A big mistake that most people make is drastically changing up their entire diet. This can create a host of problems as with new foods you may not know which brands to avoid or which is best, but also, you may have no idea how to even cook these new foods. Headaches, nausea and other ill symptoms can also occur from withdrawals from certain foods. So hurdles can come unexpectedly, which can throw your adherence and motivation off course. Stick to what you would normally eat, but make small favorable substitutes. For example, if weight loss is the goal, try having almond milk at breakfast rather than regular whole-fat milk or having white meat instead of red meat. You can still virtually keep the same meal in place, but small changes can go a long way over the course of the day, which can lead to big changes over the course of a week. Gradually start to make more changes where needed as the weeks and months pass by.
I often ask people why they are eating or drinking certain foods and drinks. A common answer is “my trainer told me to.” They are acting as robots who just follow orders but don’t know the benefits of following these rules. If people understand why they eat certain foods and what that can do to improve their health they will have a much better chance of sustaining these foods in their everyday diets. Take-home note: Put the time in to research different foods and their respective benefits.
If you see an ad or a trainer claiming to help you lose 20 pounds in 6 weeks, you know they are not operating in your best interests. This can fall under the first rule as they will drastically change your diet, put you in a massive caloric deficit and a heavy training regime. The end result is dramatic weight loss that is not sustainable where over time you will lose motivation, go back to your old habits and be in fact heavier than when you first started. Measure your diet a year from when you started, not just after six or eight weeks. Yes, monitor progress, but always remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
The problem with allowing a cheat meal is that mentality can carry on to other things. Cheating on your exercise intensity or cheating with some of your meals/snacks here and there. These can add up over the course of the week and really stall your progress. My recommendation is to look at a cheat meal as something earned. Earn it, work for it! Smash your workouts, stick to your diet plan and then enjoy the guilt-free reward of a greasy pizza or a creamy dessert.
At the end of the day, exercise is king when it comes to your health, so it’s best to combine your efforts of dieting with exercise you enjoy. I can’t stress enough the importance of resistance training, which can be even more important as we age. I also understand the gym can be daunting for some people, so in order to get the most out of your diet and health, find a form of exercise that won’t seem like a chore. Whatever your chosen activity, attack it with your best effort and reap the benefits of self-discipline.
Steve O'Mahony BSc MSc