mango smoothie at a well-known juice chain carries 1410kj.

A gin and tonic (with a 30ml nip of spirits) contains 460kj and a small 120ml glass of white wine has 341kj. Water, on the other hand, contains no kilojoules.

When you drink alcohol, you’re also more likely to make poor food choices and opt for dishes and snacks high in unhealthy fats and sugars.

Tip: Water is the best way to stay hydrated. Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer, liver disease and heart disease. Australian guidelines recommend drinking no more than 2 standard drinks a day.

4. Thinking exercise earns treats

Do you ever give in to a tempting muffin or brownie just because you went hard at the gym that morning? McGrice warns that a bout of physical exercise doesn’t mean you can eat what you want,
and this way of thinking will soon trip you up. Exercise must be consistent and not an open invitation to eat poorly, she explains.

Tip: If you get extra hungry after exercise, pack some healthy post-workout treats like nuts, bananas or yoghurt. Or whip up some eggs on toast or oats when you get home.

5. Setting unrealistic ‘all or nothing’ goals

Dietitian Felicity Curtain says you’re best off keeping diet goals simple and achievable.

“In the long term, any change you make needs to fit into your lifestyle. It needs to be realistic and you need to be able to enjoy it,” she says. “It’s more about making those small changes that will add up to make a big difference.”

Tip: Small, sustainable changes are key, such as committing to an extra serve of vegies each night.

6. Cutting out entire food groups

Eliminating certain foods groups like gluten or dairy means you might miss out on key nutrients. For example, Curtain says she sees many people cut out grains to avoid the carbohydrates.

“Sure, grains are carbohydrate-rich (and that’s an important source of fuel that we need each day) but they’re also packed full of fibre,” she explains.

Curtain says that good-quality carbs have a higher nutritional value, so cutting them out would remove a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from your diet. Sources of good-quality carbs include brown rice, quinoa, oats and legumes.

Tip: Before cutting out a food group, see if you can make some healthy swaps to improve the quality of that food, Curtain suggests, like switching white pasta for wholegrain.

7. Ignoring your hunger cues

Sometimes our habits take control of how and when we eat. You might find 12.30pm is always lunchtime, hungry or not, or perhaps you eat every bite on your plate, thanks to a household rule as a child.

“If we can start to become more mindful and tune into our hunger cues, it really can tell us a lot about when we might feel like eating, or when it’s time to finish up and put the plate in the fridge to save for lunch tomorrow,” says Curtain.

Tip: Listen to your body to reduce overeating. Pause to think about how full you are.

Having a balanced diet can make a big difference to your health. While it’s fine to have treats every
now and then, with a bit of planning ahead, it’s possible to focus on eating well and to cut down on unhelpful eating habits.

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